Over at Nutmeg's blog is an interesting post about how her children (and Nutmeg herself!) almost wound up attending (and teaching at!) a Catholic school for this upcoming school year.
I'm really glad she posted this. As the "do or die, Deo volente, Grade 12 or Bust!" sort of homeschooling mom it's genuinely helpful for me to be reminded that the homeschool umbrella provides more than one kind of educational shelter to more than one kind of homeschooling family for more than one kind of reason and for more than one kind of duration.
It's also helpful for me to sit down and articulate the reasons why I am the "do or die, Deo volente, Grade 12 or Bust!" sort of homeschooling mom. It's helpful because it's always a good idea to have one's clear purposes in mind as one prepares to leap into the maelstrom of a new school year; besides, I suppose there might be other moms out there who are still deciding a) if they are going to homeschool and b) what sort of homeschooling mom they're going to be, and in that case it's nice to be able to see different points of view about reasons to homeschool, including the reasons some of us choose to homeschool exclusively.
My perspective on this matter is, perhaps, a little unusual. As a child I never attended a public school; but from the year I began to go to school until my mother began homeschooling my siblings and I (save the eldest, who was already in college at the time) when I was in tenth grade, I attended a total of nine different Catholic schools in several different states.
Because I attended so many different Catholic schools, I don't have the luxury of thinking that perhaps my school was bad or problematic, but perhaps other schools are not. Because I attended Catholic schools alone, I don't have the luxury of blaming the public education system for the deleterious effects of institutional education. And because these schools were scattered around the country, I can't pretend that the various deficiencies I experienced were in any way localized, or confined to a specific geographic region. I have to consider the truth, and the truth is that as schools, the schools I attended were not bad at all--at acting like extremely overpriced day-care centers, that is.
As I've said before, one of the biggest problems in Catholic education today is that to all intents and purposes it's just secular education, with a little "snow on the dung-hill" (if you'll forgive the metaphor) of Catholicism sprinkled at the surface level, light and ethereal enough to avoid triggering the criticism of the many non-Catholic students and their parents. Perhaps the smallest and most private of Catholic schools, unaffiliated with any diocese, and unencumbered by either taxpayer funds or the problematic quest for accreditation, may indeed provide their students with a thoroughly Catholic education in the form of Catholic textbooks and none but good practicing Catholic teachers, but even where these schools exist it's far more inefficient for them to provide, in effect, the exact same education I can provide my own children at home, especially considering that I still have the luxury of tailoring my curricula to meet each child's needs and interests, something that even a tiny independent Catholic school could never really do.
And the larger diocesan schools don't even try. They teach to the same standardized tests that the public school students have to take, and if a timid Catholic student raises an objection to being taught, perhaps, in science class that overpopulation is a serious problem and that human beings are a drain on the planet, he will be told that his concerns are inappropriate for science, but that he may discuss them with his religion teacher, if he chooses. This, of course, sets the child up early for the notion that he will have to compartmentalize his faith, and keep it quiet and hidden, if he wants to succeed in the world.
If you've read anything at all about John Dewey, success in the world is what modern education is all about. Stripping educational principles of their tendency to convey eternal verities to children, Dewey, a signer of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto, saw the purpose of education as the formation of good citizens, people who would leave school with the acquisition of positive work habits and the propensity for gainful employment. There were no eternal verities, no higher realities, no nobler purposes. Man was meant to learn, in school, to be obedient, to sit at dull and repetitive tasks for a period of six to eight hours (conditioning him for 'modern' post-agricultural work), to grow up, get a job, pay taxes and participate in the civic life by voting and other political activities. There was no need to teach him about an afterlife which the humanists saw, condescendingly, as not impossible, but neither likely nor empirically demonstrable.
Even today institutional education ends up reflecting Dewey's values. Sadly, this is true no matter what the institution; it is simply not possible in the modern classroom setting to avoid completely the harmful effects of this man's ideas.
But even if you could find a small independent Catholic school which taught authentic Catholicism, which deliberately and purposefully built a curricula designed to go back to pre-Dewey thoughts and ideas about education, and which was willing to tailor courses of study for your child's specific needs, there would still be one small--or not so small--problem.
Institutional education is expensive. Really, really expensive. What a homeschooling mother can do with a few hundred dollars and a lot of creative ideas requires several thousands of dollars per student at the institutional level; and this is one area where the small struggling independent non-federally-funded non accredited schools have even worse problems than the larger diocesan schools: to make up for the lack of government funding they must, in the absence of deep-pocketed benefactors or patient investors, charge appreciably more tuition for their students than the larger schools do.
Now, I'm not criticizing those who choose to spend their money in this way. But the fact of the matter is that when tuitions cost thousands of dollars per student, few single income families can afford to send their children to those schools. Some families make tremendous sacrifices to pay tuitions to good Catholic schools; but of necessity, a significant portion of the student body is going to come either from families with two incomes, or from families of considerable means.
In practical terms, from my experience at nine different Catholic schools across the country, this means that in time a culture of snobby elitism is going to permeate the student body. Children are exceptionally good at choosing their associates based on such criteria as the designer label of the uniform blouse or the price tag of the shoes pulled out of the gym bag for gym class; children are also exceptionally good at being mindlessly cruel to those of their peers who clearly do not have such assets, or whose families are barely able to afford the tuition the school is charging, let alone any expensive little extras. Moreover, children whose parents don't allow them to participate greatly in the diseased and decaying culture are identified and excluded as well; or else great delight is taken in introducing the more innocent and naive among their members to such earthly pleasures as their first R-rated movie, their first objectionable magazine, or their first experience with alcohol or cigarettes (and worse, sometimes). It's true that we can't keep our children from the world, and we wouldn't want to. But there's a great deal of difference between the child who asks about something he's seen on a magazine rack at the grocery store, and the same child, at the same age, being forced to choose between perpetual torment for refusing to read such a magazine with his classmates, or the spiritual guilt and threat of blackmail he faces if he does accept it and read it.
For all of these reasons I find schools, even Catholic ones, unacceptable for my family at this point in time. Maybe someday dynamic orders of religious sisters will again take over the education of Catholic youth; maybe they will reinvent modern education, bypassing Dewey altogether; maybe their vow of poverty will help such education be affordable to all Catholic children; and in the absence of this culture of wealth, maybe they will be able to reestablish the kinds of rules and order in the classroom that will keep the oligarch-bully culture at bay. But I suspect that before that day comes, before those sorts of Sisters can once again arise, there will have to be several generations of homeschooling families producing such dedicated women; I'm glad to be doing my part.