Suggestions for the amendment of the law on home schooling

1      Foreword.. 2

2      Introduction.. 4

2.1       What violations of children’s rights does the right to home schooling entail from my perspective?. 5

3      The school year 1977/78. 9

3.1       How did I experience the first annual exam at the age of 7 in Neulengbach?. 9

3.2       Would the annual exams be carried out in the same way today as back then?. 10

3.3       Domestic lessons in Neulengbach from my point of view.. 10

3.4       How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated currently in other families?  13

4      The 1978/79 school year. 14

4.1       How did I experience the annual exam for the 2nd grade primary school at the age of 8 years in the “Volksschule Gumpendorferstraße, 1060 Vienna”?. 14

4.2       Would the annual exam be carried out in the same way today?. 15

4.3       Domestic education in Vienna from my perspective. 15

4.4       How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated in the current day, in other families?  19

5      The school years 1979-80 and 1980-81. 20

5.1       How did I experience the last two annual exams at the age of 9 and 10 years in the Volksschule Gumpendorferstraße 4, 1060 Vienna?  20

5.2       Would annual exams be conducted in the same way today?. 21

5.3       Home schooling in the last two years of primary school from my point of view.. 22

5.4       How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated in the here and now, in other families?  23

6      The school year 1981/1982. 25

6.1       One year without examination. 25

6.2       How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated present day in other families?  26

7      The 1982/1983 school year. 27

7.1       How did I experience the annual examination for the 2nd grade senior primary school at the age of 12 years at HS Loquaiplatz, 1060 Vienna?. 27

7.2       School attendance in the 2nd class train in the 2nd class of the Senior primary school and domestic lessons from my point of view   27

7.3       How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated today, in other families?  31

8      The school year 1983/84. 34

8.1       How did I experience the annual examination in the 3rd grade of Senior primary school at the age of 13 at Hochschule Loquaiplatz, 1060 Vienna?. 34

8.2       Would the annual examination be carried out in the same way today?. 35

8.3       The work teacher and a first look at the world. 35

8.4       How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated today in other families?  37

9      The school year 1984/85. 38

9.1       How did I experience the annual examination at the age of 14 at Hochschule Loquaiplatz 4, 1060 Vienna?  38

9.2       Would the annual examination be carried out in the same way today?. 39

9.3       Learning experiences during the year from the perspective of the person concerned. 39

9.4       How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated today in other families?  40

10        The school year 1986/87. 40

10.1     How did I experience the annual examination in the first class of commercial school at the age of 15 in the academy of commerce Pernersdorfergasse, 1100 Vienna?. 40

10.2     Learning situation at home with the parents during the academy of commerce time compared to the sibling flat-sharing community. 41

10.3     Learning experiences during the year from the perspective of the person concerned. 42

10.4     How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated today in other families?  42

11        Way out of a legal situation that does not conform with the constitution.. 44

 

1      Foreword

In winter 2018/19, in the course of internet research, I came across the „Position paper on home schooling and teaching at a private school without public rights“ of the Children and Youth Welfare Office. I could relate with the position paper, because of what I and my siblings experienced in our childhood, thus leading to my support the children’s and youth advocacy offices in their appeal that „home schooling should only be granted in exceptional cases“. (see www.kja.at under Positions and comments: 05.09.2018 Position paper on home schooling Status as of 17.08.2019)

My family constitutes of 21 people, between 1958 and 1990 my mother gave birth to 23 children, 19 of them are still alive, of which am the 8th born in the family. Our life circumstances were characterised by the religious delusion of our father, who saw himself as the representative of God (whereby he claimed to be most knowledgeable and he solely made all the decisions regarding our lives), and by his diverse forms of  brutality: physical and psychological violent attacks led again and again to mortal fears for ourselves and our brothers and sisters. The world view he conveyed to us children was, among other things, characterized by „enmity“ that was evil and made us believe and expect that there would be a third world war in the near future; „the world  out there“ was against families with many children, “ they would kidnap children and put them in children homes“, and in contrast to an „inside world“, that was the domination over children, which he lived out, among other things, in home schooling.

After many years of checks and inspections from the children and Youth  and Children Welfare Office – we had to flee because we were threatened with removal from our family – this essentially unhealthy microcosm, our family structure, could no longer be maintained: the older siblings sued our parents and subsequently won the custody of all the other siblings who were of the schooling age. In the course of this custody procedure, our father was diagnosed by a psychological expert known as Dr. Max Friedrich, with a mental illness and thus incapable of raising children. The mother, in my perception an accomplice, was found to be capable of bringing up the child, and our three smallest siblings could therefore remain with their parents.

In 2001, I contacted the Federal Social Welfare Office in Vienna because of emerging psychological problems: I was granted the cost coverage for psychologial medical treatment in accordance with the Crime Victims Act § 4 para. 5 VOG so long as the Vienna Regional Health Insurance Fund provides subsidies. This orther was extended to all my brothers and sisters by notice. 11 years of psychotherapy helped me to successfully shape my future according to my will – I completed a double degree and am a satisfied mother of two children.

With this document, as a former pupil of a home schooling, I would like to use my view of those affected to show the potential for child rights violations in the currently existing parental right to home schooling.

I personally am against the abolition of home schooling, because I believe that this parental right is an enrichment for the Austrian educational offer.

However, I advocate that the centuries-old parental right to home schooling be changed to the current state of the law: Since 2011, children’s basic rights have been enshrined in the Federal Constitution, but home schooling has not yet been modified to these children’s rights.

I agree with the recommendation of the Austrian “Network for Children’s Rights” that „Austria should make necessary effort to ensure that the child welfare priority principle is integrated and consistently applied in an appropriate manner in all legislative, administrative and judicial procedures…“By pleading that the principle of the best interests of the child should be applied in an appropriate manner in the event of a change in the law on parental rights (see on this the principle of the primacy of the best interests of the child in general principles“ of Netzwerk Kinderrechte Österreich – National Coalition zur Umsetzung der UN-Kinderrechtskonvention in Österreich (2019): p. 12).

Mag. a Aya Boesch MA

2      Introduction

The right to education at home has existed since the introduction of compulsory education during the reign of Maria Theresa. It allows parents to teach their children privately with the greatest possible degree of autonomy. They may exercise this right to home schooling at any time, without justification and without conditions, if they do not agree with the public school offer. In principle, it can be assumed that in exercising this right, parents take into account the best interests of their children.

Parents do not have to justify their teaching methods, according to the current legal situation, a positive annual report is sufficient to put private lessons on an equal ground with normal school lessons. Parents are thus legally afforded a great deal of possible freedom of action when home-schooling. This room for manoeuvre also has shown great potential: for instance, parent initiatives have developed teaching methods that were later adopted by public schools and are still being practised today.

Domestic education as an ancient basic right is legally almost completely judged in terms of parental interests: Parents do not have to fear any official supervision, the only pressure they have is the positive annual results of their children. They have the freedom to act freely, on their own responsibility, and are legally responsible for ensuring that the welfare of their children is at the core of their decisions and actions, both in private lessons as well as child upbringing.

From my professional experience, I know that even the task of raising children in the best interests of the child can make parents very insecure. Parents who teach their children at home have a double task: they must bring up and teach lessons to their children. The difficulty in exercising this dual role lies in the sometimes-conflicting interests of the tasks of upbringing and teaching, which leads to role diffusion, ambivalence and conflicts of loyalty which develop both in the children as well as the parents.

It happens that teachers have to coteach their own child in the classroom; former pupils of these parent teachers describe even in adulthood how stressful this situation was for them and how they tried to separate their parents into teachers and parents with clearly assignments roles, and how offending this assignment of roles was for some of these parents. Many parents get into conflicts of interest with their own children when they practice and learn at home with their child for school as a mother or father, and decide on learning support as a conflict resolution, so that peace can return at home.

Child well-being in the context of home schooling is very difficult for parents who teach their own children at home than for those whose children go to school. There are neither scientifically supported research nor legally anchored guidelines or regulations on how to conduct domestic education in the best interests of the child’s well-being and in consideration of the child’s basic rights, what basic conditions the child needs in order to develop in the best possible emotional and cognitive way.

In my opinion, it seems that nobody has yet seriously addressed the issue of home schooling, especially with regard to children’s rights. Although the child and youth advocates have already pointed out many grievances violating children’s rights through home schooling in a position paper in 2018, this problem has not yet been taken seriously enough, neither scientifically nor legally, to make parental rights an overall solution, taking into account children’s rights, a research topic and a political issue.

In order to protect children from future violations of children’s rights, the Federal State of Austria is, in my opinion, obliged to make a legal amendment to the parental right to home schooling, otherwise the State of Austria would be acting unconstitutionally towards children’s rights.

2.1      What violations of children’s rights does the right to home schooling entail from my perspective?

With this document, my viewpoint is derived from my own experiences as a concerned party that affected my oppinion to child rights violations that are currently relevant as it was back then:

The right to home schooling promotes the formation of socially closed systems in which children have to grow up in conditions that are damaging to their development. In chapter 3, I describe from my own point of view, which health, psychological and cognitive development risks or already health damages I was exposed to, on the one hand due to the neglectful living conditions and on the other hand due to a complete lack of lessons or teaching materials in the first class of primary school, and how an entire village, including the authorities, intentionally looked the other way.

In chapter 4 I describe the inactivity of the authorities when danger was imminent in our family: Nobody prevented our father from moving his residence from Neulengbach to the big city of Vienna, thus fleeing – from the countryside to the city to avoid the authority from taking custody of the children. By keeping our family on the run, I would relate it with the social phenomenon of official tourism. Furthermore, I would describe the difficulties of youth welfare offices in clarifying indicated risks to the well-being of children in socially closed systems, such as our family microcosm was, and that the conventional, usual control instruments of a Youth  and Children Welfare Office are not sufficient to be able to clarify, in such a sworn community, whether a risk to the well-being of the child actually exists. In this difficult clarification problem on the part of the Youth Welfare Office, it is particularly tempting for social workers to derive positive developments in the sense of the child’s well-being as a quick result of the parents‘ learned official language and opportunistic behaviour towards authorities in the case of sham cooperation.

In chapter 5, I describe how deceptive the outward appearance of alternative lifestyles such as „schooling in the open air“, „living on a small farm“ can be and how has been used in a closed social system as a distraction from the existing violence and neglect: In a closed social system, each member knows how to act outwardly to protect their community. This manipulative information has the function of making a real, holistic picture of the reality of life impossible and thus of covering up violations of children’s rights such as violence, neglect, psychological torture etc.

Furthermore, in chapter 5 I refer to the social phenomenon of the „search for alternative lifestyles“ in order to counteract the current socio-economic and political uncertainties and fears, to actively do something about emerging worries about the future: Uncertainties, worries and fears do not stop at the public educational provision: There are many parents who are dissatisfied with the state educational provision and want to offer their children a different learning environment. I know of cases where parents, due to prolonged bullying of their children without adequate reactions from the schools, finally signed off their children to home schooling as a emergency solution. This overlooks the fact that „harmful influences at school“ are a school problem and should be solved by the school and not be attached to the child by „removing“ that child from school. Exclusion as a solution does not correspond to the idea of inclusion and prevents opportunities for participation. „The possibility of participation of all children and young people is a core idea of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.“ cf. in this context Network Children’s Rights Austria-National Coalition for the Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Austria (2019): p. 15.

In Chapter 6, I refer to the topic of „planned trips abroad“ from the perspective of those affected, as a familiar motive of parents to sign off their children to the domestic : possibly hidden behind such planned trips abroad lie idealized fantasies of redemption of parents whose life in Austria has become subjectively unbearable: in such a case, the children are also at risk, because if family life in Austria has become unbearable, the children live in an equally unbearable family environment, which bears many development risks.

In chapter 7 I describe from my own experience in the second class of the upper primary school (I attended a real school for the first time in my life) the still common practice of granting home schooling during a current school year: a pupil can be torn out of his or her class during the school year in order to be taught at home by his or her parents. In particular, the child’s right to have a say and co-determination in his or her personal affairs is violated. Furthermore, I describe a repetitive failure of the Youth  and Children Welfare Office to clarify the violation of child’s well-being as described  by the school and consider how clarification of such violations of child wellbeing in a family microsystems can be utilized and therefore purposeful.

In this chapter I also would like to show how the family living conditions at home, which were hostile to development, made me mentally ill and how my parents withdrew me from the medically prescribed therapy measures. In the context of home schooling and medical confidentiality, the sole responsibility of parents for adherence to medically prescribed therapies can pose a real threat to the child’s life.

Due to my several months of school attendance in the 2nd grade of upper primary, which I experienced as a great enrichment and the prepared lessons as a service, I noticed the serious differences between school lessons and home schooling. However, case law interprets a positive annual report as a testimony for parents to provide equivalent education to schooling. In my opinion, this assumption is simply grossly negligent towards the children’s rights to education and the best possible promotion and child development; also, § 2 (target paragraph, „The legal task of schools“) of the School Organisation Act applies in schools, regarded in the examination of home schooling – nevertheless, home schooling is classified as equivalent to schooling and certified with  the certificate of the external pupils examination.

In this chapter, I would like to criticize the examination setting of an annual pupil external exam as not suitable for children, as well as the use of internal school examination criteria for external exams as not appropriate for testing current cognitive performance according to the curriculum guidelines of the public school. I also criticize the minimal learning experience in a middle school level, which children have in a class with one or two parents, compared to the variety of learning experiences by different teachers, which female pupils are allowed to have in a public school. An annual assessment – whether by means of examinations at school or by external exams – has an education-selective function: Unsuitable examination criteria and examination settings of the school authorities that are not suitable for children have an education-obstructing effect due to possible misjudgements of the actual learning performance to the extent that they can block educational and career pathways due to a poor final certificate.

In chapters 6, 7 and 8 I describe from the perspective of those affected how domestic based education can be abused by parents in order to live out extremism unhindered within a community or within one’s own family and in this way pass it on to children. Because domestic education is legally protected as a parental right, it is best suited for the radicalization of children for instance in terms of religious, political, esoteric, xenophobic, etc.

In Chapter 8 I refer to psychosomatic illnesses and their symptom-shifting manifestations as a psychological reaction to a life in a forced context such as that of our family microcosm.

Furthermore, from the point of view of those affected, I will discuss the fact that there is little awareness of psychological violence in the public. From this I conclude that it can be assumed that the exercise of psychological violence as a „means of education“ is generally on the rise because it leaves no visible traces. In the context of home schooling, children are therefore twice as often exposed to psychological pressure, both as a means of education and as a „teaching method“. School children who show behavioural problems or psychosomatically illness as a result of the parents‘ upbringing behaviour that endangers their development are sooner or later conspicuous in the schools, to which the school authorities must react, in contrast to home schooling, where the probability is very high that calls for help from children affected by illness, as happened in my case, are not heard.

Chapter 8 also deals with the lack of future perspectives, especially for children under home schooling due to the fact that there exists no other options except that of the tutor. However, it is one of the developmental tasks of young people to think about their future, for which external perspectives (various suggestions from people outside the family system) are undoubtedly necessary. The lack of external perspectives thus represents a development risk.

In chapter 9 I describe the developmental psychological effects of inappropriate sexual education that I later learnt were not correct.

Chapter 10 deals with the problem of legal support for parents to be allowed to provide home schooling against the will of their child(ren). This is contrary to the child’s fundamental right to have a say and participation in the shaping of his or her personal affairs.

From the point of view of the concerned persons, I would like to show that parents do not have to provide cognitive or psychological certificates to be allowed to teach children at home. In the case of an underlying mental illness in one or both parents, parents are still allowed to teach their children at home. The high stress factors to which these children and adolescents are exposed as caring relatives place above-average demands on their strength: the negative effects are known to be mainly psychosocial and psychological. This endless spiral of stress witnessed by children and youths under home schooling has no end.

3      The school year 1977/78

3.1      How did I experience the first annual exam at the age of 7 in Neulengbach?

On the day of the exam I was very excited. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and it was warm. I was washed clean the day before, my hair was braided very carefully and I had beautiful braces in my hair. I was wearing a new dress, since my baptism the first new dress I could remember. I had new stockings and shoes – I felt like new.

Today I was finally allowed to go to school! My two older brothers already told me a lot about this school, they went to primary school the previous year. At that time I was still too small to go to school, I had to stay at home. This year we were all taken out of school and taught at home by our parents. And now at the end of the school year we had to show the school what we had learned.

I was so amazed how clean it was at school, I could look out through the classroom windows    and watch the whole village life went by. In our home there were no clean windows and you couldcould not look outside the last two years, so dirty and fogged up they were.

The teacher directed me to an empty table in the first row. I had my own table! A table that was all mine! And an armchair where my legs reached the floor! I wiped with my hand over my clean table, where the sun’s rays painted bright spots, and I kept touching the circumference of the table to internalize its dimensions and surface structure. I liked this place.

The teacher wrote something on the blackboard, her writing was magically beautiful, I could recognize every word because she left a big space between the words. I wanted to learn to write as beautifully as she did.

The teacher asked me to read out what she had just written, and I read: with such a beautifully written text, it was not so difficult for me to read well. The teacher praised me highly. She was a very dear teacher, friendly and said that I was doing well.

Then she gave me an empty notebook and asked me to copy the sentences from the blackboard. The notebook was new, I was allowed to write in a new notebook!

 I tried to write as beautifully as the teacher. In the second lesson it was time for arithmetic. The calculations were easy for me, I could calculate them well in my head, but I had difficulties to write down the result correctly. I also had to paint a picture, for which I was also praised very much.

I was proud of myself, and felt that I was a good pupil. That day I went home alone, I had my certificate in my hand, it was a wonderful day: my dad gave me money for a cream cake, I still remember how much I enjoyed every single bite!

My brothers and sisters were also gradually coming home from their external examinations, all of them had positive marks, the atmosphere was good.

3.2      Would the annual exams be carried out in the same way today as back then?

Only my cognitive abilities were tested and assessed through written and oral assignments. The contents of the examination referred to the curriculum of the 1st grade primary school. The teacher chose the class setting to test my cognitive abilities. At that time I found the atmosphere of the examination to be pleasant, so I was happy to show what I could do.

Even now, only cognitive abilities are tested in an annual examination. The emotional state or existing emotional distress cannot be recorded in such an examination setting. It would require different examination criteria and a different examination setting to capture a child’s overall development – cognitively and emotionally.

The evaluation would have the same result today: because of the fact that I still mixed up letters and numbers when writing, I was judged as good. I was able to solve and answer all the tasks the teacher gave me independently and mostly correctly.

Even today my parents would be allowed to continue home schooling for another year because all their children have positive annual exams. Current case law sees no need to review parental teaching practices; proof of „equivalent teaching“ to school teaching is provided by a positive annual examination.

Statistics on positive annual examination results for home schooling are used as a legal argument that home schooling is crowned by positive annual examination for years. Had these statistical surveys of positive annual examinations already existed at that time, these statistics would have included our seven annual examinations that we passed – and would have served then, as they do today, as a basis for argumentation that parents have sufficient ability to teach their child/children.

3.3      Domestic lessons in Neulengbach from my point of view

I started to learn the alphabets in September, my older brothers and sisters wrote down the alphabet for me and said I had to learn every letter. After I learned the letters, I would be tested. I learned A, Be, Ce, De….one after the other, and in that order I was able to recite all the belly letters quite quickly, and very quickly write all the alphabets as well. I learned upper- and lower-case letters at the same time, the small a and the capital A, the small b and the capital B. By the beginning of October I had learned all the letters. Until the end of September we camped on a property in Laaben. From October on we lived again in Neulengbach in two rooms, which were originally intended as storage rooms of a toy store. This toy store had been closed for a long time due to the bankruptcy of my parents. The closed shop was located in the centre of the village.

At the beginning of October our electricity was cut off. We studied by candlelight. We also had hardly any wood to heat the wood stove, we sat at a table with blankets, on average six of us, and froze while we studied, while my older brothers and sisters looked after the children who were not yet of school age.

We had great shortage of money, so we could hardly buy food. We had an oil furnace. It took three hours to cook semolina pudding for everyone with the oil furnace, even though the semolina pudding was hot enough, we ate our portion greedily. We were starving and freezing. In the nights it was cold because we only had thin blankets.

We were cold day and night, and we were starving, so we could hardly concentrate. We were constantly busy warming up our cooled body parts and at the same time we had to sit and do school homework.

Washing care was completely dispensed with, apart from daily combing of the long hair, there was no care. It smelled so much in the room that my father decided to make coffee so that the smell of coffee would outweigh all other odours. My brothers and sisters were still bed wetting, there were white worms in the mattresses, and the room smelled strongly of urine.

It was every man for himself.

My older brothers and sisters gave me tasks to do, such as reading a page in a reading book. And because I couldcould not read, I had to read until I could. I knew all the letters, but I still could not read.

 I had hardly any writing material, no sharpener to sharpen a pencil that I shared with two other siblings. There was also no money for a note book, I had to write on a lined A4 sheet, and since we did not have an eraser either, I took my hair tie to erase mistakes. I had to copy from the reading book that my brothers had received from school the year before. However, I could not read the text, but I loved the funny drawings, and I tried to guess the content of the text from these drawings.

My older brothers and sisters also gave me tasks that were too much for me. And because I did not get many of their tasks together, I was told time and again that I was too stupid for that and needed baby tasks: I should write each word from the book in a separate line, and copy that word one line at a time. I did so, and while I was writing the lines, at some point I also knew the word I had written. However, with every word I had not yet written, it became clear that I could not read. And there were so many different words!

I despaired of reading, but I loved arithmetic, I found arithmetic logical, and therefore it was easy for me. I calculated from the book that my brothers had received from school the year before. My father became aware of me because I couldcould not read, and he said that I had to be able to read until after the Christmas holidays, otherwise he would have to take care of teaching me to read. I was afraid of my father’s consequences if I still could not read after Christmas.

So I spent as many hours as possible by candlelight, racking my brain to finally teach me to read. I was able to guess a lot of words, which gave me the certainty that I might not have to suffer the dreaded punishments that awaited me if I could not read after Christmas.

I was also busy during the Christmas holidays, spending most of my time staring at my reading book. One of my older brothers came by now and then, and I had to read him something: he noticed that I memorised the word, and that I couldcould not read all the other words. I drew the letters like a piece of chewing gum, but could not put them together in my brain to form a recognizable word.

One evening, when I was sitting trembling in a blanket over the candlelight reading book again, my brother came to me and said, I’ve got it: you mustmust not think in your brain eM, be, de think, you have to remove out every e – i.e. minus-calculating, then you can certainly read. I was amazed – why did I learn be, de etc. if I am not allowed to read it? I was already good at arithmetic, and I knew exactly what minus-calculation meant in this case, I took away every „e“ and suddenly I could read!

From that day on, my schooling improved, I was able to cope well with the tasks despite hunger and cold, and I no longer had to fear being punished by my father.

My older brothers had a completely different situation: they were regularly beaten up, very often had to go three days without food except for a piece of bread and three glasses of water a day, had to do their tasks on wood „kneeling on sharp pieces of wood“ because they could not solve them. My brother, who was two years older than me, spent most of the time kneeling, because he always had some task he could not accomplish. He was also punished the most and the hardest and was constantly deprived of food as punishment because he did not remember anything.

About a month before the big annual exam, my brothers, who had lost a lot of weight during the year, were given plenty to eat, so that their ribs were less visible at the annual exam. My father refrained from punishments that left physical traces – and resorted to „methods“ like dipping our heads into a bucket of ice-cold water until we had the greatest difficulty in breathing, several times in a row. Today it would be called torture by „waterboarding“. In this month before the external exam, not only was there more to eat, but our father also went hiking with us a lot, so that we got a healthy skin colour. We also got new clothes and shoes this month and in the end we brought home a positive school results.

3.4      How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated currently in other families?

Although we lived in the middle of the village, and our family was known in the village since grandparents‘ generation, practically nobody helped us. In the autobiographical book written decades later by my brother Stephan, the chapter „A village decides collectively to look away“ reported about this village event (see Stephan F. (2018): p 49 – 53).  „Looking away“ is still a widespread strategy to avoid conflicts and problems. Even today, „looking away“ is still a tried and tested method of not getting too much work done in both civil and professional contexts.

The phenomenon of „home schooling by the parents“, as it is currently practised in Austria and is legally protected against any „general suspicion of violations of children’s rights“, makes it impossible for the authorities to substantiate vague suspicions of a risk to the well-being of the child by carefully examining the family circumstances.

If the world of children is reduced to the nuclear family, which is still possible today when children are taught at home by their parents, there is no chance for these children to have contact with the outside world except for partial moments such as the annual exams. When parents themselves do not maintain external contacts or live in a closed community and forbid their children to establish external contacts outside the closed system; in such a closed system, affected children have almost no possibility to get help from outside in case of need. In the case of children’s welfare being threatened by violence or gross neglect in care and education, it is very likely that children will be exposed to these adverse living conditions throughout their childhood because their suffering remains undetected.

Therefore, it seems very likely to me that our painful experiences with home schooling could be repeated because of the jurisdiction currently in force.

4      The 1978/79 school year

4.1      How did I experience the annual exam for the 2nd grade primary school at the age of 8 years in the “Volksschule Gumpendorferstraße, 1060 Vienna”?

The annual examination for the 2nd grade primary school was held in Vienna, Volksschule Gumpendorferstraße 4 and lasted two days.

My father accompanied my brothers and sisters and me to school where the headmistress welcomed us. The adults spoke a little, a few teachers came, we were separated, and I went into a small room with a teacher. The teacher told me this was the doctors‘ room. I was afraid of what was going to happen to me, because was not sick, I wanted to have an exam like a normal pupil in class and asked about the other school children and in class. The teacher told me that I was not a pupil, I was there because I need to do an exam. Just being alone with the teacher in this quiet room lit by neon light scared me. The table and the armchairs were for adults, the window had a lowered roller blinds and I felt helpless.

The teacher gave me tasks, I did not know exactly what I had to do, the tasks were new to me because I had never seen such tasks before. The teacher explained something to me, I did not listen properly because my feelings were affected because of fear and helplessness: for example, she said that she would make a dictation with me, that I should read three lines of text well and remember the words. I did not know what dictation was, so I read the text once quietly. Because then I looked up in the air, the teacher asked if I was ready, I said yes. Then the teacher gave me a ruled sheet and dictated the text. I did not know how to write the words, I had never written words from memory. The tasks in arithmetic were also new to me – there were many tasks with quantities, but I was used to calculating plus and minus, to performing painting calculations and division calculations up to number space 100, but these colourful quantity drawings confused me. The teacher noticed that I could not do any of the tasks and asked me what I had learned. She then gave me an exam according to the lessons that I had had at home.

I got scared because the teacher looked very worried. When my father picked me up, the teacher showed my father the dictation and told him about dyslexia and that I needed „extra support“. My written dictation was now littered with red marks, these marks stood very close together and formed a boat route on wavy water. At first I was annoyed that the teacher had painted over my writing so red, but somehow I liked the sea of boats. I only listened when she talked about 60 errors within three lines and said that I did not even know „dictation“. Then she also tells me that I did not understand the arithmetical problems and that she therefore did not know how to judge me, because I could do so many things: divide, multiply – minus – plus – calculate, add, tens, units, units of measurement etc. I was also be very good at writing, I would be able to write well in longhand…I could hear how she said to my father that the girl needed special support to get through school, because would get difficult every year.

My brothers and sisters and I all had a positive conclusion, I was not doing so well because my father made the teacher’s concerns a daily topic at home, sometimes he was annoyed by her arrogance to tell him what to do as a „home teacher“, sometimes he talked about the fact that he would take special care of me next year, he would practice a lot with me, he knew what was good for me. I felt sick at his thoughts, I was very afraid of what would happen to me.

4.2      Would the annual exam be carried out in the same way today?

The learning contents were checked according to the curriculum of the 2nd grade elementary school. The test requirements of writing in cursive writing, reading with a sense of meaning and calculating in the number range up to 100 were fulfilled, and therefore, according to current assessments, this test would also be positive.

A separate classroom was chosen as the examination setting. In the case of an externalist examination, the authority assumes the function of „checking learning content“. Children who take an external exam are not pupils of a school in the traditional sense. The school has no further instructions to the candidates other than to test their cognitive abilities according to the curriculum provided for this purpose and then issue a certificate.

This functional administrative access was also noticeable in the examination situation, it was a formal administrative activity.

I consider the teacher’s concerns about my dyslexia to be justified, even if, in the context of our family, they have led to a drastic deterioration in my learning conditions over the years. Even today, parents who teach their children at home do not have to respond to recommendations from teachers as long as the pupils in home schooling pass the annual exams.

4.3      Domestic education in Vienna from my perspective

We spent the summer on our grandmother’s property in Laaben. My father had built a wooden hut of about 10 square meters and we stayed there overnight (we were already 12 children). We fed on berries we found, the seasonal ripe fruit of the trees on the property and 1 Kilo of bread per day and drank the well water from our own well. Our biggest brother cultivated the earth and so we could harvest vegetables. For emergency thirst, we had to drink from small water holes that dug ourselves.

From mid-August onwards there was family unrest. There was a talk about child abductions and that the Neulengbachers wanted to expel us away from the village. So I was glad I was in Laaben. Our mother gave birth to a baby in mid-August, and from about mid-September we lived in Neulengbach again.

One night we were woken up, had to get quietly into a VW bus and our father drove us to Vienna. On the way to Vienna we learned that we were moving to Vienna because the people in Neulengbach had decided to put us children in a home in the morning.

Our father had applied for the family allowance for us children out of financial need and the family allowance was transferred very quickly, retroactively for the last two years. So he could afford the VW bus and rent a two-room apartment in Vienna Mariahilf.

From Neulengbach only a few things could be taken along that night, the bus was already full with us children. In the apartment we lied on blankets at night. The parquet floor creaked, and we had to practice walking so quietly that he did not cart so that we would not be discovered. We were only allowed to leave the house in small groups, so that nobody in the house could count how many people actually lived here.

After a few days our armchairs and the bunk beds were moved from Neulengbach, and we also got our poor clothes back.

In Vienna, we had a gas stove, and we got a warm meal twice a day – in the morning a milk pudding and in the evening alternately cabbage with dumplings or lentils with dumplings. On Sunday there was a fine meal, two chickens for 14 people, served with mashed potatoes and roasted onion. There was also bread and butter as snacks.

In Vienna we had no tables: as desk pads we used our armchairs, each child got a pencil where he or she had to engrave his or her name and look after it him or herself. There was only one pencil per child per year.

Our father said that we dodo not have to study so seriously because we are fleeing to Canada in the spring. There would be a war, it would be a wartime mood. He bought boat tickets, and while my older sisters had to sew curtains so that no one could look into our VW bus, I had to look mainly after the children who were not of school age, looking after them and keeping them busy, so that they would be quiet and not disturb my father – otherwise they too would have been beaten and mistreated.

At the beginning of April we drove in a VW bus from Vienna to Rotterdam – our parents and us, meanwhile 13 children. Among other things because of technical defects this trip lasted 14 days. The crossing from Rotterdam to Quebec took 10 days, but the Canadian immigration authorities did not allow us to enter the country, but forced us to return with the same ship. The costs of this were borne by the shipping company. (This escape from Austria is described in detail in the chapter „No escape in Canada“ [Stephan F. (2018): pp. 67 – 78]. Our escape ended with our arrival back in Vienna in mid-May. In the meantime, our maternal grandmother had filed a report with the Youth and Children Welfare Office, expressing her deep concern about the health of her grandchildren and advocating that her son-in-law should be psychiatrically examined.

Between our return to Vienna and the annual examination we had an announced visit from the Youth and Children Welfare Office. The day before, the apartment was cleaned as best as possible, on the day of the visit my father let the children go for a walk for those who had seen traces of corporal punishment, and the rest of us children were instructed to play quietly while „those from the Youth  and Children Welfare Office are there to visit us“. All the children who were present during the visit were washed and cleanly clothed beforehand, their hair carefully combed, almost as if it was an exam day.

During this visit, a social worker looked in our mouths and both social workers talked to the parents. I listened attentively while I was busy with my younger brothers and sisters: the social workers complained about the missing furniture, and my father told about the trip to Canada, which he wanted to give us children as an unforgettable experience, and that one of the advantages of home schooling was that it would be possible to make such trips, because such a trip would be expensive during the main holiday periods. With regard to the missing furniture, he argued that we had only recently moved from Neulengbach to Vienna, and had been prevented from buying furniture, first by the travel preparations and then by the journey. He was planning to decorate the apartment so that the whole family could feel comfortable there. When asked about the missing children, my father stated that he was assuring that children get fresh air once a day for several hours. My parents were given the obligation to have their children’s teeth cleaned and to provide the necessary dental hygiene, and for this they needed toothbrushing utensils. The social workers also described to the parents where they could buy them and that they would need a medical certificate from each child whether the dental work had actually been done. Soon afterwards, we the children went to the dentist for the first time in our lives, each child received a toothbrush and a toothpaste was bought for the whole family. When this became empty, we had to wash our teeth with salt.

My parents promptly followed this requirement from the Youth and Children Welfare Office, whereupon the welfare office thanked us in writing and informed us that is would refrain from further visits.

During the same period, my father’s pressure had grown greatly to teach us all the annual examination contents within just one month. We felt this pressure insofar as we had to learn even on Sundays – which in our father’s eyes was a grave sin, but on the other hand this fatherly stress resulted in more abuse and torturing us. In the published biography work of my brother Stephan F., in the chapter „Back in Vienna“ in the book „In Gottes Namen?“ (In God’s Name), an example is given of how unbelievably brutal and agonizingly he reacted to the pressure of the upcoming annual examination (see Stephan F. (Ed.), 2018: In Gottes Namen? S 79 – 83).

From the time before the big annual exam, I have very little memories of  events that took place, personally, I have no memories of what happened to me – except that I felt very weak, exhausted and tired.

4.4      How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated in the current day, in other families?

In Neulengbach the community had looked away until they could no longer look away: A medical officer from St. Pölten confirmed a massive neglect of the children, urine-wet beds etc. Thereupon the congregation decided to take away our parents‘ children (see ORF 1996: In Name of God. Allegro Film). At that time, the municipality had to pay for the costs of external accommodation itself; in our case, these costs would have weighed heavily on the municipal budget. So it was not by chance that an official from Neulengbach „secretly“ told our father that all the children would be taken away the next day.

We disappeared overnight from the village. The village made no effort to investigate where we had disappeared to; it had solved its „problem“ in its own way. No information about our living conditions – we were finally known to the authorities and there was danger in delay – was passed on to Vienna.

Just as we did back then, unpleasant „problem cases“ are still migrating to the big cities today. Vienna, in particular, experiences an annual increase in the rate of immigration from the provinces in this respect; many of these immigrants have moved away from the country side because they could not find adequate social support services.

Public authority tourism is also a recurrent phenomenon in the socio-educational context, and even today, despite the possibility of rapid data transfer, many families known to the authorities still consider moving to other administrative districts as a successful strategy for avoiding official controls.

From my professional experience I know that due to the current massive cost-cutting measures in child and youth welfare, the respective offices feel compelled to focus on processing the reported acute cases, where it is concretely a matter of endangering the welfare of children.

The transfer of data between the federal states regarding official files also contributes to the social phenomenon of „delaying tactics by official tourism“. There is, for example, an internal agreement between the federal states (Länder) that the state school directorates will not pass on „socially sensitive debt data when changing schools to another federal state“.

As concretely as schools or other childcare facilities can describe child well-being risks, for example, a child well-being risk can never be formulated in terms of children who are taught at home: In the case of children who are taught at home by their parents, it is virtually impossible to draw conclusions about child well-being risks based on incomplete information and observations. If the social workers from the youth and children welfare office, merely follow up these vague suspicions, this kind of examination of the family circumstances falls short.

Concerning our family, our grandmother had justified concerns about our state of health at the time and also reported to the authorities, but with announced controls by the youth welfare office, the probability that suspicions are substantiated decreases very strongly. The work of the social workers in our case was very superficial, because they communicated exclusively with the parents and believed them as much as possible.

Even today, when examining family living conditions – which are largely characterised by a wealth of socially aggressive behaviour within the family system    – an observed family scene „where children can play peacefully and quietly with each other and do not crowd between speaking adults“ is still considered an educational justification for the fact that the family environment is healthy for the development of children. There is a lot of ignorance made during the planned observations since the visits are announced by the social worker, which represents only a snapshot of the normal life and does not necessarily represent everyday life in the families. In this case, other review settings would be more useful to get closer to the actual realities.

Parents who have registered their children for home schooling are very success in defending themselves in court against general suspicions of reported threats to the well-being of the child, so that the respective children welfare offices currently have no other choice than to proceed cautiously or with low thresholds in the context of home schooling in order to be able to secure themselves legally in the case of legal proceedings initiated by the parents who have been registered.

In view of the tight financial resources of the social worker and their current jurisdiction, which particularly protects parental rights, it is currently very likely that complaints against parents who have registered their children in home schooling gets lost and that affected children do not receive any help at all.

5      The school years 1979-80 and 1980-81

5.1      How did I experience the last two annual exams at the age of 9 and 10 years in the Volksschule Gumpendorferstraße 4, 1060 Vienna?

The examination setting for these annual examinations was similar to that of the previous year.

Again,ü I had difficulties to understand and solve the tasks. I found it difficult to read aloud, reading quietly went very well and I also grasped the content. When reading aloud, I left out words and letters, invented words that did not appear in the text to say a meaningful sentence. Reading aloud stressed me.

I swapped numbers and left out whole numbers too. At the oral examination I gave the correct results.

I got used to the worried face of my examiner, I found the way she examined me to be sensitive and turned towards me. She tried to check the learning content in the same way that I was used to during home learning. I was very good at writing picture stories in terms of content, but my writing was very poor, although I was familiar with basic grammatical rules. This was also the case in the fourth grade of elementary school, the content of my essay was very well structured, but again I had very many spelling mistakes.

In both exams I profited in religion from my differentiated knowledge of the Bible, prayers and religious songs.

I also knew some songs in music, could sing canon and keep the beat. I knew the usual musical instruments, but I could not assign their sound because I had never heard them before: we had neither TV nor radio at home.

The examination in craft and physical exercises did not take place. It was noted in the certificate that the inspection of these two items was inadmissible pursuant to para. 1 (2) of the Regulation of the Federal Ministry of Finance, BLGBI. no. 362/1979.

With the 4th grade annual report I was entitled to attend the second class in senior primary school, but I was not really good in class.

5.2      Would annual exams be conducted in the same way today?

It became apparent that due to my dyslexic tendencies, my learning ability was so impaired that I was assessed positively, but for the senior primary school I was only classified as a pupil with learning difficulties.

This division of first and second grade no longer exists today, the middle school is run as a heterogeneous classroom school with individual learning support needs. In the case of a reading and spelling weakness, there are decrees issued by the school authorities, so-called guidelines for dealing with reading and spelling weakness in the school context. There are additional learning support in small groups  that are prescribed and an oral based assessment to the learning ability is recommended.

Since the regulations on home schooling do not provide for any kind of extra learning support if the annual examination is positive, it can be assumed that even today, if a reading and writing weakness is present, no additional special learning support is aimed for, and thus the child with reading and writing weakness is educationally handicapped in his cognitive abilities, both his reading and his spelling skills.

5.3      Home schooling in the last two years of primary school from my point of view

In the previous chapter, I have already described my father’s teaching practices in the last school years. It should be added here that we learned from textbooks that came from Volksschule Neulengbach and were three to four years old. In Volksschule Gumpendorferstraße, where we were tested, they used other textbooks. The examining teacher therefore recommended that my father to use her school’s textbook vouchers to obtain new textbooks free of charge, but he refused. He spoke of wastefulness in throwing away valuable textbooks – he did not think much of the fact that schoolchildren get new textbooks every year, and these are thrown away at the end of the year, this costs the state many millions of money of state expenditure and would help to increase the national debt.

Because I had dyslexia, my father paid special attention to me: I was given a book of fairy tales („The Golden Key“), and had to read a fairy tale every day and copy 5 to 10 A5 pages from the fairy tale book on my knees. I was not allowed to put down my pencil until I showed the required pages. The number of pages depended on the length of the fairy tale, if it was a long fairy tale, then it was enough to write 10 pages, if it was a short fairy tale with no more than a few pages of text, then it was enough to write fewer pages. There were only a few fairy tales in the „golden key“ that were short.

With my pencil I had to keep house all year round, so I paid a lot of attention to him and found an ideal hiding place with a loose piece of chair rail by the wall, where I hid it every day. By the end of the school year it had only the length of my childish index fingernail.

Apart from copying, I had to cope with the usual learning material, and I was increasingly assigned to the childcare of my younger siblings, cooking and laundry. We did not have a washing machine: my older brothers and sisters soaked the laundry in a large basin, which had to be brushed and wrung out, then the laundry was washed and taken by my older brothers with a shopping trolley to the laundry to dry. Afterwards the laundry was hung over night over the existing armchairs, there was no laundry rack.

My father regularly used violence against us children, there was ritualized abuse on all of us – from toddlers to adults. The most common reason for mistreatment was mainly wrong answers to questions related to the learning content. I realized the regularity of the mistreatment, that my father was simply looking for a reason to be able to use violence: my father was very tense, especially before excesses of violence; he then carried out the ritualized acts of violence mostly according to a recurring pattern of physical violence and mental torture, and after this „execution“ he relaxed and we children became concerned and afraid.

So that the neighbours in Vienna and in Laaben would not be alerted by the screaming of the abused children, the children were gagged; we were never allowed to take the gag out of our mouths on our own.

My eldest brother, with the help of the older children, ran a steadily growing vegetable and herbs garden in Laaben, which we made a good living from over the summer. We also helped with the haymaking. We also kept chickens and rabbits on the property, which ensured our meat requirements on Sundays, and we also had a goat, which was covered from outside and had a young one; we also had a piglet once, which was slaughtered after 8 months and eaten by us children.

In addition to the considerable everyday obligations, which our father described as „an obligation to help in the household“, we still had to learn. It was much easier for me to study outdoors than in the cramped Vienna apartment where there was no escape. But I also had to show my father or one of my older siblings in Laaben what I had learned.

These seasonal stays from May onwards in the „great outdoors“ did us good and had an effect: in mid-June we took part in the annual exams with renewed strength and brought home positive marks.

5.4      How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated in the here and now, in other families?

There is currently a social trend to look for alternative ways of life. These „alternative“ ways of life include motives such as protesting against the disposable society, leaving state control, „protection from society“, etc. Parents want to raise and educate their children „differently“ and are increasingly interested in the educational path of home schooling.

Not only because of fundamental socio-critical motives, but also for reasons of protest against our school system, some parents choose the educational path of home schooling: our grown school system has weaknesses, and these weaknesses are noticed especially by affected pupils in the classes: if a pupil has massive problems in class, then due to official formalisms, which a large organizational form such as a school also needs in order to be well managed, individual and satisfying quick solutions for the individual affected pupils cannot always be found. In some cases, pupils for instance whoa have for far too long undergone „bullying“, develop psychological symptoms such as fear of school without the responsible school reacting sufficiently to this, so that parents, out of necessity, sign off their child/children to home schooling in order to protect their child/children from further harmful bullying. Even today, pupils with rare diseases still present schools with „insurmountable“ problems if they cannot cover the medical needs in class due to resource constraints. I personally know of a case from my practice where a desperate parent decided to register home schooling out of concern for his untreated child. In such cases, home schooling would be „abused“ to solve school problems in the child.

For the sake of completeness, I would like to mention in connection with medical needs that there is a special form of home schooling, namely when the child is unable to go to school for medical reasons, such as children suffering from cancer: then mobile teachers are used to teaching sick children at home.

Alternative ways of life and exit scenarios are an in-thing today, and therefore biographical stages of life such as „learning in the open air“, „sustainability versus a disposable society“, „growing up naturally on a small farm“ could be idealised and considered desirable and worthy of imitation.

It is possible that similar living conditions of families today (as described above) would lead to such families being presented as exemplary show families.

6      The school year 1981/1982

6.1      One year without examination

By the annual examination of the 4th grade of primary school I was entitled to move up to the first grade of senior primary in the second level. My father thought that the move to second class would be the best for me: as a future wife I would need good cooking, housekeeping and a bit of reading and writing skills. With my brothers he spoke differently: they had to feed their family, so they had to learn well to be able to work.

We grew up without radio and television, the only information about the world outside we got from my father. My mother never expressed any opinion on any subject.

This year – I was now in the first grade of upper primary – I found it much easier to learn independently. We hardly had any textbooks left, because they had all already fallen through the cracks, so my father bought the compulsory school curriculum and we had to look for the topics for the curriculum in the Vienna public library (in Skodagasse at the time). Besides the learning topics, I found other books that interested me: in one book I read that you can treat lisping away, a problem that I had, by daily exercises, the exercises were represented in this book by photos. I decided to practice with those brothers and sisters who had this problem every day, and the success was that my „lisp siblings“ and I no longer lisped after about 10 months by daily training of 30 minutes, but spoke clearly.

I liked the freedom of the library: I was not allowed to look at books that were „ordinary“, i.e. that contained sex education. I did not want to get caught and then be banned from the library, and I followed my father’s instructions.

My father censored the daily newspaper by tearing out sensitive topics and pictures of naked women’s upper bodies, as well as in the sports section those photos of athletes where the short trousers of the male athletes slipped too far up, or photos of men „jumping for joy“.

We had a male rabbit in the Laaben who liked to sit on the other male rabbit: my father had this „homosexual male rabbit“ slaughtered by my oldest brother.

My oldest brother examined the hares and separated male and female, had the females „mated“, then many baby rabbits came. Our goat was also covered. I did not know what „cover“ meant, and no one would explain it to me.

For school, I learned about reproduction through the queen bees, which are mated by male bees, and the male bees die afterwards. And that some plants have male and female flowers, and that the wind helps to pollinate them. And that fish lay their eggs in water, and the male fish then fertilise these eggs with their „milk“.

I learned from these facts without having any idea what happens during fertilization.

I also did not know how my mother got pregnant every year.

This variety of books was an oasis for me. I quickly adopted a method of learning the material of the first class: I rummaged through and read books on subjects that, according to the syllabus, could be included in the annual examination. I rated the common denominator of all books as the most important learning content.

In order to learn English, I listened to cassettes in the library, and then repeated them in the library.

I was well motivated and felt very confident, as I knew some answers to every topic in the curriculum.

My father said in May that we dodo not have to go to the annual review that year, because his „decades-long trial“ would be going to the Supreme Court, and would soon be decided in his favour – then he would be entitled to millions as an inventor, and he could buy us many things, and we could all leave for Canada.

Just before the summer my father received a negative decision from the Supreme Court, and was very disappointed – we children had to create a very disappointed atmosphere in order not to get beaten up – inwardly we were relieved to be able to stay in Austria.

In the autumn my father tried to obtain a special annual examination permit, but this was refused. Deeply disappointed and saddened, he announced to us school children, even though we had studied so diligently, we were not allowed to take any exams and that we would have to go to school from autumn onwards. We children were classified by the school board as if we had passed positive annual examinations. So, I was allowed to move forward to the 2nd class of Senior primary school.

I did not know what to expect, on the one hand I took over the mood of my father, but on the other hand I was happy to finally be able to go to school.

6.2      How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated present day in other families?

Planned longer trips abroad are frequent reasons or motives given by parents in order to cancel their children’s attendance at home classes, thereby not being able to have the children sit for annual examinations.

7      The 1982/1983 school year

7.1      How did I experience the annual examination for the 2nd grade senior primary school at the age of 12 years at Hauptschule Loquaiplatz, 1060 Vienna?

We had to attend the Senior primary school Loquaiplatz 4, 1060 Vienna, for a few months, because my father had not registered us for the annual examination, as a result of which the municipal school board refused to allow us to continue our home schooling.

In the middle of the year, my father finally managed to continue the home schooling, and we were taught at home again from one day to the next.

I had experienced this first school visit of several months as extremely positive and was happy to see my teachers again when I started for the annual exams: I knew a lot of what was in the textbook since I had memorized it – which is why the oral exams were easy for me.

I still made my usual „sloppy mistakes“, so I got a very bad mark 4 in German. Since we had no radio and, apart from the biographies of musicians, no knowledge of music education, the grade in music was also a four in my marks. My father tried to get an exemption from the assessment in the subject gymnastics at the annual examination because of my illness, but I still got a mark because I took part in gymnastics lessons during school time. Also in religion my father dismissed me because he did not agree with the religious instruction at the school. Thus I did not compete in the subject of religion during my entire senior primary school years.

I found the school to be very warm and cordial: perhaps because now I knew the teachers, and they knew me? All teachers were very friendly to me.

I completed the 2nd class of senior primary school positively.

7.2      School attendance in the 2nd class train in the 2nd class of the Senior primary school and domestic lessons from my point of view

Before the start of school we received backpacks, writing materials – each child 12 coloured pencils, a paint box, a work case and many exercise books, as well as new clothes and shoes. I have never owned so many teaching materials in my life!

It took a lot of getting used to getting up early, we schoolchildren were given semolina porridge, and when there was bread and butter we could also make a snack, and then we went to school – I always went with my older brothers.

My class was the last class on the second floor, at the very back was the second class level. I had to pass two first grade moves every day to get into my class. I observed a lot and found many of the children in my class very childish; I found some of my classmates‘ dalliances strange.

My drawings were almost always chosen as the best drawings of the 2nd floor, which made me proud. Most of the time I was queen of arithmetic and the first school papers I wrote I got „good“ or „very good“ marks.

My father forbade me to go home alone, so I always had to wait for my brothers. This was particularly noticeable to the school caretaker. One day, it was already getting very cold and I was waiting for my brothers more than two hours before school, and for some reason my father picked me up. I found out later that he was at the parent-teacher conference.

We went home without a word, and when the apartment door was closed, there was a hail of slaps, there was sound and drumming in and on my head – I could not remember anything more. At some point I knelt down and my father got terribly upset about the parent-teacher talk and about the school caretaker – and then at some point he came up to me and asked me if I knew why I got slapped, but I could not talk because my cheeks hurt, the mouth and the lips were swollen, so I shrugged my shoulder – whereupon he beat my head hard, and above all hit my eyes – „for ogling the boys so nice“, „for making eyes at the school caretaker“ … at some point he let go of me.

After that I was on sick leave for 14 days and could not go to school. After 14 days my father was worried, because I still had a very blue-green eye, he had to send me to school like this, because otherwise the school would have made a report to the youth and children welfare office.

I was ashamed to go to school with my black eye – some school colleagues asked me if I had been beaten at home, I denied. No teachers asked about my absence and my blue-green eye – at that time I liked it.

A week later I changed classes, I entered the first class level. There, the children were more considerate of each other, I was helped when I did not know my way around, they invited me to their break games, and especially the pupil behind me were very obliging: if I needed anything, he handed it to me wordlessly. In return I transported „love letters“ unnoticed.

I really liked it in this class. I now had to study more attentively so that I did not miss anything. I was able to follow the lessons well. My father enrolled me in a „chess course“, I got to know the chess clock, and the specialist teacher gave us children tips on how we could play better strategically.

But before the first snowfall we were back in our home schooling – torn out of the classroom, the chess course and all the comforts of school: My father had been granted home schooling again after it had been proved that we could all follow the lessons of our respective class levels well.

Shortly after we were back in our home schooling, the Youth  and Children Welfare Office contacted us because the Loquaiplatz school had filed a complaint about the endangerment of the child’s welfare. Two social workers came to our apartment, which had been cleaned and tidied by us children in the usual way.

My father had prepared himself well for this visit: he put forward various arguments as to why he would now prefer to teach his children at home after all; one of his arguments was that he wanted to grant his family a long trip abroad, which he intended to finance by winning a court case. Another argument was that he had to send his children to school, although they had previously learned very well at home, and that he had therefore done everything possible to be able to quickly return to the usual home schooling. With an extended family like his, it would not be possible to send all the children to school, this would be an offer for families with few children, as it was mostly usual in Austria: school attendance would bring unrest in the family, there would be always some children sick. He registered me for example in a 14-day sick leave, where the school had already caused stress because of my absence and threatened to report me to the Youth  and Children Welfare Office if the parents did not bring a medical certificate. My father begged to be immediately suspected by the school of mistreating his children. He did not need to do this, because he had been proving for years now how well he could teach his children. Again he used me as an argument, saying that I had been wrongly judged in the elementary school, that he had always known that I was clever, and that after only a few months of school the proof was on the table: the teachers would be amazed at my ability and how the elementary school could even think of testing me in such a way that I ended up in the second class.

The social workers let my father talk and then asked where we learned and did our, and that they did not see any tables and where we slept, they did not see any beds.

My father said that he had expected him to make a longer trip, and that we might settle somewhere else – he had expected a lot of money, and was so sure he would win the trial that he had already arranged to sell all the furniture. And the school attendance of his children would have left him no time; now he had time and would quickly build racks and tables. He was worried about where there would be room for beds, as there would now be 16 children and 2 adults living in 65 square meters, there would be no room for the children to play. The social workers agreed with my father to get folding beds.

My father and my oldest brother bought chipboard and wood, they borrowed Zgonc tools and after a month the two social workers came again as announced and saw us sitting at a row of tables and quietly learning. Everyone was absorbed in a book or a notebook, there was order and the apartment was clean. There were a couple of folding beds against a wall and a bunk bed had been set up. The smaller siblings were out of the house with their mother. It was the first (and the last) time that my mother had gone out with some smaller siblings.

The social workers were very pleased with what they saw here, my father entertained them with his monologue, and after about an hour the ladies left.

A letter came from the Youth  and Children Welfare Office saying that the domestic situation had now greatly improved and would therefore refrain from further control visits.

One sunny winter morning I got epilepsy. I had to see a neurologist. Not far from our apartment, the neurologist Dr. Zwischenberger had an office. My father was afraid of epilepsy. My brothers and sisters were shocked. I was prescribed the drug maliasin, it had a very strong sedative effect and I became very sensitive to light.

The epilepsy changed everything for me: I not only had alternating baths according to “Kneipp”, but also „treatment with kid gloves“, as any excitement could have triggered epileptic seizures. In this status I was from that time on spared from the violent attacks of my father. This gain of illness gave me a lot of strength, I felt for the first time something like power over my father. In the safe zone of my illness, I could now think freely without having to worry that my facial expressions might betray me – I was mentally free! The first free thoughts were about ‚why doesdoes not a nun get pregnant – and other women do?‘ I did not know the answer – but these thoughts kept coming back, especially during the daily prayers (we had to pray three times a day).

The neurologist referred me to an EEG, an eye test and an ex ray and then spoke to my father with concern that my seizures were not real epilepsy but hysterical seizures and that he recommended that I see Dr. Ringel for psychotherapy. He explained to my father that this drug would have no effect other than calming down for this type of epilepsy, but would have to be discontinued slowly, as my body would already have gotten used to this drug dose. However, he recommended not to discontinue  taking the medicine until psychotherapy had started. From then on, my father accused my eldest brother of having done something to me that I now had epilepsy and I was ordered not to speak to my eldest brother anymore because he was not good for me. My father decided to discontinue my treatment – both the medication and further visits to the doctor, after he had obtained another prescription from the doctor. He gradually discontinued the drug, prescribing to give me a quarter less tablets each week.

Despite the medication, learning was very easy for me – on the one hand because the learning content according to the curriculum was included in the new textbooks, so that I only had to concentrate on learning from one textbook and on the other hand because I was freed from household obligations due to illness and now had time to learn. Since I found the school books to be too thin (the books borrowed from the library were all thicker), I asked my father for further visits to the library. These visits were granted to me, accompanied by at least two brothers.

During this time I also had the feeling that my brain suddenly remembered everything more easily, I was suddenly able to learn by heart, read a page and then knew what it said. It was very easy for me to learn. I devoured books and enjoyed my safe zone, because according to my father I was sick even without further seizures, because the epilepsy could come back at any time, and my father was afraid. But I still had to cook along, because I had to learn to cook for my future husband.

7.3      How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated today, in other families?

It is common legal practice that home schooling continues to be provided during the school year and that children are torn out of the school system because parents want to implement their right to home schooling immediately.

Since 1989, there exists the right to a non-violent childhood, before that the „black eye“ was a common means of education, but mistreatment and injuries of children were also prohibited at that time. Sitting in school with a „black eye“ was therefore within the scope of the „black eye“, but if my father had let me go to school with my facial injuries, the school would have been obliged to file a complaint even then.

Visible traces of adult violence against children today represent a concrete threat to the child’s well-being and must be reported. Even today the Youth  and Children Welfare Office is dependent on the fact that a child’s well-being is reported in order to be able to carry out an official inspection visit for the purpose of risk assessment.

Announced visits to the families are still the usual practice to clarify an indicated endangerment of the child’s well-being, although I have already learned from my professional experience that social workers carry out unannounced visits to families in order to assess the real living conditions of children. Since a clarification of the child’s well-being endangerment ultimately remains an assessment by two responsible social workers, the following control test criteria would be desirable as a quality standard in my view in addition to existing ones: unannounced control visits, direct discussions with affected children, especially without the presence of the parents, interaction observations with children who are still in symbolic language and the obligatory questioning of all children and adolescents of the family to be checked.

Austrian children’s law provides for the right to medical care for every child. The responsibility for necessary treatment lies with the parent or guardian, usually the parent. However, they are not obliged to notify the attending physician of a change of physician, which makes it difficult for the attending physician to deduce a concrete suspicion of a risk to the child’s well-being from an interruption of treatment, unless an interruption of treatment would mean imminent danger for the sick child.

In my case, my father was concerned about what might come out of psychotherapy. His distress that a therapy with Dr. Ringel could uncover his crimes against us children led him to stop the treatment altogether.

By attending school, I got to know how to acquire learning material through a variety of ideas from different teachers. Since the learning content was already intensively prepared by the thematic focus of the lessons, it was hardly necessary for me to study for oral or written examinations. Learning at home again, I could not put these experiences into practice, I was again primarily dependent on myself, then on the answers of my brothers and sisters, on research work in the library or, last of all, on my father. It was far difficult to „assemble“ learning content laboriously from books in the library than to go to school, where it is the teachers‘ job to put together learning content for pupils individually. Despite all my efforts, from today’s point of view my independent learning was very one-dimensional learning – because I was thrown back on my own abilities in learning.

A similarly one-dimensional learning situation would exist in the age of the Internet, when pupils teach themselves at home by acquiring their learning knowledge exclusively from self-selected Internet sites.

The current legal situation regarding home schooling does not require parents to prescribe in any way how and what they should teach. Parents therefore do not need to account for how they organise their lessons and what they teach their children – as long as their children are assessed positively at the end of a school year. Children who are taught privately face a dilemma: On the one hand, parents are allowed to teach their children solutions that are not usual at school, on the other hand, external pupils are to be tested at the end of the year according to school-internal logical test criteria (test, homework, etc. are best suited for school-internal performance tests because they build on the school-internal lessons and therefore it is logically comprehensible for the pupil what the teacher wants to know from him/her). However, these school-logical examination criteria do not necessarily have to be logically comprehensible for examinees from private teaching systems.

In my case, I only understood the systematic logic of school tasks after I had learned through school attendance what I had to pay attention to when setting tasks so that they could be evaluated as completely solved. At school I learned that instead of calculating results on piece of paper and just writing down the result, it was important to write down all the arithmetic operations that led to the result in a comprehensible way so that I could get all the evaluation points.

Similarly, a determination of cognitive performance by a single examination per year is a disadvantage compared to pupils whose learning objectives are regularly reviewed at school: While in school a pupil has many opportunities to show his or her cognitive abilities, a candidate in home schooling has just one chance to prove his or her abilities. Emotional stress reduces performance, and the examination conditions of an annual exam create enormous emotional stress for candidates in home schooling: not every family is concerned with bare survival as we were. Many parents teach with good intentions, and yet even with better cared for children, an annual exam can be very stressful: the child knows that his or her grades will help to rate his or her parents – a bad report means that his or her parents have taught badly, and having to bring a bad report home to the parents puts a heavy burden on every child, and he or she feels guilty if a bad report makes the parents feel bad.  

A certificate also has a selection function: Assuming I had stayed in the 2nd class move, I would have been denied access to the academy of comer HAK (the admission requirement for a HAK was a positive secondary school leaving certificate in the 1st class move and an entrance examination). Although there is no longer a second class move, there is a need for special educational support, which also has an educational-selective function.                          

The annual review of the learning content by means of an annual external exam as well as the currently customary school examination criteria therefore represent a discrimination of children in home schooling compared to school children: The current examination setting is not sufficient to determine what a child has actually learned in home schooling.

One of the reasons why parents withdraw their children for home schooling is their religious approach, which in extreme forms does not allow them to exchange other religious opinions in an appreciative way.

According to Objective Paragraph 2 of the School Organisation Act, the Austrian school has the task of „…participating in the development of the dispositions of young people according to moral, religious and social values, as well as the values of truth, good and beauty, by means of instruction appropriate to their level of development and their educational path. It must equip young people with the knowledge and skills necessary for life and their future professions and educate them to acquire education independently.                                                                                                                 

Young people are to be trained to become healthy and health-conscious, hard-working, dutiful and responsible members of society and citizens of the democratic and federal Republic of Austria. They should be led to independent judgement and social understanding and an active sporting lifestyle, be open to the political and ideological thinking of others and be enabled to participate in the economic and cultural life of Austria, Europe and the world and to contribute to the common tasks of humanity in a love of freedom and peace…“. If private lessons are equivalent to school lessons, then the task of the target paragraph would have to be transferred identically into the right to domestic lessons (see RIS – School Organisation Act – Federal Law consolidated, version of 27.08.2019 under www.ris.bka.gv.at/Geldende Fassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnomen&Gesetzesnummer=10009265 Status as of 26.08.2019).

According to the „Position Paper on Domestic Education and Teaching in a Private School without Public Law“, there are a large number of privately taught children who are educated to become extreme religious, esoteric or radical to xenophobic or even anti-state members of a closed social group (see www.kja.at under Positions and Statements: 05.09.2018 Position Paper on Domestic Education Status as of 17.08.2019).

The school tasks according to paragraph 2 of the School Organisation Act are also not taken into account in the annual external exams, and are therefore not verifiable.

8      The school year 1983/84

8.1      How did I experience the annual examination in the 3rd grade of Senior primary school at the age of 13 at Hauptschule Loquaiplatz, 1060 Vienna?

I took the exam with confidence and self-confidence: on the one hand, because nothing could happen to me because of my supposed epilepsy, and on the other hand, because I had prepared myself well: in exam subjects such as music, for example, I had prepared myself particularly well this time.

In craft and handwork, the work teacher gave me the task of sewing a doll’s upholstery. She gave me white cloth and opened the sewing machine. I did not know what to do. I was able to operate a sewing machine functionally, but I was not able to sew a straight seam. I took the piece of cloth and sewed something like a doll’s pillow according creativity. My workpiece was a sewn-together something. My artisan teacher took my work and explained to me objectively how to sew a doll’s upholstery: first a cut is drawn, then the fabric is cut and sewn on the basis of the cut. I listened attentively, tears came to my eyes, because I had good marks everywhere and now I was afraid that I would get a five mark, especially in handicraft. The artisan teacher noticed my excitement, took my trembling hand in her hand – and kept it by gently and warmly placing her second hand over it. That was very pleasant for me and I can still feel today how warm her hands were, it was on the limit of too much attention, I always pulled my hand back slightly, but the handicraft teacher held it persistently. And then she explained something to me: that I would not have to be afraid to get a fiver, I would be a smart girl and I would learn something smart and then find a good job that would make me a lot of money. I would not become a seamstress, I would not have to, because I have an intelligent mind and I would learn well, and therefore I could learn something else. She now wanted to sew the doll’s upholstery together with me, she had noticed that nobody had shown me how to sew such a thing. Would I be okay with that? Now I cried out of relief, the teacher kept my cold shaky hand in her hands, and behaved very calmly, so that I could calm down too. Then we got down to work, and in 20 minutes I had sewn a beautiful little white upholstery that looked like it had been ironed out like new from the shop and which I liked very much. I asked if I could take it home, because he would be an ideal baby cushion for my little brother. I took it with me.

Then it was a matter of grading: the teacher wanted to give this piece of work a grade of Very Good, I said it was a gift, because I could only do it so well because she had instructed me, and then she said, well, then you will just get the a “good” mark.

I had the feeling that the mark with good was also a gift, but I had no more objections to that.

One of my older brothers got a „Not Sufficient“ in Geometric Drawing, all other siblings brought home positive marks. The brother with the not-sufficient was in a very bad sitauation the whole summer: he had to sit alone in Laaben, secluded, was forbidden from talking to the siblings, and deliver a required amount of geometrical drawing exercise sheets every day. He was given hardly any food or drink all summer, had to sit on a haystack all summer in all weathers and draw geometrical drawing sheets. He was very tanned at the end of the summer, but also emaciated. Not being allowed to be with my brother for a whole summer was hardly bearable for me, I felt very sorry for him that he had to be alone. I myself was also once in „quarantine“ for a week as punishment – this is how our father described the exclusion from the circle of brothers and sisters – and for me all physical punishments were more bearable than this „quarantine“.

My brother managed to improve his grade the following autumn.

8.2      Would the annual examination be carried out in the same way today?

Up to now I had the feeling that the annual examinations were fairly graded: each examination performance was discussed with me. The composition of the marks was also always discussed.

In handiwork I had the feeling for the first time that I was giftet a note just like that.

8.3      The work teacher and a first look at the world

The handicraft teacher not only gave me a better grade, she gave me something much more valuable: she told me that I was simply clever, that I had a clever mind – until then I had believed that I was dyslexic. And she sketched a different future for me than the one my father had predicted for me.

Until then I had adopted my father’s world view, even if I did not like it: my task was to write positive notes, to be able to cook well and then to marry a husband whom my father would choose for me to raise our children with. A transition from a life of family dependency to the next dependency seemed to be pre-programmed for me. Although I saw women out there working, such as the teachers, these working women represented a distant parallel universe for me, to which I would never belong: because according to my father, all women who go to work and wear trousers sin and would go to hell for it.

In contrast to my father’s world view, my handicraft teacher now told me that I could go to work! And she also explained the way to get there by encouraging me to learn a profession.

From that day on, my thoughts no longer revolved around „how to get pregnant“ but around what I would have to do in order not to become pregnant. I still did not know how a woman gets pregnant, but I definitely did not want to get pregnant.

My thoughts also wandered into my professional future: what could I learn „intelligently“ so that I would earn so much money to be able to live independently?

Healthwise I had no more seizures, even when I was no longer receiving medication. My father had completely discontinued the medication in the summer. Since this summer, however, I have been suffering from another – new disease: I suddenly vomited after every meal and could no longer keep food in my stomach. In addition I got heartburn and suffered a lot from nausea. I got very thin. I suffered from bulimia from now until adulthood. My motivation to treat my bulimia in adulthood myself was easily explained: I was too tired of my self-earned money to throw it up the toilet. So I started to eat small hot meals spread over the day, and ritualize my eating habits. Even today, I still feel the need to vomit when under great emotional pressure and stress, but I can do without it by using other regulatory coping strategies that relax me.

8.4      How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated today in other families?

Many parents find it unbearable that their children come into contact with an almost uncontrollable variety of impressions, opinions, world views, etc. at school, and therefore they deregister their children from public school. Religious and esoteric extremism are other well-known motives why parents teach their child/children at home.

Radically differently thinking people tend to protect their own dynamic world order and worldview by sealing themselves off from any influence „from outside“. In the closed microcosm they can then live their world order and their world views unhindered – because they are undisturbed. Domestic education supports radically dissenting families in that it legitimises educational systems in which children are raised and educated to extremism.

I reacted psychosomatically to the coercive context in which and with which we had to live, first with hysterical fits and then with vomiting. My mental state was alarming. Eat-break addiction, also known as bulimia, is a common mental illness, especially in girls who are entering puberty. One of the reasons why girls start to suffer from this disease at puberty is the insoluble, unconscious conflict of not wanting to become a woman and wanting to cause a physical „shallowness“ by vomiting in order to prevent the development of secondary sexual characteristics as much as possible. A further cause of the illness of an emesis is „vomiting“ as a vehicle of anger and aggression, when girls in the family environment and also increasingly boys at home suffer from border-crossing relationship experiences. Bulimia is one of those mental illnesses that are very widespread in our society and are only diagnosed when the victims suffering from this eating disorder is too great. Patients suffering from bulimia experience the act of vomiting as pleasurable and relaxing and therefore satisfying act. Bulimia has a pleasant „side effect“, you can regulate your weight „very easily“ by vomiting. Even normal-weight and obese people can suffer from bulimia.

Children who grow up in a closed family system through home schooling and have to submit to its authoritarian world order and worldview live in a border-crossing controlling world where the only way to surrender to oneself is through submission, but no development towards autonomy. For „helicopter parents“, home schooling offers the opportunity to extend their need for constant supervision of their children up to 24 hours.

In a report on the rights of the child, The Children’s Rights Network 2019 published a study by the Seagull Children’s Centre with 1000 respondents on what is meant by violence, including various forms of psychological violence, such as „… not talking to the child for days as a punishment…“, whereupon only 26% of 1000 respondents understood this punishment as violence. Not talking to the child for days is comparable to the „quarantine“ described above. Also from my professional experience I know that parents in need of education use love deprivation as an „educational measure“ in the form of ignoring and not talking to the child for days on end. Parents in home schooling complain about particularly high stress and pressure before an upcoming annual exam. Since „not talking to the child for days on end“ is not perceived as violence for the most part, it is likely that this punishment is used in families at home as an educational measure or as a teaching measure when parents no longer know how to help themselves otherwise. (see: Netzwerk Kinderrechte Österreich-National Coalition zur Umsetzung der UN-Kinderrechtskonvention in Österreich (2019): p 21).

9      The school year 1984/85

9.1      How did I experience the annual examination at the age of 14 at Hauptschule Loquaiplatz 4, 1060 Vienna?

It was my senior year. In my usual routine I completed this year positively. I was exempt from gymnastics as in the year before because my father stated that I would suffer from epilepsy.

My older brothers had their first annual external examinations in the HTL- Bautechnik. They did not pass and decided to look for an apprenticeship, as advised by examining professors of the HTL.

9.2      Would the annual examination be carried out in the same way today?

Learning material for a secondary school is extensive and complex and can hardly be mastered in self-study. Due to the volume of the annual learning material, it is very difficult to have all learning content available for an external exam. Moreover, my brothers had no up-to-date books and did not know what was important from the content they had learned.

There are still annual external exams for secondary schools, which are often used by adolescent teenagers and young adults to repeat a class at home in cooperation with the school and to be promoted to the next higher school level by passing the annual exam.

9.3      Learning experiences during the year from the perspective of the person concerned

That year the learning took place under a family upheaval. My eldest brother moved out and went to work, my eldest sisters refused fatherly instructions and refused to participate in ritualized prayers. During walks with my eldest sisters I listened to their critical exchange with regard to the parental world view. I was still too young to have a say, but after the short, lastingly effective conversation with the handiwork teacher a year ago and from the questioning of my older sisters, I formed a critical attitude towards the opinions held by my father; inwardly, I increasingly distanced myself from the family harmony by imagining my own future.

Sometime in the spring of 1985 I had my first menstruation period, I was still not enlightened. I told my older sisters, who immediately referred me to my mother. My mother was very strange to me, and it must have been very important that I was referred to my mother. She took me aside and explained to me by hinting at something on a wall with her index finger and explained to me that this was the womb and that I was now becoming a woman and therefore had to be very careful: I was now not allowed to look at men anymore because otherwise I would become pregnant.

For me, my mother spoke in riddles. Since pregnancy did not fit into my concept of life, I learned a strategy to avoid men’s eyes by looking past them or walking with my head down.

In this time of upheaval, there were first opportunities for me to go out on the streets alone (without being accompanied by older siblings). I went to the library with my younger brothers and sisters, and since I was now in charge as the eldest, I took the liberty of looking at those books whose contents were sex education. I still know today that I got very angry with my mother when I read and also saw through visual images how a woman gets pregnant.

I was able to learn on my own, and was no longer controlled by anyone. My older sisters still took care for their younger brothers and sisters, but secretly planned to look for work and leave the family. I, on the other hand, voluntarily took on the role of teacher and helped my younger siblings with their learning. They were happy to come to me, too.

9.4      How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated today in other families?

For adolescents, a lack of development-adequate sexuality education represents an identity crisis in puberty: Nowadays, the lack of education of adolescents in puberty is hardly thought about, because it can be assumed that children and adolescents are in any case in any way enlightened in the age of Internet, school, friends and family etc.

My need to be properly educated about sexuality, reproduction and family planning remained unfulfilled for more than three years, the lack of knowledge caused great anxiety and made me very insecure in my development as a woman. A lack of sexual education during puberty poses a developmental risk for young adolescents.

It is the right of the child to be informed and educated about its physical development according to scientific knowledge. Parents who do not agree with the educational content of sexual education and do not include or censor this learning topic in their children’s home schooling are acting in violation of child rights.

The development risks associated with a lack of sexual education remain largely unrecognised.

10   The school year 1986/87

10.1   How did I experience the annual examination in the first class of commercial school at the age of 15 in the academy of commerce Pernersdorfergasse, 1100 Vienna?

I took the external exam for the first class in commercial school in Vienna 10, Pernersdorfergasse.

I had learned well and felt well prepared. The teachers in the commercial school were called professo. A Professor Slanar asked me after the examination which books I had learned from. I answered, from books that I had bought very cheaply from the flea market in Kettenbrückengasse. He went on to ask if I knew how old these books were, I did not know, I was a little insecure and asked if this was important. Then Professor Slanar explained to me very respectfully that there were no VAT rates of 8 and 16% and, although I had done all the calculations correctly, he had to give me a negative note, because the current VAT rates – and this has been true for a long time – were 10% and 20% respectively.

He advised me to repeat the class at school, I had already acquired a good basis privately, and so the first class of commercial school would not be so difficult for me. But I knew that I wanted to go to a commercial academy and that is what I told the professor. He tried to explain the advantages of a commercial school to me to the extent that I first had to get used to a school life, but I stuck to my wish to go to commercial academy.

Professor Slanar promised me to speak to Dr. Nußbichler, the school director. He summoned me and tried once again to change my mind, but since I stuck to my wish, he promised – since it was already October – to make an effort to get extra permission for me to take an entrance examination to the commercial academy. In my presence, he called the President of the City School Board personally, and a short time later he was called back and told that the special permit would be approved. Doctor Nußbichler said to me that I should not embarrass him now.

Three days later I had passed the entrance examination and went to the academy of commerce. Five years later, I graduated.

10.2   Learning situation at home with the parents during the academy of commerce time compared to the sibling flat-sharing community

When I went to the third year academy of commerce, my underage siblings and me were divided by court order into five older siblings, who now took over the care of us underage children and young people. I continued to take care of my younger siblings and to do homework and leisure activities, and I did most of the housework, as my older siblings went to work and then went to evening classes. My studying material became more and more extensive, and I had to put my homework on a par with my obligations to my younger siblings and the household. I often did not get to bed until after midnight.

Although this „sibling solution“ was hard work for me, learning was easy: Firstly, because the school was very accommodating and did not put me under any formal pressure, so that I was able to do homework within half a year, if I missed any lessons, I was simply allowed to relearn what I had missed (because of care and childcare I usually had the maximum number of lessons a student was allowed to miss per year) and if I missed any tests, I was simply given an oral examination; secondly, the enormous psychological pressure from my father was no longer there , because I did not have to make any particular effort to adapt among my siblings: I slowly realized that the greatest emotional burden for us at home was our ability to adapt to the arbitrary needs and sensitivities of our parents.

10.3   Learning experiences during the year from the perspective of the person concerned

My two older brothers had found an apprenticeship and had moved out. My older sisters also moved out. I was now allowed to go outside without company.

I also already had a goal for my future, I wanted to go to a commercial academy.

During the school year 1987/88 my older siblings initiated legal proceedings against my parents for neglect and physical violence against us children; the visits of the social workers were initially still registered and we showed the usual picture of a poor but well-behaved group of children. On the advice of my older siblings, the social workers made an unannounced visit once, my father initially refused to open the door, but when the social workers threatened to use the police to gain access, my father opened the door. The report, which the social workers wrote was take to court. We the children were now regularly invited to the youth welfare office, where we had to pass tests, interviews, examinations etc.

At the end of the school year 1987/88, my „younger siblings“ who were still being taught at home were advised by the social workers to write negative marks so that home schooling could no longer be approved. In agreement with both compulsory schools (Gumpendorferstraße and Loquiaplatz), all school-age children wrote negative grades and could go to school from then on.

On 14.7.1989 the court order with immediate execution came by mail, and we, all school-age children and I moved out of our homes. But we had to leave our three youngest siblings with their parents.

10.4   How likely is it that this section of our respective educational biographies could be repeated today in other families?

Parental rights are still so secure that children, even if they want to go to school, are not allowed to go to school without the parents‘ consent.

Although parents can be partially deprived of custody by the court if they completely refuse to let their children go to school, as was the case with me (my school papers were signed by social workers from the Youth  and Children Welfare Office for the 6th district), nowadays, when parents state that they want to teach their child at home, a current child’s welfare is also required for the Directorate of Education to be able to refuse home schooling. If parents raise an objection, they are often proven right.

The advice of the social workers to fail all children was an act of playing it safe: to avoid that our parents might appeal, and then a court order would be issued in the parents‘ interest. According to current legal situation, this risk would still exist.

There is a fundamental right of the child to be heard and to have a say in his or her personal affairs – this fundamental right is not discussed either legally or judicially in connection with the choice of lessons at home or at school.

Since parents are allowed to teach their children privately without further explanation as to why they are withdrawing their children for home schooling – except for those children whose knowledge of German has not reached the language level guidelines according to the law – parents suffering from a mental illness may also teach their children privately.

A psychiatric examination was ordered for our parents only in the course of the custody proceedings: a forensic psychiatrist who was active at the time, diagnosed our father with a serious mental illness, our mother was found to be mentally healthy and was therefore given the custody of her three youngest children, who therefore had to continue living with our violent father.

Under current legislation, it is not unlikely that parents who privately teach their children will include mothers and/or fathers who have an underlying mental illness.

11   Way out of a legal situation that does not conform with the constitution

In my opinion, the solution to create a legal situation that protects children’s rights from the current state of affairs that violates children’s rights, even in domestic education, can only be done with a change in the law.

In order to consider how children’s rights can be legally implemented, I believe that a multi-professional team of experts is needed, consisting of

  • Experts of the school authority who are specialized in developmental psychological and cognitive issues
  • Experts who are specialised in questions concerning the developmental needs of children and youth
  • Experts in the field of children health
  • Experts with experience of difficult clarification conditions in the case of child well-being risks, and
  • Legal experts in the field of school education law and family law.

In my view, a change in the law on home schooling should bring about the following changes:

  • Change in the authorisation procedure for home schooling
  • Reforming the review process into a form suitable for children who are taught privately
  • Requirements and guidelines for parents
  • Standardised review criteria that guarantee a complete assessment of a child’s well-being,
  • Creation of an institutional „mouthpiece“ and visitation of the children at home (similar to that of a child advocate)

Furthermore, in my opinion, a change in the law on parental rights requires a transitional period in order to be able to react legally to difficulties in implementing children’s rights in home schooling in everyday practice. In this transitional phase, it would be desirable to evaluate whether the measures taken actually meet the requirements of child rights.