Half a century ago, British author, Arnold Lunn, wrote, "The success of a Catholic school is judged primarily by the number of old boys who continue to practise their religion" (Now I See, p.235). Lunn argued that, judged by this criterion, Catholic schools succeeded where their Anglican counterparts failed. "If Tomkins dropped a catch in the last over and thus deprived Harrow of a victory at Lord's, the whole school would go into mourning ... but if Tomkins dropped his faith, who would care?" (p.234).
Lunn's line of argument was based on the assumption that Catholic schools existed primarily to teach Catholicism and to turn out graduates who would continue to practise the Catholic religion.
It is this proposition which comes into increasing doubt, from the publication of Catechesi Tradendae down to the decision of the International Synod to produce a new general Catechism. Neither of these events would have occurred unless there had already existed widespread anxiety concerning the transmission of the Catholic faith both in Catholic and other schools, throughout the English-speaking world.
It has been said that in Australia 80 per cent of young Catholics abandon the practice of their faith not long after leaving school. Whether the exact figures are 70 per cent or 80 per cent, these are the parameters. The fact that numbers in Catholic schools continue to increase at the expense of the state sector is primarily due to the belief of parents - which is not misplaced - that they do uphold both discipline and higher moral standards. It must be admitted, however, that the competition in this regard is not strong.
What is the remedy for parents who, in addition, want their children both to know and practise their faith?
One sure remedy that will ensure the faith will be passed on to the next generation is for parents to teach their children themselves, as is done behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains.
Some few families in Australia, and many thousands in the United States, have taken the extreme step of removing their children from the state school system altogether and educating them at home themselves. Parents, not the State or even the Church, have the primary and fundamental right to decide how their children will be educated. This is a perfectly legitimate step. It is traditional Catholic teaching and parents should not be intimidated by the State into believing that it has the right to decide. However, for many parents such a step might be impractical.
As one who, almost five years ago, took what then seemed a radical step of taking his children out of school to be taught at home, I can only say that, in practice, the system has proved easy, effective and economical. Free from peer pressures children mature rapidly. They readily gain self-assurance and learn to socialise well, which is the opposite of what some fear. Ordinary parents, so the practice of home schooling in America reveals, end up educating children out of the ordinary.
Gone are the worries about children being taught religious ideas, moral values or political leanings at variance with those of their parents. One can ensure, almost effortlessly, that one's children are taught the Catholic faith in its integrity and entirety, that they become competent in basic mathematics and excellent in the use of English (particularly if the TV is assigned to the tip).
Any parent with a reasonable education can easily achieve this much. Where extra coaching is necessary, it can be readily obtained. Above all one can monitor and fully control the children's education. The day has gone when teachers' and parents' beliefs were all but identical.
Parents who wish to teach their children the Catholic Faith can obtain excellent text books from: Seton Home School, 1350 Progress Drive, Front Royal, Virginia 22630 USA. [Editor: This address is correct as at 2001, but see their web site at http://www.setonhome.org/]. The school caters for parents who teach their children themselves and provides excellent texts in all subjects necessary for a thorough education.