This is a most valuable and welcome study which effectively demonstrates that:
"Those Catholic parents who, after sufficient reflection and preparation, choose to educate their children at home, even in the presence of generally acceptable Catholic schools, do so with ample support and encouragement from the revised (1983) Code of Canon Law."
As the author notes, hundreds of Catholic elementary and secondary schools have closed during the period of post-conciliar "renewal", "making Catholic school-based education literally non-existent in many places." He provides some interesting data drawn from the Catholic Almanac: Whereas in 1965, some 10,961 Catholic elementary schools served 4,566,809 students, 1986 saw a sharp decline to 7,865 schools serving but 2,099,379 students. Moreover, the growing dissatisfaction of parents with the lack of orthodox catechesis in all too many parochial and diocesan high schools has been clearly responsible for an increasing number of Catholic parents joining a home-schooling movement which may include as many as one million children being educated at home by their parents on a full-time basis.
Home-schooling has become "a major development in American education, one which cuts across religious, social, and regional lines" (p. 5). Its involved parents, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, by choosing to educate their children at home, are exercising their belief that parents have not only the responsibility but the right to direct and control the educational development of their children. They do not confound "education" with the process of formal classroom instruction provided by the state or indeed by ecclesiastical authorities.
Mr. Peters provides a careful exegesis of relevant passages in Vatican II documents dealing with "education" and those canons in the new Code setting forth the Church’s doctrine on the primacy of parental rights in education. He finds:
"This (parental) responsibility, grounded in natural law and nourished by the sacramental role of Christian spouses and parents, reaches into every facet of their children's education, including even their religious and catechetical formation. While the local bishop certainly has the right and duty to supervise the more formal aspects of this religious education, it is carefully noted in the canons that Church authorities are to actively foster the proper parental role in the education of their children."
Needless to say, there are many instances in which Catholic parents, seeking to establish lay-operated schools or parent-operated religious education programs, or to engage in home-schooling, have met with severe resistance and criticism from diocesan officials, diocesan school personnel, and even pastors of parishes. The rights of Catholic parents in matters of religious education, sex education, and reception of the sacraments have been often violated despite the fact that, in the author’s words:
"The whole canonical treatment of education concerns NOT that parents send their children to Catholic schools, but that parents see to the Catholic schooling of their children."
Obviously, conscientious home-schooling parents are in an enviable position to be authentic catechists to their children.
It is fitting that Mr. Peters' excellent study (which deserves reading by all Catholic parents interested in their educational rights as safeguarded by Canon Law) appears as one in a series of Brownson Studies edited by Gregory Wolfe. It was the great Yankee convert-philosopher who powerfully set forth in 1862 the concerns of many members of the laity for a truly Catholic education for their children:
"Parents have certain duties growing out of their relation as parents which they cannot throw upon others, and they must themselves discharge them according to the best of their ability. They are bound by the law of God to give their children, as far as in their power, a truly Catholic education, and they are free to criticize and to refuse to support schools, those professing to be Catholic, in which such education is not and cannot be expected to be given. They are NOT obliged to patronize schools, because founded or directed by Catholics, any more than they are to support a tailoring or a hatting establishment, because owned by a Catholic who employs Catholic workmen, or because recommended by bishops and parish priests. We protest against the assumption that so-called Catholic schools, collegiate or conventual, parochial or private, because under the control of Catholics, participate in the immunities of the Church, of the priesthood, or of the prelacy, and are sacred from public investigation and public criticism; or that we are necessarily bound by our Catholic Faith and Catholic piety to patronize or defend them any further than we find them Catholic institutions in fact as well as in name."
(see Vol. XII of Brownson's Collected Works, "Catholic Schools and Education," pp. 498-499)
Brownson would have been delighted with Edward N. Peters’ fine study evidencing the Magisterium's desire to maintain the liberty of families in providing for the Christian education of their children according to the doctrine of the Church. A future edition of this study might provide an additional commentary on Article 5 of the Holy See's "Charter of the Rights of the Family" that notes:
"Parents have the right to choose freely schools or other means necessary to educate their children in keeping with their convictions."
These "other means" assuredly include the growing (and welcome) phenomenon of home-schooling.