Homeschooling and Parents as Primary Educators

I sincerely hope that Catholic parents, who are the ‘principal educators’ of their children, give homeschooling a fair hearing.

‘Learning Together’
‘Learning Together’ (photo: Jack Frog / Shutterstock)

As a father of nine children who has homeschooled for nearly three decades — after being homeschooled myself for seven years — I can assure you that our decision to homeschool has been one of the best choices we have ever made.

I am not going to provide a litany of homeschooling’s merits; I wrote a book a while back that attempted to accomplish that. Instead, I’d like to focus on one particular point: the concept of primary educators.

The Second Vatican Council document Gravissimum Educationis confirmed and echoed prior magisterial teaching, stating, “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators.”

I’ve often pondered the import of the beautiful “primary educator” teaching. I’ve also come to realize a corollary principle. As it often turns out in many homeschooling families, not only are parents the primary educators of their children, but children are the primary educators of their parents.

Of course, this is parallel to Socrates’ observation that there is no teaching without learning, and that there is no learning without teaching. That principle is illustrated every day in our house. Please allow me to cite a few examples.

In order to teach our four sons and five daughters, I have found it necessary to re-learn algebra numerous times. Though mathematics was always a weakness for me, this re-learning and re-teaching process has taught me to (if it is possible to do such a thing) think algebraically. Turns out, the commutative property has vital applications for writing logical articles. In a way, my children have taught me how to write.

Teaching American Government to my children has made me a far better speechwriter. It certainly keeps things like natural law, justice, human rights, the rights and duties of conscience, the nature of personhood, the Constitution and American jurisprudence front and center in my mind. But in teaching them, I have also learned how to communicate some difficult concepts in a clear way. That ability has proven invaluable to political speechwriting.

My son Bonaventure has been studying apologetics for his senior year. On a recent morning, he read the passage in the Gospel of John 14:28, in which Jesus states, “The Father is greater than I.” He asked me how that could be. I didn’t have an insightful response, but I suggested that we look up the answer together. So I opened my copy of St. Thomas’ Catena Aurea, and we read St. Augustine’s answer to that question. I explained to Bonaventure that whenever he needed more insight into the Gospels, he should simply refer to the Catena Aurea, because the anthology of the Church Fathers is a powerful apologetic.

If you asked Bonaventure who was teaching that morning, his humility would cause him to answer that his dad was teaching. But he would only be half right — for he was teaching me.

Maybe brick-and-mortar Catholic schools work that way: a student asks a difficult question about a Gospel passage, and the teacher pulls out the Catena Aurea and reads it to his or her class. I hope they do. I can’t speak to that. What I do know is that this is how our homeschool program works. And I also know that thousands of other homeschool families learn and teach that way, too.

When Lisa and I started homeschooling our oldest son Athanasius, I would often come home from work, and Lisa would excitedly tell me, “Guess what I learned in school today!” The first time she said this, I asked, “You mean, guess what Athanasius learned, right?” She answered, “No. What I learned.” She then gleefully told me a fact about the Catholic Faith and the saints. This became a standard conversation whenever I returned home from work.

Homeschooling has caused Lisa to know her faith more, and to love her faith more — and this process has been going on for nearly 30 years now. In those early days of homeschooling, I worked as a stockbroker. No shame in that; after all, St. Katherine Drexel’s father was an incredibly generous and saintly stockbroker. But today, I’m a Catholic apologist. How much did homeschooling influence that career move? Perhaps I’ll never know, but I know this: I learn more every day. And I know that my children have taught me.

Parents are the primary educators of their children; we have that on the authority of the magisterium. But the homeschooling life, in its daily structure and practice, illustrates another wonderful reality: Children are the primary educators of their parents. 

Notre Dame Cathedral before the April 15, 2019, fire

Chauvin Verdict, Notre Dame, Catholic Schools and Homeschool Ban in France (April 24)

A jury in Minnesota has found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of all charges. How has the nation reacted? Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond offers some analysis on this news. Then we turn to Joan’s coverage of Catholic schools as they evaluate the last year and look ahead to the future. And then, we hear from Register European Correspondent Solène Tadié about the homeschool ban in France, and get updates on the rebuilding of Notre Dame Cathedral and the controversial building of the largest mosque in Europe. But she also brings us information on an abbey of French nuns who are providing Gregorian Chant for the world through a one-of-a-kind app.