Parental Rights Denied in a Once-Catholic Country

The Gaming 4 pic

The question of who decides what is best for children in matters of education is not a new one for the Church and society. The condemnation of the principles of thought found in the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century bears testimony to this in a dramatic manner. Pope Pius XI’s powerful statements on education in his various encyclicals dealing with atheistic movements make it clear that the Church’s teaching on the centrality of natural God-given rights and duties of parents to educate their children is not something to be taken lightly. Recently, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations strongly reaffirmed this teaching.

For four families in Austria—named the “Gaming 4” after the city where they reside—it is also becoming more and more crucial in their legal fight to homeschool their children. Indeed, this teaching touches more than simply homeschooling; it opens up a vast array of questions ranging from the relationships between family and society, Church and State, to name but two. One question that echoes in this particular author’s ear as he tries to follow Christ in the ensuing struggle is the following: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

The Gaming 4 are a group of Catholic families—composed of Americans, Slovaks, English, and Scots—who are either closely associated with Franciscan University of Steubenville’s study abroad program in Gaming, or with the International Theological Institute in Trumau. Being a conglomeration of academic and educational institute employees, they are no strangers to matters of learning. Having relatively large families—by Austrian norms their family sizes are extraordinary—they also have considerable experience in the raising of children, some of whom have attended state run schools, some of whom have been successfully educated at home. Having been part of a homeschooling milieu for several years, they are now being refused permission to educate their children as they see fit while also being heavily fined for not enrolling their children in local state run schools.

Until recent years the local authorities had said they were nicht verboten (“not forbidden”) to carry on schooling at home according to an American curriculum they were using.  A yearly test (according to the law) was taken by each of the children at the American School in Vienna.  Mysteriously, however, the situation was reversed over four years ago.  The authorities began to insist that the homeschooled children should be tested in the local school according to the state curriculum and in German.  This is despite the fact that there are several English language schools in Austria who teach and test hundreds of children in English according to American curricula.

When the children fail these state school tests, home schooling is forbidden.  If the parents persist in homeschooling as the Gaming families have, they are heavily fined.  Recently the families decided to invest their limited resources into challenging the Austrian educational-legal system on this matter. If they lose the case they will either have to pay heavy fines and enroll the children in secular environments—or leave the country. The latter being a loss to the institutes that they happily work for and the cause of “homelessness” for some of the families. Either way, the families face mounting legal costs.

Why there was a change in the interpretation of the law has remained a mystery to the Gaming 4. Several factors seem to be feeding into it. Firstly, with the drop of births in Austria echoing the trend world-wide, local schools are unable to sustain their level of income from the State since this depends on the number of children registered as attending. Local teachers fear the loss of jobs and seem to see the homeschooled children as a potential solution to their mini “financial crisis.” The connection between demographics and the economy is all too apparent in this case, while the utilitarian approach to the children is indicative of a widespread attitude. Secondly, perhaps, there is the anti-homeschooling mentality coming from the secular political powers that fear it as a “breeding ground,” as they would call it, for non-conformist mentalities. The fact that most Catholics in Austria pose no threat to the secular mentality begs the question as to whether or not they are really being formed as followers of Christ.

The homeschoolers, with their joyful and prayerful families, are a threat to the establishment but not because of any political creed. They are a threat to the culture of death simply because they are happy and love life as a gift! Finally, there is the fear that granting everyone the permission to homeschool according to the parents’ discretion and not according to the perceived wisdom of the State would open the door for immigrants from others countries (perhaps especially from east of Austria) to educate their children at home.  This is seen to be negative because of its implications for integration—a major political principle of decision-making in Austria. The fact that the Gaming 4 parents are not immigrants but only temporary residents is ignored.

There is no doubt, of course, that the homeschoolers do have an alternative life-style, and para-educational system, but that is because most educationalists have succumbed to a post-Enlightenment mentality that says control should rest in the hands of the state because only the state is allowed to shape public opinion.  The families’ educational approach is nothing other than that recognized by the Church. They see clearly their duty to give what is best to their children. In other words, they see that they must give them all that the Church has received from Christ. They do not aspire to be conformists who do what they are told by their betters in the Education Ministry. Instead, they want to announce the truth that only Christ sets man free.

At the end of the day, there are some very basic questions at the heart of the Gaming 4’s dilemma. Questions like: What is education? Why do people seek the “best education” for their children? And what is meant by “the best education?” The understanding of education that comes from faith and reason is clear. It is a human endeavor to pass on to another human person, in imitation of God’s divine pedagogy, the truth that sets man’s freedom free. It involves the natural family—formed from the indissoluble bond of marriage between a man and a woman. It involves the society that the family gives rise to; and it involves—since the coming of Christ—the indispensable role of His Bride, the Church, as the best of all teachers who supplies grace and wisdom to her supernatural children as they assist one another in the formation of Christian families and a society in which Christ is loved as true God and true man. The Church invites any one who thinks differently about education to look more closely at why she teaches this eminent doctrine. In the present age it is strongly rejected by those who impose secular-atheism through the courts, while many Catholics remain ignorant of the raison d’etre of the Church’s divine commission.

The Gaming 4 see the beauty of true education rooted in Christ—it is their bread and butter too—yet they see also the weaknesses of a plethora of ideas carried out in the name of mass-education. They see that education is, in a sense, a right of every human being but they see that each child needs the love and care of their own parents first, before they are computer literate or kitted-out with the latest high-tech sports facilities. The failure of mass education is apparent to them: it has become in many places a mechanism of crowd-control, consumer-producer, and big business: often creating unreasonable expectations and a sense of hopelessness in teachers, parents, and children. For a generation or more, professors and teachers have in many places openly forced their atheistic beliefs onto their students. There are too few who are prepared to move with Christ away from the mass-education mentality to an education for the Mass.  In this latter understanding, where profit is measured according to the saving of souls through the uniting of daily sacrifices to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—rather than the gaining of the whole world (cf. Mt 16:26)—the Gaming 4 are investing the few dollars they have in order to store up for themselves, by the merits of Christ, results in Heaven. Their fight may be a costly one in human terms but in obedience to the divine Teacher they are responding to His words: “Let the children come to me…” (Mt 19:14).

If you would like to support the Gaming 4 parents in the struggle to be the primary educators of their families, visit www.primaryeducators.net

Robert F. Cassidy

By

A Scotsman by birth, Robert Cassidy earned an STB from St. Patrick's College, Maynooth (Dublin); a Master’s degree in Studies on Marriage and the Family from the John Paul II Institute in Rome; and an STL in Studies on Marriage and the Family from the International Theological Institute (Gaming), Austria. While completing his doctoral dissertation, he teaches theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville campus in Gaming. There he lives with his wife and seven children.

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  • Jane Campbell

    Hi Robert, great to see you writing for Crisis magazine, can now keep up with your thought! Jane Campbell

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2XDBHIYMAH4R75XTXE6XJDTSL4 Common-sense-man

    The most disturbing sentence in this excellent article: “The fact that most Catholics in Austria pose no threat to the secular mentality begs the question as to whether or not they are really being formed as followers of Christ.” Not only in Austria… Come, Lord Jesus!

  • HughieMc

    Sorry if the following is a bit long, but it I think it important that parents should know their rights enshrined in The European Convention on Human Rights

    The European Convention on Human Rights, Section 1:

    Article 8:
    (1) Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and
    his correspondence.
    (2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this
    right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a
    democratic society, in the interests of national security, public safety or the
    economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for
    the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and
    freedoms of others.

    Article 9:
    (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this
    right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either
    alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his
    religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
    (2) Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief shall be subject only to the
    limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society
    in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health
    or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

    Article 12: Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to form a family,
    according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.

    Article 13: Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall
    have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the
    violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.

    Article 14: The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be
    secured without discrimination on any grounds such as sex, race, colour,
    language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin,
    association with a national minority, birth or other status.

    The Substantive Protocols to the Convention provide that: 

    Protocol No.1, 20 March 1952

    Article (2): No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions
    which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall
    respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in
    conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

    GET THAT: the State shall respect the right of parents! What a great idea.

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  • Shell

    Here in the UK the English home educators fought a tough battle against Ed Balls the Labour Education Sec. The Badman and Balls fiasco (no I am not making up those names) was ugly and had the election not intervened we could be in deep trouble here.
    Scotland is still relatively safe but Wales has just passed a bill demanding that all parents who wish to home educate must register with their local authority.
    As the battle for family freedom is being lost in Europe, those of us still clinging to some semblance of freedom in the UK are increasingly worried about our rights and our children’s rights in the near future.

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