Print Article | Email Article | Write To Us

A Conversation about Homeschooling

10/27/2010 Comments (148)

A reader writes:

I see your enthusiasm on Home Schooling, and I see there are plenty of reasons to seriously consider it. However, how far through your children’s education should you home school? I for one would find trouble offering some things High School does offer a child, like: 

-Advanced academics. 
-Competitive sports which develop emotional strength and leadership. 
-Team and cultural activities such as music and theatre. 
-And most importantly, their discovery of God and self outside the shadow of their parents. 

I went to Catholic High School in the 80s and my children, in turn, went and go to Catholic High School (I have one that graduated last year, and a sophomore). I make no illusions of what happens there, the schools are a representation of our society. But, for me and for what I see in my children, it was and is a place to find an echo of family teachings outside of home for those that search it. Retreats, religion classes, Sacraments, and the possibility of knowing and bonding with good catholic men and women, and many times consecrated men and women may be life defining. It was for me. 

Finally, our striving to keep our children in an “unpolluted catholic” world is just a manifestation of the modernist idea of raising children? If we control all the input variables a perfect and highly successful adult will be produced?  The Catholic translation would be perhaps a perfectly orthodox Catholic adult. I think we forget Free Will and that conversion is ultimately our positive response to God’s calling. We, as parents may by actors, and perhaps important ones in God’s plan for salvation of our children, but we do not determine the outcome. 

And then there is our calling to be the ‘salt of the world’, and if we retreat to our homes and away from secular and more importantly Catholic education, have we not spoiled our essence and failed our duty?

The nice thing about homeschooling as that you have control, as a parent, over how it will be done.  In our family, our oldest was homeschooled till high school, then went to the local public.  Our second was in the public school till middle school, at which point he requested to be homeschooled.  Our two youngest (15 and 13) have been homeschooled since kindergarten.  All have turned out as happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and bright kids with the normal spectrum of social and intellectual gifts and interests.  Luke is studying animation at the Seattle Art Institute and doing very well.  Matthew has been busy with the Militia Immaculata and work.  Pete has been bitten by the acting bug as he keeps up his very good grades (the State of Washington tests homeschool kids to make sure they are learning real stuff) and Sean has the normal interests of a kid his age: drawing dragons, reading Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and following Popular Science articles on plasma propulsion engines that promise to get us to Mars in 39 days.

As to advanced academics, theatre, music, sports, etc.  there are lots of homeschool co-ops springing up all over the place where homeschoolers and pool their resources and network with the surrounding community to cover all the bases.  We belong to the Edmonds Homeschool Resource Center here in the Seattle area and our kids are involved, not just in ordinary academics, but martial arts, band, theatre and computer programming.

Our kids are involved in Catholic activities for youth both at our parish and in private organizations like Youth for Life and the Militia of the Immaculata.  Doubtless there are similar things happening in your neck of the woods.  Plus, of course, there are things like the Scouts and the American Heritage Girls (like the Girl Scouts, only without all the toxic Planned Parenthood agitprop).

I’m not sure what you envision by the “shadow” of a parent.  If you mean that a child must learn to own his faith and fly on his own, I couldn’t agree more. I try to help my kids approach the Catholic intellectual tradition in order to think with it and appreciate its depths, not merely to parrot word they don’t understand.  Having encounters with a wider and wider breadth of the Church is vital to that.

Likewise, with the notion of an “unpolluted Catholic” I’m not sure what you mean.  If you are saying that it’s important to hurry out children out to be exposed to the cruelty of bullies, the inanity of secular youth culture, and the sheer coarseness of life in public (including elementary) schools, I don’t buy it.  To be sure, they have to be readied for adulthood and not be trainined to be helpless goody two shoes Mamma’s boys (or girls).  But I think love, not subjection to humiliation or trauma, is a better route.  Homeschooling is not about “controlling all the input variables” (an impossibility).  It is about providing an environment where learning can happen—including healthy normal social interactions—while allowing the child to be formed in the bosom of the family, the Church, and the larger community so that he is ready to face the world.  Indeed, I think it is vital to expose the kids to the sundry ways by which the world will attack their faith so that they can really have a sense of what do expect.  Otherwise, I might as we shove them into a den of pestilence without a single vaccine to ready them. 

Studies show that homeschoolers consistently outperform public and private schooled kids academically.  They also show that there is no difference academically between homeschool kids and the rest at the first year college level.

The call to be the salt of the earth is certainly a valid one.  But it is a call addressed to mature adults, not children.  That’s why, in the Western Tradition, Confirmation (the sacrament of maturity) is administered to adolescents to strengthen them as they go to bear witness to (and do battle in) the world.  We are indeed to ready our children to face the struggle of life.  But homeschooling, properly done, is part of, not opposed, to that.  Homeschooling is not a retreat from Catholic education.  Indeed, the Catholic school is a relatively recent development.  Jesus was homeschooled.

Filed under mailbag

About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
  • Get the RSS feed
Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.