Why Homeschooling and Catholic Schools? Because Children Belong to God and Their Families — Not to the Government

Home education in the United States and globally is one expression (solidly Catholic schools are another) of the fundamental truth that children do not belong to the state.

Two-year-old Blossom Walker, who is the photographer's niece, takes part in educational activities at her home by her grandmother, Claire Stirk, on Feb. 11 in Bradford, England.
Two-year-old Blossom Walker, who is the photographer's niece, takes part in educational activities at her home by her grandmother, Claire Stirk, on Feb. 11 in Bradford, England. (photo: Nathan Stirk / Getty Images)

Much has been made of the rise of home education during the pandemic. “Everyone’s a homeschooler now!” became a popular social media meme, accompanied by photos of various female Avengers captioned “How My Friends See Me Now.” 

There was some sweet, if ungodly, satisfaction for me as a long-time homeschooler knowing that at last, parents all over the world were learning what it takes to run a home, hold down a job, and “school” multiple children. There was also a great hope that the silver lining of the pandemic was precisely that families would spend time together, rediscover the joy of a quieter life, and find strengths hitherto undiscovered. What began as necessity may continue as a choice.

And in fact, even as school districts look to open up, it appears that many parents will simply continue to keep their children home in some form of alternative learning. Interest in homeschooling has not abated with the reopening of the states. The attention is not all good.

The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) Legislation Action Center proves that with the rise of homeschooling, we are also seeing a rise in state efforts to regulate and track everything from instructional content (North Dakota) to medical decision making (Washington, DC).

Harvard University’s Kennedy School will be hosting a series of webinars on the Post-Pandemic Future of Homeschooling this coming May to explore this phenomenon and promote understanding of home education. Hard-hitting anti-homeschooler Elizabeth Bartholet will make her appearance, but the webinars will also feature top-notch champions such as Michael Donnelly of HSLDA and Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute.

The interest is not limited to the United States. In the United Kingdom, both opponents and advocates of home education are discussing the rights and duties of parents and their role in education. Juliet English of the Learn Free Home Conference reports a 200% increase in conference attendance in 2020 and expects even more for their May 2021 virtual conference. She points with enthusiasm and hope to a new generation of parents who are making the choice to reclaim their role as their children’s primary educators.

At the same time, in the last four years, Parliament’s Education Committee has increased scrutiny of Britain’s relatively lenient homeschooling regulations and made three formal inquiries into home education. The most recent states that its purpose is “to understand the extent to which current arrangements provide sufficient support for home educated children to access efficient, full-time and suitable education, and establish what further measures may be necessary in order to facilitate this.”

Home education in the United States and globally is only one expression (solidly Catholic schools are another) of the fundamental truth that children do not belong to the state. The child belongs first to God and then to parents. The state exists as a help given our fallen nature and should only “step in” at the extremities of familial failure to protect the child. Even then, a host of smaller social institutions (private schools, parishes, local communities) should be allowed and even encouraged to take up the child’s cause long before the state, serving as a further buffer between the government and the individual.

Investigation is a peculiarly human tool. We ask questions and consult experts to learn why or how something has happened, but rarely do we investigate anything disinterestedly. Issues of education and the family are not different. So, while the rise in families choosing to homeschool for the right reasons is a cause for rejoicing, it is important to remember that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

Parents considering or already homeschooling should examine their motives first to be sure they are not simply “running away” from a failed system, but also working toward the full flourishing of their children and homes. This is where the rise in positive attention toward homeschooling and education reform (for example, the classical education movement) is vital. By participating in homeschool conferences, building intentional communities to support parents at this historical moment, and developing our own skills as parents and teachers, we will build a beautiful culture in which children thrive in mind, body and soul.

We must also, however, be keenly aware of negative incursions into our rights as parents during this time of increased scrutiny on the family. Whether we homeschool or not, state attempts to regulate homeschoolers are often indicative of a broader attempt to regulate families in general.

So as we build our own families and support one another, it is necessary to insist on our rights and identify governmental inroads. Effective resistance comes only from a strong, positive knowledge of why the family is primary, a clear articulation of the contributions of homeschooling to civic society, and gentle, insistent pressure on elected leaders to use their newfound interest in homeschooling to help families rather than fragment them.