According to the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis), parents are the primary educators of their children, and Catholic home-schoolers take that commitment seriously. For them, their homes are places where authentic Catholic education occurs, and many members of the clergy and hierarchy agree with them. Several dioceses explicitly recognize home schooling as a valid option for Catholic education.
But not all priests and bishops agree. At the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, the bishops wrote that parents have an obligation to send their children to parochial schools, and some clergy members today say Catholic home-schoolers abrogate that responsibility.
The latest skirmish flared earlier this year when the Holy Family Homeschoolers Association invited Austin Bishop Joe Vásquez to celebrate a blessing Mass at the beginning of the next school year. The response came not from the bishop’s office but from the Catholic schools superintendent, Ned Vanders, who wrote:
“Bishop Vásquez received your invitation to celebrate a Eucharistic liturgy for the fall home-schooling blessing Mass.Bishop Vásquez believes Catholic education, and in particular Catholic school education, is an essential part of the life of the Diocese of Austin. As you know, Catholic schools are at the heart of the mission of the Church.“Bishop’s presence at the home-schooling Mass would convey a contradictory message equating the importance of Catholic school education with Catholic home schooling; therefore, Bishop Vásquez must respectfully decline the invitation.Sincerely in Christ,Ned F. Vanders, Ed.D.” [Links in original: E.M.]
Of course, no article about Catholic homeschoolers would be complete without quotes from the militantly anti-homeschooling priest, Fr. Peter Stravinskas:
Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas, executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation, has become something of a bete noire for the Catholic home-schooling community, championing the idea that Catholic children should be educated in Catholic schools. [...]
“On the same property where they go to church on Sunday is a school where the parents don’t wish to send them,” he said.
That leads to a subtle anti-clericalism, he said, because the children learn that priests cannot be counted on to hand on the faith. It shows in what he sees as a dearth of vocations from home-school families. “Why would you want to join the club if its members can’t be trusted to their jobs?” he said.
He also believes it is psychologically unhealthy for mothers to spend 24 hours a day with their children as they get older, and it’s academically nearly impossible for one person to teach all that is included in a modern high school curriculum.
What’s more, he said, some home-school families say they have no issues with the faculty or teaching at their local Catholic schools, but they don’t want their children exposed to others whose families might not have the same values as theirs.
As respectfully and pro-clerically as possible, Father S.: bunkum.
There is an interesting omission in this article, one which is mentioned almost immediately by the article's many commenters: if parents are committed to being open to life and possibly welcoming many children, and if they are also committed to the idea that a child needs his or her mother at home during his or her young years, that family is rarely going to be able to afford a Catholic education for their children. In other words, the one-or-two child, two income family can frequently afford to pay $5,000 per year (and up) for grade school, and $10,000 per year (and up) for high school for each child. The single-income family with many children will find this same price impossible unless they are independently wealthy or have some relative or friend who is financing the children's education.
It is my honest belief that some--possibly many--priests do not get this at all. I had a conversation with a priest online about this some years ago: here in the Fort Worth Diocese most people pay $5000 per child per year for K-8 at the Catholic schools, and therefore our tuition price would have been $15,000 per year at the time (it would be more than $25,000 per year now, with two in high school!). The priest responded that when people make Catholic school a priority it is usually possible, but people don't want to give up their expensive cars and annual vacations. I told Father that we had one older car fully paid for, no second car, and have taken no vacations in 15 years of marriage that didn't involve driving to and staying with family (and precious few of those, as my mother and mother-in-law would each swear to), and that further the annual payment on our modest home was $5000 per year less than the tuitions would have been back at the time (today, of course, tuition would cost us more than double our annual house payment). I don't, however, believe that he was convinced that we truly could not afford Catholic school tuition in our diocese.
Of course, some of Fr. Stravinskas' claims are laughable. Savvy commenters to the OSV piece quickly pointed out that 4% of today's ordinands were homeschooled at some point and that less than 3% of all children are homeschooled, which means that homeschoolers' vocations are booming--and we're barely at the edge of young people old enough to have been homeschooled during the years when homeschooling has risen in popularity and social and legal acceptability. As far as psychologically healthy--how healthy was it for me, over two decades ago, to sit in a health class in this Catholic high school (which now costs close to $13,000 per year not including fees) and have the health teacher ridicule the Church's teaching against contraception, make fun of NFP (which she thought of as the "rhythm" method), and insist that yes, we were going to need condoms and pills soon if we didn't need them already (because, apparently, nobody actually takes the Church's teaching against fornication seriously or values chastity or virginity anymore)?
But the crux of the matter is this: if Catholic homeschooling parents don't trust the local diocese to do a good job of educating our children in the faith, we have good reasons. The Catholic school of today teaches religion as a separate, free-floating subject. They then take the exact same secular approach to all the other subjects as the local public school does; they have to. Parents who pay Catholic school tuition in most dioceses are paying for one religion class and an atmosphere "in the Catholic tradition," which essentially means some school Masses and a little more orderliness than the public school can offer. Is that even worth $5,000 to $10,000 or more a year?
The statistic I want to see is this, but as far as I know it hasn't ever been tracked: what percent of Catholic grade school and high school graduates lose the faith, stop going to Mass, or leave the Church for another religion or for no religion at all? How does that statistic compare to Catholics educated in public schools and to Catholic home schooled students?
Without that data, the Catholic schools advocates tend to focus on things like how successful their former students are in life, how many of them receive a college education, how many of them go on to become famous in some career or occupation. But I'd really like to know how many of them remain Catholic. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the number is not large, but I'd love to see hard data.
Do I think that Catholic homeschooled children never leave the Church? No; but I'd be vastly surprised if the percent of those who do is as high as the percent of diocesan Catholic school students who do. And it's a pretty Faustian bargain to pay somewhere around $80,000 for twelve years of Catholic education per child only to have those children reject the faith and stop going to Mass within a few years after their high school graduations.
The two biggest problems with diocesan Catholic education today are that it doesn't produce very many strong Catholics and it costs entirely too much. Surely, if our goal is to educate a few generations of kids who will go on to leave the Church in droves, we could do it for a lot less money. Or, for even less money, we Catholic homeschoolers can teach our children at home, give them an authentic Catholic education in which every subject is permeated with the presence of God and His great plan for our salvation, and know that we are doing our best to hand on to them, intact and without alteration, the real gift of faith that was given to us by a generous and loving God.
CORRECTION: I am informed that tuition around here is now slightly more than $5000 per child per year at at least one local school, while the diocese's only Catholic high school is more than $12,000 per year (with a discount to "parish supporting" families; I have no idea what level of annual donations is considered "supporting). The high school also charges a $500 non-refundable registration fee which is not applied to total tuition; students purchase their own books at a cost of $500-$800 per year, and fees are between approximately $150 to approximately $300 per year. Students are also required to purchase uniforms from a uniform company; shirts run $30, skirts $45, and jumpers almost $60 for girls; boys' shirts run from $20-$30, pants are also around $45, and shoes run $42 (for the cheapest pair of girls' shoes) to almost $75 a pair.
This is not Catholic (which means, after all, "universal") education. This is education for the wealthy. I'm tired of Catholic bishops not being realistic about, or even aware of, that fact.