To steal a phrase from Charles Dickens, for the Catholic Church the beginning of the Third Millennium is the best of times and the worst of times. On one hand, the Universal Church is working towards reuniting an unprecedented number of souls back into full communion. On the other hand, the Church in the United States is bleeding dollars to pay damages to abuse victims, and continues to suffer a shortage of priests and religious, leaving local parishes with scant resources for their programs, most especially their schools. Will the sacrifices of Catholic home schooling families be equal to the challenges of serving the Church in need at this crucial point in her history?
The Holy Father is working to bring several groups of our separated brethren back into full communion with the Catholic Church. Regarding the Society of Saint Pius X, the Holy Father recently lifted excommunications and is seeking a way to regularize their situation. The Holy Father reportedly is driving a plan to welcome the Traditional Anglican Church into the Catholic Church as a personal prelature, a status presently enjoyed only by Opus Dei. Perhaps the most exciting development is the continued activity and conversation between the Holy See and the various Eastern Orthodox Churches. There are somewhere between 226 and 300 million members of Eastern Orthodox Churches in the world.
That’s the good news! The bad news is the condition of Catholic schools in the United States. Economic woes are shuttering parish and private Catholic schools all over the country. Catholic school enrollment today is about two and a half million, less then half its peak enrollment of over five million in the 1960s. Although pastors, principals and bishops are working hard to find alternative funding, I have little hope for their long-term success. Some may survive, but these schools are just no longer financially feasible on a large scale. And so we come to the real reason this column is being written.
You and I already have the answer to the problems that plague the parochial school system. I discovered it twenty years ago. You provide a Catholic education everyday around your kitchen table, in front of your computer, sitting on the living room sofa. Home schooling is not expensive, and study after study has shown it to be academically superior to most brick and mortar schools. Home schooled children generally socialize well with others from a variety of backgrounds, and most often escape the drug use and premature sexual activity that are so common in our nation’s high schools. Even the academically finest, most orthodox Catholic school, cannot hope to foster family unity that years of the shared experience of home education give to parents and children alike. Although they have been known to complain, as all children do, home schooled students are generally content with their situation. In fact, we are now seeing a generation of former home schooled children teaching their children at home.
There is no question that Catholic home schooling works. The only question is why it is not more widespread. Why, after over a quarter of a century of stunning success, are parents still hesitating to take the plunge? My own experience tells me that most parents still do not really understand how to start, how a home classroom operates, the legal requirements, and the impact on their children. I am still asked – all the time – if home schooled children can go to college! Some of the blame for this ignorance can be laid right on the shoulders of home schooling parents – like you and me.
Not wishing to be seen as pushing our preferences on others, we talk about home schooling as our “choice” and we hesitate to extol its virtues. Now is the time to be more direct. We home schooling parents must be missionaries to our Catholic friends who are struggling to provide a religious education for their children. Home education may be their only chance to pass on our precious Faith to the next generation. One hour of CCD class, with disinterested public school students who are attending only until they complete their sacramental requirements, simply will not produce strong Catholics. Daily religious instruction in the home, coupled with a devout family prayer life, is what accomplishes that.
Give some thought to home school “apologetics” and learn how to answer the most common questions.
- Moms worry that they cannot home school and keep up with the housework and laundry. Remind them that they will save thousands of dollars on school tuition and fees. They should have enough to pay for some domestic help periodically.
- Dads are afraid their children will be “weird” if they are taken out of school. Advise them to go to a shopping mall on any Saturday and look for the weirdest teen they can find, with tattoos and piercings, green hair and a dog collar. Ask the kid if he’s home schooled. All the really bizarre teens go to school!
- Parents worry that Mom might not be able to get the kiddies to do their schoolwork and chaos will rule. Do not allow them to forget that all children, in school or out, must respect and obey their parents. If a child is disobedient, the answer is not to ship him off to school to be the teacher’s problem.
- How can a parent, who is not a trained teacher, possibly hope to provide a good education? This is where a school like Seton can come in and offer expertise and top quality materials to help parents to home school.
- Some prospective home schoolers lack the courage to stand up to the pastor, the school principal, or their in-laws. The best strategy is to avoid arguing and simply state the intention to home school. Parents must recognize that interested outsiders will not be won over by argument, but by witnessing the really terrific personalities and strong character of home schooled children.
In the coming months, identify families who would benefit from home education. Give them a call or perhaps invite them to brunch after Sunday Mass, and share your home schooling story with them. Remind your friends that it costs nothing to investigate home education, and give them Seton’s website address (www.setonhome.org). Urge them to attend a Catholic home school conference (a list can be found on the Seton website) as a great way to learn more and have an opportunity to actually see the materials themselves. Help your friends to see that what seems unusual to them is an ordinary way of life for millions of students.
Pray that the SSPX, traditional Anglicans, and Orthodox Churches will soon enter into full communion with the Church of Rome. At the same time, remember that a church with more members will also need more servants. Recent history has shown that U.S. seminaries, convents and monasteries are filled with former home schoolers. Members of the first generation of home schooled children are becoming consecrated lay people, responsible parents, active in their parishes, and strong pro-life, pro-family advocates. The Catholic Church and our nation need many more of them.