Homeschooling and the Future of the Church
When I was homeschooled 35 years ago, I remember overhearing the objections to my parents’ chosen educational method: How will homeschoolers learn subjects that their parents don’t know? How will homeschoolers socialize? How will homeschoolers get accepted into college? Over the past two generations, Catholic homeschooling has resoundingly answered all those questions—and many others—in the most positive of ways. But it’s time we ask another: Is homeschooling benefiting the Church?
To address that question, let’s turn to Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, former ordinary of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and now Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. In 2011, Archbishop O’Brien said:
There’s no greater feeder for the vocations than the homeschoolers… I’ve seen this over and over again across the country. It’s in homeschooling that you have every opportunity to share the values that really matter: respect for one another, respect for the Church and the sacraments and the ability to sacrifice for others and to see how best we can serve.
The claim that there exists “no greater feeder for the vocations” than homeschooling families might shock some Catholics. Yet many Catholics familiar with homeschooling have known this for years. According to a recent study—despite their comparatively small numbers versus their parochial, private and public-school counterparts—those men who have been home-schooled account for about 10 percent of the diocesan priestly vocations in America. If the family is the “domestic church,” these homeschooling families, and so many like them, have constituted the domestic seminary.
On a human level, such success stories begin with the parents—a fact that seems to be increasingly recognized and appreciated at all levels of the Church. For instance, at an annual diocesan Mass for homeschool families last year that saw 12 hundred people attend, Bishop Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, addressed the homeschool students:
My young friends, how blessed are you to have such wonderful parents to teach you every day how to love God and how to love your neighbor… How blessed you are to have parents who understand and appreciate the privilege, role and responsibility God has given them to be your first teachers, certainly in academics, but most especially in the ways of faith.
What Cardinal O’Brien and Bishop Burbidge highlight is the constant teaching of the Catholic Church that Catholic parents are the primary teachers of their children. As the Church teaches, some of the teaching process can be delegated, but this natural authority and right of the parents can never be usurped.
In 2015, Pope Francis reminded the world that parents have God-given rights, and criticized those “‘experts’ who pretend to occupy the role of parents, who are relegated to second place…” He even used the word “exiled” to describe what has happened to parents regarding their role in the education of their own children. Pope Francis implored, “It’s time for fathers and mothers to return from their exile” and to “reassume their educative role.”
As Pope Francis put it back in 2015, “If family education regains its prominence, many things will change for the better.” As a homeschool student, then as a homeschool parent, and as an educator who assists parents teach their children, I’ve witnessed the benefits of homeschooling for 35 years: in the strengthening of marriages, in the bonding of family members, and in the calls to religious life. To Cardinal O’Brien’s point, I would suspect that homeschooling is not only unsurpassed as a feeder program for religious vocations, but also a feeder program to strong, sacramental marriages.
This summer, many Catholic families are considering the educational options for the next academic year. As parents consider their options, I would submit that homeschooling deserves a hearing. The Catechism teaches, “As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions.” And while many parents certainly have access to good schools that “correspond to their own convictions,” parents might discover that their best educational option is to teach—and learn—with their children at home.
John Clark is an author and speechwriter who lives in Virginia with his wife and nine children. This article was first published in the National Catholic Register.
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