Sunday, March 09, 2008

Persecution in Brazil: Challenges and sufferings in the Brazilian homeschooling movement

Persecution in Brazil: Challenges and sufferings in the Brazilian homeschooling movement

Julio Severo

Josue Bueno, his wife and their 9 children are ordered to submit to psychological treatment under social workers. Because of their homeschooling practices, state officials threaten to remove their children. They flee to Paraguay, where the Brazilian government sends a court official to warn them to return to Brazil and enroll the children in the school.

Cleber Andrade Nunes and his wife Bernadeth took his two teenage children from a public school to homeschool them. Astonishingly, the boys surpassed their peers and were approved for a law school with a high score. Nevertheless, their parents received the official threat: without a school enrolling, they will be jailed and lose the custody over their children.

Teaching children at home had always been a right in Brazil, because past Brazilian constitutions guaranteed it. For example, the Constitution of 1946 (Article 166) says, “The education is a right of all and it will be given at home and in the school. It should be inspired by the principles of freedom and in the ideals of human solidarity”. No Brazilian parent was threatened, fined or jailed for teaching children at home.

Yet, Socialist legislators insisted that there was a need for a new constitution. Under their inspiration and efforts, the current 1988 Federal Constitution was born, which says:

“The Government has the power to take a census of elementary school students, call them for enrollment and ensure that parents or guardians see to their children’s attendance to school”. (Article 208, paragraph 3.)

In 2001, Carlos Vilhena and his wife Márcia tried to challenge the compulsory school attendance Law by fighting in the courts. Mr. Vilhena was a famous attorney who wanted to ensure, for himself and other families, the right to homeschool. However, the Minister of Education, a communist, ordered his ministry to reject the request by Vilhena. The Vilhena case, which had received positive international and national coverage, eventually ended in the Superior Tribunal of Justice, where Carlos and Márcia lost and where justices declared, “Children don’t belong to their parents”. Being left with no choice, the Vilhena children were enrolled in a regular school.

The decision against the Vilhena family became a dangerous precedent, harming further legal efforts to make homeschooling legal again in Brazil.

Even so, many Brazilian families continue homeschooling and entering it.

Josue Bueno, a former Baptist minister, learnt about homeschooling in his youth years in the United States. Returning to Brazil, he attended a Baptist seminary, became a minister and, as soon as he married, he sought to live a Bible-centered family, where homeschooling was fundamental.

In America, Bueno had seen families freely educating their children. So he gave the same opportunity for his own children, who never attended a school since their birth. But his attempt to live the same freedom and Christian principles proved very costly. He remembers, “Because of false accusations, which were never proved, prosecutors ordered us to send our children to school. They also disagreed with our way to discipline our children”.

The accusations were made in 2005 to the Tutelary Council, a children protection service enforcing the Children and Adolescent Statute. They received citation to stand before judges and other authorities, because of homeschooling and child discipline. Then Mr. Bueno and all his family were ordered to submit to state psychological treatment and enroll the children in a school. After some time in such treatment, being greatly pressured (especially his pregnant wife) and seeing no human escape, they fled to Paraguay — exclusively to give to their children a Christian upbringing.

Mr. Bueno tells, “People talk a lot about respect and diversity, but our different way of life was not respected. I am sure that if my sons were homosexual and my daughters lesbian they would have an overwhelming state protection”.

It was a great suffering to leave Brazil, but greater sufferings forced them to such hard choice. Yet, their suffering did not end. The Brazilian government has discovered them and sent a court official to give them a citation to return to Brazil, continue state psychological treatment and enroll the children in a school.

Different from the Bueno family, Cleber and Bernadeth Nunes had not educated their children since their birth. He had known homeschooling in his visit to the United States. After much prayer and consideration, there was a decision and today he says, “Two years ago my wife and I decided to remove our two boys from the public school and take responsibility over their education. I ran a small business and at that time I downsized it because both of us are homeschooling”. His motive, as he told in an interview to BandNews (a national TV news channel in Brazil), is because “we do not agree with the education system”.

The BandNews program, which was broadcasted nationwide February 28, 2008, noted that Bernadeth left her university course on architecture for devoting herself to the education of their children. When journalist Adriana Spinelli interviewed the boys, Davi answered: “We like very much this method because we are free to study what we like”.

In their homeschool journey, the first effort of the Nunes family was to “unschool” their children.

After just two years, the results were worthy. Under the charge of education negligence by the Tutelary Council, Mr. Nunes tried to prove that there was no such negligence. So the boys made assessment tests to enter a law school. Davi, 14, was approved in the seventh ranking. His brother Jonatas, 13, got the 13th ranking. Their position was excellent, but the Tutelary Council, which has been harassing them since 2007, was unmoved.

In spite of the excellent educational scores of their sons, the Nunes family is under the official threat of losing the custody over their children and be jailed. They have a 9-month baby girl called Ana. Two voluntary and kind lawyers are fighting to defend the Nunes family against the state power opposing homeschooling.

Their problems began when someone denounced them to the Tutelary Council. As all homeschool families in Brazil, the Nunes and Bueno families had an underground homeschool life. When properly hidden, there is no danger, but often a relative, neighbor or an unknown individual intervenes to denounce to the Tutelary Council, which has dealt with all homeschool cases in Brazil.

This Council was created to implement in the Brazilian society the Children and Adolescent Statute, which in turn was created to meet the UN Convention on the Children Rights demands. As a signatory of this UN document, the Brazilian government was obliged to reflect it in the domestic laws. No Christian leader in Brazil was able to see its dangers, but today homeschool and Christian parents are suffering its consequences.

An evangelical minister told me that when disciplining his 10-year old, the boy threatened to denounce him and his wife to the Tutelary Council. When asked where he had learnt it, the boy answered, “in school”.

More and more evangelical and Catholic parents in Brazil have told me the same sad story. Other similar experiences show that evangelical families are being hardly hit by the UN-imposed legislation in Brazil.

The Tutelary Council and the Child and Adolescent Statute, which allege to defend children and their well-being, have been noted for their omissive role in the abortion debate and for not protecting children at risk of adoption by homosexuals. But they have no omission for homeschool families.

The Bueno family may be deported to Brazil and, as to the Nunes family, Cleber say, “We were condemned to pay a US$1800 fine and to enroll the boys back in school immediately. They threatened that we would lose custody over our children. They can even send us to jail if we keep disobeying them”.

The Nunes family, which is battling a radical anti-choice system, could consider fleeing to Paraguay. Yet, even in Paraguay the Bueno family is not free from tentacles from the Brazilian Tutelary Council.


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