It’s a common occurrence for homeschooling parents: you tell someone you homeschool, and the immediate reaction is, “Oh, I could never do that!” For some reason, there’s an immediate defensiveness on the part of the non-homeschooling parent. Because of this, a lot of homeschoolers tend to quickly emphasize that homeschooling isn’t for everyone, and that other forms of education are equally valid.
While I agree that in practice every family presents a unique situation, and thus each family must choose what is best for them, I’d argue that homeschooling is in fact the best objective form of education for Catholic families in the United States today. This doesn’t preclude the reality that homeschooling might not be the best subjective form of education in individual circumstances.
Let’s look at the most common forms of education today. And in the spirit of things, let’s give each one a grade. Note that my description of each form is of course a generalization, but I’m trying to give an overview of each option as it exists today in America.
In essence, public schools are the worst of all worlds. They are frequently academically substandard, pushing political correctness over academic excellence. The recent anti-gun march is just the latest example of the government-sponsored brainwashing many public-school students receive. Public schools not only do not teach Catholic values, they often espouse anti-Catholic beliefs and practices. At a time when a child is in his formative stages, public schools work to separate the child from his parents and their values. In all honesty, we’ve come to the point where only in the most extreme situations should a Catholic family send their kids to public schools.
Catholic schools have to be broken down into two categories: those schools that are pseudo-Catholic, i.e. they treat the Faith as a facade (the majority); and those which take the Faith seriously.
Most Catholic schools today simply use the Faith as a front. They put crucifixes on the walls and say a few prayers, but Catholicism does not permeate the school. Unfortunately, most diocesan schools fall under this category. Many simply ape the public schools when it comes to academics, though some do have legitimately strong academic programs. In some ways a pseudo-Catholic school can be worse than a public school, for the students come to believe that the weak Catholicism presented by the school is the actual faith. They essentially misrepresent Catholicism. But I’ll give them a better grade than public schools simply because they usually have better academics and are less dogmatic about political correctness.
Serious Catholic School
There do exist some Catholic schools that take the faith seriously. These can produce Catholics who excel both academically and spiritually. Unfortunately, there are far too few of these schools. However, even these schools are not without issues. Sometimes a solidly Catholic school is strong theologically/spiritually but mimics the public schools academically. Without confidence in, or perhaps knowledge of, the long academic tradition of the Church, they espouse the latest educational fads. Further, while it’s good such schools are solidly Catholic, children there must still contend with negative peer influences. If we lived in an age when most kids were raised well, such influences might be minimized. In today’s world, however, every kid in any school is bombarded with the cultural trash that permeates our society, and that is sadly part of their “education.”
Non-Catholic private schools are a mixed bag and include Christian schools, secular schools, or even non-Christian religious schools. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. But for a Catholic, all can be problematic. None will teach the Catholic faith, and many will outright contradict it. Some might be strong academically, but finding such a school is a crapshoot. They are also often very expensive, which can be overwhelming for large Catholic families. While there might be a few that work out, private schools aren’t usually a solid option for Catholics.
Boarding schools are quite rare in the United States today. At their best, they can give a child a solid foundation for character building. At their worst, they can isolate a child from his family and teach values contrary to that family. I do know a few families who have sent their children to boarding schools with success, but they are so rare and such an unknown, they are not really a realistic option for most Catholic families.
Many people who don’t homeschool think that homeschooling is simply normal school, but at home. This is what I too thought before our family began homeschooling more than fifteen years ago. I came to realize, however, that homeschooling represents a completely different paradigm. It creates a family togetherness that simply isn’t possible when the kids are out of the house for eight hours every day. Siblings spend more time together, and they have to deal with different age levels (unlike traditional schools, which enforce rigid age groupings).
Homeschooling also allows children to absorb their parents’ values and beliefs, without the propaganda they often receive at outside schools. Instead of hoping that the science teacher won’t make anti-Catholic remarks, the parent is the science teacher!
Another strength of homeschooling is that academics can be adapted for the individual student. This was the primary reason we decided to homeschool our oldest daughter many years ago. She was in a (decent) Catholic school for a couple of years, but we noticed that, as a quiet child, she was easily lost in the shuffle of a normal classroom. Most teachers spend most of their energy teaching to the average students and controlling the worst. Anyone who might be in any way outside the norm was forgotten. With homeschooling, all lessons and subjects can be directed towards the child’s strengths.
Grade-A Catholic Education
I would argue that homeschooling is objectively the best form of education for Catholic families in the United States today. If homeschooling is a realistic option for a Catholic family, they should choose it over other forms. Of course, I recognize that subjectively it depends on the situation. Single parent homes, families with a difficult parent/child dynamic, communities with little homeschooling support all might lead to other options that are necessary in that particular situation. But all things being equal, homeschooling offers the only Grade-A education option for Catholic families in the United States today.