Homeschooling Is Not the Ideal

[N.B: Essays appearing on Homiletic & Pastoral Review have been deemed to be compatible with the teaching of the Church, but do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HPR. Fr. Meconi and his staff have always been grateful for the hard work of homeschooling parents and how they extend the Kingdom of God into the world through their love and care of God’s littlest ones.]

INTRODUCTION: A Fictitious Fantasy

The year is 1230 A.D., and the Countess Theodora (wife of Landulph, Count of Aquino) is about to send her ninth child, her five-year-old son, Thomas, to the Benedictine monastery for school, the tradition of her time. Suddenly, the life and thought of many prominent twenty-first century American Catholic mothers enters into her soul from the future. Rapt in a vision, she then awakens and thinks, “No, the natural path to education is in the home. I am the primary educator. I will educate my little Thomas myself.” Sadly, she does, and the mind of the greatest thinker in Catholic history is never fully trained, for Theodora has minimal education herself. Thomas Aquinas learns to cook and hunt and get along with friends. He learns the rudimentary way of living as a Catholic, but he never gets to a point where he can study with St. Albert the Great. The Church is blessed with a holy man when Thomas turns 18, and, for that matter, it gains a very holy woman in his mother, who has grown in virtue through her service to the Church having taken on a Cross of magnificent proportion. However, in the end, the Church loses a Doctor; we never get St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic and Common Doctor. Although Theodora was the primary educator, she and her husband lost sight of the need for their children to have secondary professional educators.

Thesis

This introductory novelistic absurdity is meant to illustrate an important point that seems on the verge of being lost in certain circles of Catholicism today: Although homeschooling moms (and dads) are, at times, heroic, homeschooling is not the ideal. There is a higher, better way: the Catholic School. Unlike the homeschool, the Catholic School, when it does what it is supposed to do, provides expertise in teaching, a community that completes the family, role models and authority figures, and a properly formative peer group. Parents must reclaim the proper understanding of what it means to be their children’s primary educator. “Primary” does mean first, but it certainly does not mean secondary. The parent as primary educator can only form a child for the first society (the family) but is never sufficient in forming the child for the secondary order (civil society) or the highest order (the Church); only these further elements of society bring education to perfection.

Clarifications

Although we aim to demonstrate that homeschooling is not the ideal, we need to make three prefatory clarifications. First, homeschooling must always be protected as a right for parents. This right of parental choice is fundamental to Church teaching, is enshrined in canon law, and flows from natural law by the principle of subsidiarity.1 Second, sometimes homeschooling is the only option available to parents for best fulfilling their mandate to provide a Catholic education to their children. Third, the heroic efforts of many homeschoolers today are laudable and constitute a real path to sanctification. Nothing of what follows should be understood as taking away from these three points. Rather, we wish to make clear that the work of homeschooling should not be seen as the ideal towards which we must strive, rather a burden imposed on families due to unfortunate circumstances. These circumstances, however, are not as ubiquitous as they once were, and it is important that we do not miss the opportunities to seize what is much closer to the ideal: the education found in faithful Catholic schools.

Expertise

The most immediate difference between the homeschool and the Catholic school is the level of experience which the teacher brings to the educational environment. According the United States government, the average Catholic school teacher has 15.6 years of teaching experience; this is nearly two more than the average public school teacher and who knows how much more than the average homeschooling parent.2 Although some Catholic schools may hire, at times, young or inexperienced teachers, by and large the direction from the Church is that teachers should be outstanding in faith and morals3 and masters in instructional method. The Second Vatican Council instructs as follows: “Let teachers recognize that the Catholic school depends upon them almost entirely for the accomplishment of its goals and programs. They should therefore be very carefully prepared so that both in secular and religious knowledge they are equipped with suitable qualifications and also with a pedagogical skill that is in keeping with the findings of the contemporary world.”4 No one would argue that either or even both parents could have all of the training and prudence for every subject that veteran teachers possess in one or two subjects.

Community

The school is a community that “completes” the family (the “insufficient society”); as human institution and part of the body of Christ it is an aspect of the natural and supernatural common good. Pope Pius XI writes that:

In the first place comes the family, instituted directly by God for its peculiar purpose, the generation and formation of offspring; for this reason it has priority of nature and therefore of rights over civil society. Nevertheless, the family is an imperfect society, since it has not in itself all the means for its own complete development; whereas civil society is a perfect society, having in itself all the means for its peculiar end, which is the temporal well-being of the community; and so, in this respect, that is, in view of the common good, it has pre-eminence over the family, which finds its own suitable temporal perfection precisely in civil society.5

Pius XI thus teaches that, while the family is the foundation of society, it is not perfect through itself. The family cannot attain even its natural ends (goods) without the assistance of a broader community. Accordingly, Pius XI teaches us that the civil society, with its care for the higher common good, is necessary for the family to reach its perfection.

This brings us to the third, and most excellent perfect society, the Church.

The third society, into which man is born when through Baptism he reaches the divine life of grace, is the Church; a society of the supernatural order and of universal extent; a perfect society, because it has in itself all the means required for its own end, which is the eternal salvation of mankind; hence it is supreme in its own domain.6

Pius does not teach here that the Church is perfect with respect to our natural goods. We need civil society because there are natural ends (goods) to which we are ordered but which the Church does not supply; the Church is perfect with respect to her own end: the eternal salvation of mankind.

Consequently, education which is concerned with man as a whole, individually and socially, in the order of nature and in the order of grace, necessarily belongs to all these three societies, in due proportion, corresponding, according to the disposition of Divine Providence, to the co-ordination of their respecting ends.7

Parents who contain their children within the family alone for their education remove them from the “larger society” that town and church provide for that education and are, in a sense, depriving their children of certain “perfections” that belong to the fuller participation in the other societies. This is not an attack on homeschoolers; it is simply an acknowledgement that homeschooling of itself is not ordered to a proper position within the broader society. In principle, homeschooling cuts young people off from the community and an important means of participating in the common good of that community.

There is an education that belongs to all three societies. By nature, the education in the family is primary, since it is the first society. It is also the case, however, that the proper education within the family is not perfect. There is another education that belongs to the second and third societies. Families that take these on as belonging to their proper education may do so, and even do them well, but it does not properly, and certainly not ideally, belong to the family to take on the education proper to the other two societies.

In reflecting on the importance of schools, Dr. Daniel Guernsey of the Cardinal Newman Society argues that “Catholic youth are destined to serve the Church, and attending faithful Catholic schools and universities is a powerful way both to encounter and to serve the Church, even while young.”8 It is simply false to think that homeschooling can adequately allow the perfections of the natural and supernatural society to fully educate a child as a school does; it is erroneous to claim that we best fulfill our canonical mandate to assist in the maintenance of Catholic schools by withholding our children from them without just cause.9

Role Models and Authority Figures

In its 1977 document, “The Catholic School,” Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education writes that “the extent to which the Christian message is transmitted through education depends to a very great extent on the teachers. The integration of culture and faith is mediated by the other integration of faith and life in the person of the teacher. The nobility of the task to which teachers are called demands that, in imitation of Christ, the only Teacher, they reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior.”10 This passage highlights the mimetic dimension of Catholic teaching. Children need role models, and, especially as adolescence sets in, they need models outside of the family to lead them into the world.

Even for younger children, the problem of relating to Mom or Dad as both parent and official teacher can be confusing. After all, schools provide authority figures who represent, in a sense, the “real world” for children. As we saw in the Pius XI passage, the family is an imperfect society; parents cannot be the sole means through which children are led into the larger, more perfect, society. Furthermore, since, according to the Council and canon law, “true education must strive for complete formation of the human person that looks to his or her final end as well as to the common good of societies,”11 young people must encounter authority figures outside of the family (the imperfect society) and learn to engage with the life of the broader societies. It is simply not plausible to think that homeschooling can be conducive to engaging with authorities beyond their parents.

In addition to providing models and authority figures, there is an additional benefit to a child’s education from attendance at a Catholic school and the encounter with competent and knowledgeable teachers. When a “different set of eyes” works with students outside of the home environment in the context of a school, that teacher is often able to see patterns emerge in a child that parents would be incapable of seeing in their own child. A child can be monitored in relation to other children in the classroom as well as other children the teacher has worked with over the years. Evaluating the relative patterns of behavior, a teacher can provide general information about a student’s needs in all sorts of areas (social, academic, physical and even moral). This perspective is nearly impossible for a parent to achieve; a teacher is often the saving grace in a child’s education when he/she can help parents see what they would never see on their own.

Peer Group

For many homeschoolers, it seems, the problem of the peer group is an essential factor in keeping them from school. Not wanting their children influenced by bad models is the key. This concern is understandable if the “cool kids” in school are lawbreakers, godless, or hostile to learning in general. What do parents do when the students at a given school are morally corrupt? Listen to Shane Schaetzel, an apologist for homeschooling:

Many Christian parents, both Evangelicals and Catholics, worry about the bad influence of curriculum and teachers in public schools. However, that’s probably only about 10% of the problem. The other 90% of the problem is student peers. Most of the troubles that students get into involve other students, and if there’s going to be any lifelong damage (rebellion, parties, sex, alcohol, drugs, homosexuality, gender-bending, etc.) it usually comes from the influence of other students, not faculty or curriculum. When you send your child to a brick & mortar school, you’re sending them into a menagerie of rebellion, perversion and peer pressure. All the problems other kids have at home, come to school with them. Your son or daughter gets to navigate through them all. Remove them from the brick & mortar school, and you will have removed them from 90% of the problems facing youth today. You can figure out, on your own, how to handle the other 10% of the problems.12

Although Schaetzel cannot be said to speak for all homeschoolers, his 90/10 percentage split is eye-opening. The heart of the problem (for him at least) is whether his children should be around peer groups that make bad choices and model illicit desires.

The Church is eminently aware of the power of peers to lead and entice the young into malevolent ways. Book II of St. Augustine’s Confessions is our most enduring insight into this phenomenon. The 16-year-old Augustine was swept away by peer pressure to steal fruit (from a pear tree, according to his memory):

Yet by myself alone I would not have done it — I recall what my heart was — alone I could not have done it. I loved, then, in it the companionship of my accomplices with whom I did it. I did not, therefore, love the theft alone — yea, rather, it was that alone that I loved, for the companionship was nothing. What is the fact? Who is it that can teach me, but He who illuminates mine heart and searches out the dark corners thereof? What is it that has come into my mind to inquire about, to discuss, and to reflect upon? For had I at that time loved the pears I stole, and wished to enjoy them, I might have done so alone, if I could have been satisfied with the mere commission of the theft by which my pleasure was secured; nor needed I have provoked that itching of my own passions, by the encouragement of accomplices. But as my enjoyment was not in those pears, it was in the crime itself, which the company of my fellow-sinners produced.13

It was clearly NOT pear pressure; no, it was peer pressure, and he was seduced through imitation of the desires of his teenage group to sin.14 Shouldn’t we keep our children from such bad peers?

Although this pro-homeschool position seems to be one which would occur frequently and, thus, warrant frequent removal of students from schools, we argue that this position is almost always a misguided one. Moreover, in misunderstanding the dynamics at work in this situation, homeschoolers such as Schaetzel run the risk of failing to provide the best education for their children possible.

At the heart of the problem is one of mimetic formation of children. Schaetzel’s fears are identical to those expressed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his landmark pedagogical text, Emile. In this text, Rousseau envisions a perfect childhood education with one and only one tutor and no fellow students. Moreover, the tutor’s role is largely to “disappear” and let the child learn through encounter with nature . . . alone. Rousseau lays the seeds for every rotten form of pedagogical naturalism (strongly condemned by Pius XI)15 that will develop from his time forward. Almost certainly rejecting original sin outright, Rousseau also rejects the goodness of imitation. Ultimately, he says, Emile will not imitate; he will learn a radical independence.16 degenerates into vice.” The anti-mimetic is ultimately anti-social in Rousseau’s thought.] And though a contemporary faithful Catholic parent who fully respects the teaching of original sin is not directly complicit in pedagogical naturalism, the fear of bad mimesis can echo this type of Romanticism and run afoul of proper education; we might even effect naturalism-in-action though in our words we remain faithful to the teachings of the Church.

The Church sees education as ordered to a kind of freedom that is liberated from dangerous mimetic influences: bad “conditioning” from the world or, by extension, temptations from one’s peers. Listen to the Church describe the proper formation of the young: “rapport with the students ought to be a prudent combination of familiarity and distance; and this must be adapted to the need of each individual student. Familiarity will make a personal relationship easier, but a certain distance is also needed: students need to learn how to express their own personality without being pre-conditioned; they need to be freed from inhibitions in the responsible exercise of their freedom.”17 More directly: “It must never be forgotten that the purpose of instruction at school is education, that is, the development of man from within, freeing him from that conditioning which would prevent him from becoming a fully integrated human being.”18

What is at stake in the dialogue between Rousseau and the Church is whether or not one can free oneself from negative mimetic influences without positive role models. Ultimately Rousseau believes in a human nature denuded of its mimetic necessities. The Church, however, points man toward a more and more radical transformation of himself in Christ. As John Paul II would say: “The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly-and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being-he must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must “‘appropriate’ and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself.”19 Clearly the Catholic Church sees lifelong imitation as a necessity and proclaims that only when it is in Christ can that life be to the fullest. The secret to overcoming peer pressure is to follow Christ in the Holy Spirit as well as in and through role models who witness Christ.

How do children and adolescents learn to follow Christ best? How do they encounter Christ best: in a Catholic school or in the home school? In order to see why the “brick and mortar” school is usually better served for this purpose than the home, one needs to see that to encounter Christ in others, we need to have the supernatural insight that distinguishes Christ from the person. A set of external figures can best allow this to take place, for we can with many examples better abstract the real Christ from redeemed sinner who stands before us. After all, in order to “see” Christ in others, we also must be able to see the general effects of sin and the general face of human nature in others. These general patterns only emerge when we encounter multiple people, and this is the proper function of the Catholic School.

Moreover, especially in key moments of vocational discernment (some of which can happen in adolescence or even childhood), it is important for young people to have multiple possible guides, as the Lord often has a special one in mind for each person. Returning to our original narrative of Aquinas, we realize that, if St. Thomas’s parents had had their way, their son would have become a Benedictine monk. Thanks to proper Catholic schooling, he found the Dominicans, and his true path to sainthood — and the holy intellectual life — was discovered.

But why can’t parents do this? Isn’t it better if Johnny and Susie stay away from difficult peer groups and learn on their own? Parents must understand that their role is to educate as parents, not as science teachers, math teachers, and so on. As we have seen from Pius XI, parents as primary educators cannot fulfill what is necessary for the secondary society. Moreover, they must understand that, especially in adolescence, a great movement toward “adult emancipation” begins, and a child then needs new role models to guide that transformation.

This is the ultimate lesson of Augustine’s Confessions. St. Monica can do many things with her maternal care and prayer . . . but she can never be the model that leads Augustine out of heresy into the fullness of the Catholic faith. He needs those detailed in Book VIII: Simplicianus, who tells of the noble conversion of Victorinus; Ponticianus, who heralds the life of St. Antony; Lady Continence, who holds up countless models of virtue; and, after the mystical voice “tolle lege,” St. Paul, who inspires Augustine to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Only then can he begin to return again to the world of peers with a freedom from bad mimesis.

Homeschooling a child to keep him/her from the world is well-intentioned but misguided. But the very worst reason to homeschool is pride. A parent can be overcome with pride and a selfishness that sees his or her role as primary educator to mean “best educator” or “only educator.” This type of self-exaltation can have devastating effects on a child both by depriving him/her of the necessary formation for society and also by modeling for him/her the face of self-exaltation and self-love. As parents, we must always be aware that we are not enough for our children.

While parents are the primary educators as role models in the faith and virtuous living, their primary role of education is also in helping their children work with authority figures and peers. Keeping them away from dangerous people is certainly part of their role, but keeping them away from difficult situations is not. Parents need to understand that, in helping their children work with difficult peers and challenging school situations, they are teaching their children key lessons for how to live and sanctify the world. Catholic schools provide peer groups that allow young people to cooperate, compete, and connect; they are sanctified by and sanctify others in their formation of collegial relationships and even friendships. Even in the face of very challenging peer situations (like bullying or grave immorality), young people – with the guidance of a school and the proper formation from parents — can learn to navigate the complexities of this fallen world so that they may become saints. We deceive ourselves if we think we help our children by isolating them from difficulties or challenges. Finally, this is contrary to the meaning of Catholic education

The Necessary Homeschooler

What if there is no good Catholic school around? Or, for that matter, what if a parent is convinced that a given Catholic school lacks proper teaching on faith and morals or is, for all intents and purposes, incompetent in educating? John Paul II saw this problem and wrote, in Familiaris consortio, that “if ideologies opposed to the Christian faith are taught in the schools, the family must join with other families, if possible through family associations, and with all its strength and with wisdom help the young not to depart from the faith.”20 Note here, though, that even though this seems to be a full endorsement of homeschooling, it is already asking families to come together with other families and, “if possible,” family associations. The principle of the larger society is clearly affirmed as a higher good than the homeschool. Indeed, the paragraph begins with the claim that “the family is the primary but not the only and exclusive educating community.” For those intent on making “primary educator” mean “exclusive educator,” this passage should give them pause.

The movement, then, should always be towards a more concrete social and civic school, and, for Catholics, a Catholic school. The first goal should be to help one’s diocesan school become better. In the case of poor elements there, parents should strive to build independent Catholic schools. We hope that it goes without saying that a homeschool distance learning with internet classes is a horrible substitute and one that runs the risk of actually not providing an authentic Catholic education at all.21

Some homeschoolers stop at the homeschool co-operative (co-op). Is this enough? Perhaps we begin “splitting hairs” arguing for a Catholic school over a co-op when the latter can be very close in structure to a Catholic school. However, a return to the four principles described in this essay shows that the co-op is not the endgame . . . is not the ideal. The co-op will never achieve the density of experienced teachers, ones who are hired for having developed their vocation and craft around this or that subject or age-level of pedagogy that a Catholic school can. At best, perhaps a co-op could pull in an expert or two to teach some classes for the group, but this will still lack the instructional expertise that veteran teachers would have, and no co-op comes close to fostering the relationship between teachers and students and community that a good Catholic school offers. Furthermore, the co-op cannot achieve the full ecclesial belonging in the sense described in this article; it thus lacks a full engagement with the common good. And, whereas the co-op can offer some role models and peer groups with the inter-familial cooperatives, it does not have the depth of structure to make these encounters with authority and colleagues ones that reflect the “real world” in the same way that an official “school” allows. Thus, homeschoolers should always be “in a state of journeying” toward finding a real Catholic school for their child. Homeschooling is not the ideal.

Conclusion

The Church was saved, in a sense, by the Common Doctor, because of the Benedictines who educated the young Thomas Aquinas, the Dominicans who fed his need for spiritual growth, and the universities that took his Medieval “K-12 formation” to the level of theological master. Although the Catholic school in our own time may not always be able to produce the next Angelic Doctor, it still remains the goal for which we should aspire. We must take canon law to heart and build and maintain great Catholic schools,22 not just for the Church but also for our own children.

  1. “Parents and those who take their place are bound by the obligation and possess the right of educating their offspring. Catholic parents also have the duty and right of choosing those means and institutions through which they can provide more suitably for the Catholic education of their children, according to local circumstances” (CIC 793 §1).
  2. NCES. “Schools and Staffing Survey.” nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass1112_2013314_t12n_003.asp. Accessed July 17, 2020.
  3. CIC 803 §2.
  4. Vatican Council II, Gravissimum educationis. Accessed June 27, 2020, Vatican.va, 8.
  5. Pius XI. Divini illius magistri. Accessed June 27, 2020, 12.
  6. Pius XI, DIM, 13.
  7. Pius XI, DIM, 14.
  8. Daniel Guernsey, “Distance Learning Makes the Heart Grow Fonder,” Crisis (May 28, 2020).
  9. cf CIC 800§2.
  10. Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. The Catholic School (March 19, 1977). Accessed June 27, 2020, 43.
  11. CIC 795.  See also GE 1.
  12. Schaetzel, Philip. “Do We Really Need Schools After Quarantine?” completechristianity.blog/2020/04/11/do-we-really-need-schools-after-quarantine. Accessed July 17, 2020.
  13. Augustine, Confessions, trans. J.G. Pilkington From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1101.htm>. Accessed June 27, 2020, II:8.
  14. See Tyler Graham, “St. Augustine’s Novelistic Conversion,” Contagion 5 (Spring 1998): 135–154.
  15. See DIM 60.
  16. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile. Trans. Alan Bloom (USA: Basic Books, 1979), 104. Rousseau accepts the need for the student to have some imitation of the one tutor, but then he claims that “the foundation of imitation among us comes from the desire always to be transported out of ourselves. If I succeed in my enterprise, Emile surely will not have this desire.” Moreover, “in society [the taste for imitation
  17. Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith (October 15, 1982). Accessed June 27, 2020, 33.
  18. Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Catholic School, 29.
  19. Pope John Paul II, Redemptor hominis. Accessed June 27, 2020, 10.
  20. Pope John Paul II, Familiaris consortio. Accessed June 27, 2020, Vatican.va, 40.
  21. Guernsey, “Distance Learning,” Crisis. See also: E. Tyler Graham, “Online Education is Not Fully Catholic Education” in HPR, April 27, 2020.
  22. CIC 800§2.
Mark Jahnke About Mark Jahnke

Mark Jahnke has been a teacher and administrator for thirteen years and currently teaches high school Humanities, Latin, and Math at the Rhodora J. Donahue Academy, a Catholic classical school. He earned his BA in Philosophy and in Catholic Studies (2004) and then his MA in Catholic Studies (2007) from the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He lives in Ave Maria, Florida with his amazing wife and seven children, ages infant-14, with the eldest five attending the Donahue Academy.

E. Tyler Graham About E. Tyler Graham

Mr. Tyler Graham has been teaching high school for over 20 years and has a humanities B.A. from Stanford University, an M.A. in religion from Syracuse, and a Master's in Theological Studies from Ave Maria University. He currently lives in Ave Maria, Florida, with his wife and 6 children. There, both spouses teach at — and all 6 children attend — Donahue Academy, a Catholic classical school.

Dr. Daniel Lendman About Dr. Daniel Lendman

Daniel Lendman is a husband and father of four. He is a visiting assistant professor of theology at Ave Maria University where he likewise completed his Ph.D in Theology. Dr. Lendman also has a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the International Theological Institute and an MA in Philosophy from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology. He has 10 years of experience teaching in middle, secondary, and post-secondary education.

Comments

  1. Avatar Anthony Esolen says:

    What you say here, gentlemen, is true enough, but I fear that you do not know enough about the actual things that homeschoolers do, nor are you candid enough about the great deficits in learning that are to be found among schoolteachers in general. To the first point: I have found, after 30 years of being in their midst, that homeschoolers are more fully socialized than are their schooled counterparts, more likely to speak sensibly and comfortably to people of all ages, more comfortable in their skin, and, in general, happier. Perhaps that has to do with their being in the company of people who love them? To the second point: Our schools are generally pretty miserable, academically. You yourselves must know this. Entire fields of study have been thrown aside. Where can you find the teachers to staff your schools, who will know English grammar as a systematic whole? They sure are not graduating from our colleges. Where will you find English teachers who can read poetry? That too has been abandoned. That’s just a couple of pieces of one field. Homeschoolers have the chance to put before their children’s eyes the good books and the great books… And to instill in them an excitement, a love of learning. By all means, build the classical Catholic schools. I support them fully. But do get to know homeschoolers a little better …

  2. Avatar Joseph DeLisle says:

    I was very saddened by this one-sided rant. As a Catholic School teacher whose wife homeschools, I find that many of your premises are completely ungrounded. First off, the primary consideration parents must consider is what adults are forming the children. If there is one bad apple who lacks faith and preaches modernism and permissiveness, all can be lost. Students look up to their teachers especially in their formative years and if that teacher is not obedient to the Magisterium, souls are lost, period.

    The peer group is also a consideration. Should a child be in a class with children whose parents allow social media, video games, popular music when their parents do not allow access to these until sufficient virtue has been tried and proven, at which point the soul should realize the bankruptcy of such distractions. Simply, it is every parent’s responsibility to shield their child from other children whose vices are stronger than their children’s virtues. Anything less is spiritual homicide and child abuse.

    The authors also grossly overestimate the resurgence in orthodox Catholic Education. Having taught for 20 years, I can say that things have gotten much worse. I will admit that there are pockets of true Catholic Education popping up. This, however, involves good teachers who are obedient to the church leaving a lukewarm school and heading to a classical or Latin school. The mediocre school then becomes even worse and more corrupt. These classical schools are really the only option Catholic families have for true Catholic education. Most Catholics in the United States do not have one within an hour drive. Living in a well populated area of Michigan, the closest one is about an hour.

    Additionally, the pool of teachers available for most Catholic schools today is disastrously unfaithful and unqualified. Most often, the teacher is one or two years out of college and just looking for a steppingstone to teach in the socialist public schools. While your premise sounds really good, the reality of finding a core of experienced, obedient, and holy Catholic school teachers is nearly unattainable.

    Ironically, you all posit that homeschoolers do not adequately introduce their children to the world. However, all of these authors are associated with Ave Maria, Florida. If I am not mistaken, this is an exclusive affluent Catholic- only community. Thus, this argument is extremely disingenuous and frankly offensive to anyone who cannot afford to live there. Additionally, the housing market down there is such that the average Catholic school teacher in America would never dream of moving there. This leaves unsaid any mention of the disastrous pay scale for Catholic School teachers who, if they are male, are often sole bread-winners.

    Lastly, it is not pride to assert that a homeschooling family with multiple degrees and 20 years of teaching experience would be the best choice for their child. Frankly, it is not pride for a high-school dropout to homeschool his children …. In conclusion, I would ask you to ponder the following question: what do you think is better – a homeschooled child who is knowledgeable in his faith, practices holiness in daily life and maybe lacks the academic precision a college professor might prefer or a chiseled grammarian who makes his professor drool over his wit but who has lost the Faith by graduation? I would prefer the former. I would venture to say with 20 years in catholic education the latter is what your average so-called orthodox Catholic school produces. God does not care what degrees you have. He cares whether you follow His will and live a Sacramental and virtuous life, which many have discerned is best-achieved in homeschooling,

  3. Avatar Jeff Sanders says:

    A fictitious fantasy is right! The logical conclusion of the authors’ opening is that, unlike those who attend Catholic Schools, homeschooled children can never become as learned as St. Thomas because their parents “lost sight of the need for their children to have secondary professional educators.”

    Allow me to apply a few facts to the “novelistic absurdity” for the Donahue Academy and Ave Maria University, which employ the authors. For the Count and Countess of Aquino to send their nine children to Donahue Academy for Kindergarten through High School at the current tuition and fee rates listed on the school’s website, the payments would total about $1 million. Ave Maria would then charge nearly $650,000 (using the average annual cost of attendance published by Google) for nine undergraduate degrees. At a median US household income of $68,703, it would take the average household over 24 years to pay for this fantasy education.

    Thankfully, the Count and Countess could pay for such an education for young Thomas. Unfortunately, as I am a lowly accountant, my (soon-to-be) five children will have to rely on my wife’s best efforts.

    The Benedictines who taught St. Thomas at Monte Cassino did so under a vow of poverty and chastity. Rather than an argument against homeschooling, the article’s opening just as easily demonstrates the inability of Catholic Schools to provide a reasonable education when relying on lay educators supporting large families. Would the authors extend their fictitious fantasy argument from the 1200s to require that Catholic Schools replace all of their current educators with vowed religious?

    The authors’ argument that Catholic Schools operating under the current funding model is more ideal than homeschooling is the real fantasy.

  4. Thank you Anthony Esolen and Joseph DeLisle for your well thought comments.

    In general, the principles presented here are solid. The reasoning and conclusion should be reworked.

    The poor fantasy at the beginning is a rough start. None of us have the option of a monastic school…certainly not one that has a history of turning out saints and popes. It is rather an example of hubris to imply that their own modern, crowded, co-ed school could perhaps have equal results.

    Another point of faulty reasoning: the authors seem to somehow simultaneously think (1) that homeschooling is not an ideal because of the “burden” it places on families* and (2) rather than homeschooling, families have some sort of duty (should) to embrace the much greater “burden” of starting their own schools.**
    Honestly, the fact that they can make those two claims in sequence is astonishing.

    In general, I think this article is dangerous and will be used by parish administrators to tear down the necessary homeschool communities. I would appreciate the authors taking a good look at modern homeschooling and giving it due credit in a follow up article: “Principles of Catholic Education: How Home Schools Can and Do Achieve Each One”.

    *(1) “Rather, we wish to make clear that the work of homeschooling should not be seen as the ideal towards which we must strive, rather a burden imposed on families due to unfortunate circumstances.”

    **(2) “The first goal should be to help one’s diocesan school become better. In the case of poor elements there, parents should strive to build independent Catholic schools.”

  5. This is horribly misguided and undermines the hard work of The Cardinal Newman Society and many others who are striving to renew faithful Catholic education and bring Catholic families back from dangerous secular education. Instead, HPR and the authors choose this dark moment for America and the Church to spark a fight between homeschoolers and advocates of schools. Is this what the Church needs? I will challenge the straw man argument of this article in a lengthier counter-article — the authors clearly do not know the real experience of most homeschoolers today, and by implication they have set up a false caricature. But more important, I deeply regret that the authors chose this moment to spark such division. Do they not realize that they have opened the floodgates for homeschoolers to now argue against Catholic schools, just when schools are struggling mightily to keep their doors open? I plead with everyone: avoid being absolutist about the methods and structures of education. The vast majority of young Catholics get NO Catholic education. Our focus should be on ensuring that EVERY young Catholic is educated in truth, by whatever means possible. There are pros and cons for each option, and we need to support whatever parents need in different circumstances. If the authors think they can restore a monopoly on Catholic education by parochial schools, they are completely out of touch with reality and the needs of many Catholic families. – Patrick Reilly, President, The Cardinal Newman Society

  6. Those Catholics who homeschool because the Catholic Schools “are not good enough, or are not Catholic enough, etc.” retreat to the echo chamber of their own home. Guess what, they will never be better because of you and your efforts to make them better. What do our Catholic Schools need to make them better? Laity who are formed in the faith who are willing to serve God and His people in this capacity. Indeed, it is your choice, but it should be strictly a positive one, because you truly believe that your family is better served in home schooling.
    The conversation should not be around “What is Catholic? What is not Catholic enough?” It should be, “How am I, as a baptized Catholic, called to serve God’s people AND my family through education?” Unfortunately, I constantly hear the former from Catholic homeschoolers and the CNS.

  7. Avatar Alicia W Smith says:

    I am deeply saddened by this article as a Catholic and Homeschooling mom. You have misquoted John Paul II and Church teaching. Parents are not primary educators but PRINCIPAL educators. You give parents far too little credit and fail to understand the depth of the call of our God given vocations as parents.

    I have had experience attending Catholic schools for the majority of my education and also public schools. My children similarly have had experience at both private Catholic schools and also homeschooling. I know families providing a variety of education experiences to their children with great sacrifice and discernment from year to year. I take great issue with your characterization of homeschooling and its perceived societal effects. Homeschooling my children is not a burden, as you state in your clarifications, but a tremendous opportunity for freedom and flexibility that has been discerned and chosen with great love and thought by me and my husband.

    How much time is lost from family life and commuting to and from school everyday? The time we gain during homeschooling means time for co-op classes, clubs, music lessons, and curriculums tailored to each child to meet their needs and interests. It can mean time spent with grandparents, great-grandparents and cousins throughout our week. It is time to attend daily Mass together and to bask in precious time together as a family and in particular, for siblings to learn alongside each other and build the sibling bond. As the above comments ask, what is the point of an article like this, at this current time? Certainly not to build up the Church and to recognize the many and good ways of educating and raising children beginning in the domestic church. You are missing the true lived experience of Catholic homeschooling families. My experiences and my children’s experiences are not reflected in this article and I speak for hundreds more families in my area alone.

    “Parents who contain their children within the family alone for their education remove them from the ‘larger society’ that town and church provide for that education and are, in a sense, depriving their children of certain “perfections” that belong to the fuller participation in the other societies.”
    This quote alone shows how completely out of touch the authors are with Catholic homeschooling families. This is a truly heartbreaking and incomplete understanding of the family, family life, and the great gift of homeschooling not only to families but to the Church itself and society at large. Please look again at what you have missed.

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