I think the reason there is sometimes tension between homeschooling Catholic families and non-homeschooling Catholic families is that question of judgment. But where it gets complicated, as it always does, is that there's a big difference between judging between different ideas or different ways of schooling, and judging individual families for their choices.
To look at examples other than homeschooling, let's look at the breastfeeding campaign and its slogans. By spreading the "Breast is best!" message, pro-breastfeeding groups have done a good job convincing women who don't have any strong reasons not to try nursing to try it; they have also created a big support network so that a mom won't feel like her only option is to quit should things go badly at first, or should an issue crop up later that makes nursing difficult. These are both very good things, because breastfeeding really is good for babies most of the time.
Some of the mothers who can't nurse for various reasons have expressed negative feelings about these types of campaigns, however. They lament the "guilt trip" they feel for not breastfeeding their babies. They speak slightingly of moms who are enthusiastic about nursing. They get defensive about their decision to bottle-feed, and wave the "You're judging me!" flag whenever someone talks about the benefits of nursing.
I will quickly say that this is not by any means true of the majority of moms who can't or didn't nurse, or who gave up early on. Most of them are either secure in their reasons to choose as they did, or else will admit that they wish they'd tried nursing, or sought help instead of quitting in the first few weeks. But there are those moms who, for whatever reason, see any discussion of breastfeeding among other moms as a de facto judgment on them for not doing it.
And that's too bad, because that's not true. To say that breastfeeding is best, generally speaking, is not to say that every single mother will be able to do it naturally and successfully and regardless of whatever circumstances there are in her life. Things that are best generally may not work out in many particular, individual situations.
The same thing is true for Catholic families with two full-time working parents. I'm not judging those families when I say that, generally speaking, it's much better for one parent to be able to be home full time with the children than for them to be in someone else's care. Their particular situation may be one of financial hardship or a whole host of other things I can't possibly see from the outside. But should I avoid saying that generally speaking a child does better when raised by one of his or her own parents than by a sitter, nanny, day-care center, etc.? Especially when I am convinced of the truth of this statement?
Here's where I know this may get a bit controversial, although nobody who reads this blog should be surprised at my viewpoint: I think our culture is terribly, dysfunctionally, destructively sick. Its errors are poison to our children's souls and their developing minds. Where an adult has experience to lend perspective to his encounters with the culture and his rational decisions about how and when to interact with it, children do not. If the schools were doing their jobs and serving as an antidote to this destructive and poisonous culture, that would be one thing; but for the most part they are not, and some are serving as conduits to it (e.g., Planned Parenthood giving presentations to high school students, condom distribution in high schools and middle schools, and teaching third-graders about gender reassignment surgery, just for a few examples).
Given the above, I think it is fair to say generally speaking that for the serious Christian family who wants to raise their children in the faith and protect them while they are young and impressionable from the destructive poisons of our dysfunctional culture, homeschooling is the best option. Now, please note that I said generally speaking. I have heard of tiny independent non-accredited non-government-associated schools run by deeply faithful people who strive for holiness themselves and are not afraid to stand up for Christian principles, moral teachings, and virtues in the classroom because, indeed, the school expects it, etc. I have heard of situations where parents can't possibly homeschool for all sorts of serious and valid reasons (and may not be able to afford Catholic school, either). I have heard of faithful orthodox Catholic schools run by faithful orthodox religious orders (and, sorry, but Legion of Christ/RC schools don't cut it). I have even suspected that in a few dioceses in America, diocesan schools might be improving themselves away from the felt-banner liberal mush claptrap years I endured as a child; but I'm an inveterate skeptic, and will believe in diocesan schools when they stop bragging about the percent of their graduates who go on to elite colleges and high-profile jobs, and start talking about the percentage that actually remains--you know--faithful practicing Catholics, which is a great deal more important than worldly success.
The point is, for an individual's family circumstances homeschooling may simply be impossible or unwise in any given year; I also think that homeschooling is a call. Is that paradoxical to the idea that it is also, generally speaking, the best way to raise children in the faith? Well, as I wrote three years ago in the post linked above:
I believe that the call to homeschool is not unlike these types of calls. I think that generally speaking homeschooling is the best way to educate children in faith, to nurture and protect their developing souls while providing them with the tools they will one day need when they enter the world. I believe it's the surest way for Catholic parents to fulfill their obligation, in this day and age, to see to it that their children are taught the faith and that they grow in the Christian life.Even in that post, I used those two words: generally speaking. They really are the heart of the matter of the question of homeschooling vs. other types of schooling. Generally speaking, homeschool is the best choice for many Catholics and other Christian believers right here, right now. We are living in a post-Christian culture in a nation that celebrates degeneracy; those values, like it or not, will be communicated to our children; if our children are exposed to those values overwhelmingly and to our Christian values only tangentially or minimally, it will be increasingly difficult for them to resist the peer pressure to stop being "weird" and start enjoying the hedonistic materialistic anti-paradise that is twenty-first century America.
I think that, most unfortunately, it isn't possible any longer to assume that any school, Catholic, Christian, private or public, is going to educate our children to share our values. This doesn't mean that some wonderful schools aren't out there, but it does mean that many schools parents would once have trusted implicitly with their children are no longer worthy of such unquestioning trust.
But as much as I believe these things, I still believe that the decision to homeschool comes as a response to a call to do so, and that that call comes from God. Not every family in every situation will find themselves able or willing to homeschool, and not every family has felt in their hearts that quiet, persistent invitation to do so.
So we have the choice to homeschool--or, if for whatever reason that choice isn't feasible for us as individuals, we have the choice to watch carefully over every book, lesson, teacher and class our child is exposed to, to question the school's values, policies, attitudes, and ethics at every turn, to be the kind of parent the school absolutely hates to see coming, and to be willing to take names and demand answers if, for instance, your child is made fun of by his classmates at the Catholic school for coming from a large family and having a mom who "doesn't work." And that's for the Catholic school; multiply that by a factor of at least ten if your child attends a public school, and starts coming home telling you about the neat book about two kings getting married that his teacher read to him at story time.
We're not the first generation to have to defend our children against a toxic and antithetical culture that has destroyed the notion of virtue, that sees faith as a crutch, a fairy tale, or a lie, and that seeks to reshape the world based on its own immoral and ugly notions of what is good and right. But we're kidding ourselves if we pretend that all educational choices are equally safe and good for our children. Because they're not. Generally speaking.