Thursday, February 13, 2003

Homeschool or not?
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker is concerned about the attitude of many homeschoolers, who seem to think that anyone who doesn’t school their children at home is being irresponsible. I agree with her 1000% (as does my wife) that homeschoolers can be quite arrogant and elitist. They should just SHUT UP about other people’s education choices, just as much as they would expect others to shut up about their choice to home school or to have a zillion children, and for much the same reason: the decision is up to the parents (in the context of Church teaching and in consultation with the wise). As Woodeene says, “Make your own prayerful choice, but don’t impose your choice on someone else or judge anyone else’s choice in this area.”

Where I differ from Woodeene, however, is in her statement that “homeschooling is not a salvific matter. It is a choice, pure and simple. If you homeschool and it works for your family, great. If you don’t homeschool and it works for your family that’s great too.” The Church teaching does say something about the family and education. Specifically, I believe that, contrary to Woodeene’s assertion, the Church does teach that home education is the “automatic default” for Catholic education.

Now, before you get up in arms, hear me out. I speaking specifically of the educative responsibility of parents that flows from the procreative purpose of marriage as expressed in, for instance, Familiaris Consortio. Parents are the first and always most important teachers of their children.

This does not mean that they have to do all the teaching. Parents have a responsibility also to seek whatever assistance from the Church, from schools and even from the state they need to fulfill their educative responsibilities. Even “homeschooling” families don’t ever do it alone. They seek the assistance of each other, experts in the community, community education programs, public schools, distance learning programs, etc. So, all Catholic families home school. All seek assistance in that effort. The question is not whether to home school or not, but how much outside assistance one needs in order to give one’s child a solid, Catholic education The answer to that question is dependent on all kinds of contingencies both internal to the family and external to it. As Woodeene points out, for instance, some parents have more of an aptitude for teaching academic subjects than others.

Among the important external factors that affect educative choice is the quality of outside educational assistant available. The Church is not really neutral on this. The ideal is a solid, Catholic environment. Public schools, especially in our day, do not provide this and more often than not seem to provide an environment that in inimical to a Catholic world view. If a parent chooses to put his child in this environment, I’d say he must have a clear and well developed plan on how do counteract the negative influences that his child will receive at the school.

As for Catholic schools, they are really a mixed bag. Some of them are not much better than public schools with a Mass (or a prayer service) once a month. The teachers are pro choice, the curriculum is about as P.C. as you can get, the spirituality is often syncretistic and New Agey. Many home school families felt forced into their choice by this kind of shenanigans at their local Catholic school. I’d say that the kind of mixed signals sent by this kind of environment are very dangerous and, if possible, ought to be avoided. I’d think sending a child to public school might even be better, because at least then you don’t have to figure out a way to tell your child that their teachers are wrong without seeming to undermine the authority of the Church. I know of some professors at Franciscan University who chose public schools precisely for this reason.

In a way I think the choice to keep the children at home is similar to the choice to have a large family, and indeed related to it by the fact that both flow from the procreative purpose of marriage. While keeping your children at home isn’t exactly the default for the Church, it is certainly commendable. But, just like the choice to space children, the educative choices of the parents are their responsibility, based on their own prudential judgment. No one should look down on someone who, in faith, and with prayerful discernment, chooses a different option.

The home is always the most important factor in a child’s education, no matter what other educative opportunities the parents avail themselves of. That is why, for instance, the question of what and how much television a child watches may be as important as what school he or she goes to. In the end I’m saying that Woodeene did homeschool. I’m sure that if her son got a solid Catholic education it had as much to do with what he got at home as anywhere. She also availed herself of the assistance she needed to give her son a great education. Those of us who home school need to shut up about it.

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