When it comes to education, especially Christian education, we parents face three great obstacles. The first is that for many, education is merely a business and decisions are made based on what is most profitable for publishers and educators, not what is best for students. Second, parents are often ignorant of the history of education and how saints studied and taught in the past and educators exploit this ignorance. Third, parents fail to make clear goals and stick to them, and they end up imitating modern educational fads and accomplish very little. Homeschooling, for most, is expensive and ineffective. Some may argue with me on that point, but the results speak for themselves. Seton Home Study, the largest Catholic homeschool program, which boasts of secular accreditation and is entirely focused on a modern K-12 curriculum, costs homeschool parents thousands of dollars and years of dedicated work, yet leaves students whose SAT scores are no better than those of public school students. Many parents are happy just to survive their homeschooling years, but Christian parents need to stop settling for such results and aim higher.
Let’s radically improve Catholic homeschooling.
The word “radical” suggests that we get to the root (Latin, radix) of Catholic education, set clear goals for work in homeschooling and then achieve those goals as effectively as possible. In this article, I’d like to propose how we can do that, and welcome all parents who would like to join me in this work.
I. Let’s Set Clear Goals for Homeschooling
Many Catholic homeschool parents start with unrealistic, lazy goals, which are no goals at all. Goals must be realistic and within our control. Our goals must be marks at which we aim, for which we can identify practical, intermediate steps (objectives) and for which we can map out step-by-step tasks. This proverb should help us:
“In all labor there is profit; but mere talk leads to poverty.” (Proverbs 14:23)
If our goals are not realistic, we are not working but talking idly. Such talk will lead us to failure and put us in worse conditions that we started in. We have to set realistic goals. For example, we often hear Catholic homeschool parents talking about “raising saints”, yet this is not a goal within our control, not something we can accomplish. When St. Thomas Aquinas was asked, “What must I do to be a saint?”, he answered, “You must will it.” No matter we wish for our children, we cannot control their will and, therefore, we cannot make them saints. This is not one of the duties of parents and will mislead parents who follow this idle talk. The work of education is a moral duty of parents. This duty is objective, within our control and attainable for us, and not dependent on the will of our children.
The duties of parents are explained, in good detail in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Take a few minutes and read paragraphs 2221-2231.
1. Our first goal should be to evangelize our children.
Before ascending into heaven, Jesus commanded us:
“Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
This is our first duty in homeschooling and, as I said, it is in our power as parents. We can make our children disciples (students) of Christ. We can baptize our children. We can teach our children to observe Christ’s commandments. All of this is in our power and provides our first, realistic goal in homeschooling. This is an objective, attainable goal that we are responsible to fulfill as parents. Our fulfillment of this duty has nothing to do with our children’s will, choices in life, etc., for which parents are wrongly judged. If we aim beyond what is in our power, what is our duty, we will frustrate ourselves and fail. We may also fail to do what is in our power, by trying to do what is not. Evangelizing our chlidren should be our first goal in homeschooling, and the principal reason why we homeschool.
2. Our second goal should be to establish good habits in our children.
Children are like gardens. If left to themselves, they will will not remain as they were–an empty soil bed. Weeds and thorns will grow in them and they will be filled with all kinds of bad things. For good things to grow, the soil must be cultivated by human efffort, and the unwanted weeds and thorns must be constantly pulled out. Parents cannot control the desires and choices of their children, but they can control many of their habits, and this should be a goal of homeschooling.
Good habits pertain to moral, intellectual and physical affairs. Human beings imitate what they see, so the adults around them will form their early habits. They will imitate the words and manners of their parents, and this influence is in our control as homeschooling parents. The daily schedule and order of the household, the family diet, the parents’ manner of speaking and acting, the leisure activities of the parents, the family’s work and physical exercise, the neighborhood in which the children live–all of these things affect the habits of children and are in the control of parents. Making sure bad influences are kept from being imitated and forming bad habits, and providing the child with good influences that promote good habits is a duty of parents, and should be a goal in homeschooling.
3. Our third goal should be to help our children become independent adults.
Nearly all parents begin homeschooling with romantic ideas about their future family life and relationships with their children. Much of this thinking is selfish and distracting in homeschooling–a source of great vexation. Children have no moral obligation to do, as adults, what their parents want them to do. They do not need to choose the state of life their parents desire for them. They do not need to marry the spouse their parents desire for them. They do not need to choose the occupation their parents desire for them. They do not need to live whether their parents desire them to live. Our children are free to live their own, independent, adult life–just as we do.
We cannot predict our children’s future occupation, and we may not attempt to predestine them to any. Therefore, when it comes to education, one objective of homeschooling is to provide them with the best possible general education. This, of course, is provided by the classical Catholic curriculum. Such an education will provide students with the language and thinking skills needed for decision-making and communication skills, mathematical knowledge and skills, knowlege of moral and natural philosophy, and true theology from which a wise and productive adult life may be developed.
As our children approach adulthood, their personality, interests and unique abilities will begin to emerge. They will begin to form ideas about the state of life in which they wish to live, and the type of occupation they wish to pursue. As they form their future plans, we are to help them enter into those affairs as successfully as possible. If their plans require university studies, we are to help them satisfy all college admission requirements. If their plans require specialized training, we are to help them learn how to obtain that training and help them to do so.
II. Let’s attack these goals directly, rather than imitate what others are doing.
One of the themes of the teaching of Jesus and His Apostles, when the Church was being established, was that the true faith is not merely an improvement of what existed before. Speaking figuratively, Jesus told the Jews, “New wine cannot be put into old wineskins.” More clearly, St. Paul the Apostle taught,
“Be not conformed to this world; but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
To know and do the will of God in our lives, we are not to look at the world around us and merely try to improve what they’re already doing. God’s will requires us to think and act with “newness of mind”, doing what is best, not what is better.
In education, Catholics explain what they are doing today except that they are trying to do better what non-Catholics are doing around them. No one can explain why Catholic schools are organized by a K-12 school model designed by tax-funded, public schools. The model is not sustainable for private schools and fails constantly–yet they cling to it! When we turn to homeschooling, we find–even more ridiculously–the same K-12 model being followed by individual children in a single family, at home! This is the greatest practical problem in modern Catholic education and it seems that no one can thinking outside of this modern K-12 “box”. Worse, they will commit to this model no matter how much money, time and effort it costs them–without results! Catholic education cannot be put in the old wineskins of K-12 public school education.
The solution is to not look at what others happen to be doing around us–and they’re doing it for many reasons–but to focus on our goals in Catholic homeschooling and ask: What do we need to do to achieve these goals?
As an example, if we are working to help our children gain admission to a selective university, that university will never ask to see the child’s test scores in his sophomore year, or his third grade standarized test score. The university will not ask which Math textbook he studied from, or how many of Shakespeare’s plays he has read. The university will not ask to see his daily schedule, or any of his science labs. The university will ask to see a transcript showing the courses he has studied, the grades assigned to him for those courses, what his SAT/ACT scores are and what his future plans are. That’s it. They will look to see whether he meets the requirements necessary for admission, whether his future plans look realistic and what he will add to the student body at the university.
Most homeschool parents, for all their talk about college and career, are not serving the student’s actual needs, but are lost in a labyrinth of academic activities, school data, test scores, extracurricular activities, etc.. They can’t explain what they’re doing or why. They’re simply trying to outdo those around them, doing whatever they see others doing.
This “chicken work”, as I call it, has to stop. Our work must be goal-oriented and purpose-driven, or it is not real work. We must not allow ourselves to get lost in activity that serves no actual purpose in our children’s lives, and provides them with no measurable benefits. The work we do must serve the goals we have set. Assessment of these activities must be real and must not distract or hinder them from making progress in what matters.
III. Let’s set some measurable objectives.
Consider the following objectives:
Our children need to be evangelized (by word and example):
- We need to instruct our children in the content of Sacred Scripture and Catholic theology.
- We need to lead our children in participating in the sacramental life of the Church.
- We need to instruction our children in the moral teachings of Catholic Church.
- We need to lead our children in Catholic prayer, from simple daily prayers to the Rosary and Liturgy of the Hours.
Our children need to be trained in good habits:
- We need to develop and keep a responsible family schedule.
- We need to develop and maintain a temperate family diet.
- We need to develop and maintain a wise and wholesome family culture, careful to make good use of leisure time.
- We need to be exemplary in speech, behavior, work ethic, etc.
- We need to require our children to work for what they desire, rather than give it to them when unearned/undeserved.
- We must discipline our children offering short-term rewards and punishments to nurture good habits in the long-term.
Our children need help to become independent adults:
- We need NOT to control our children’s future decisions–state of life, occcupations, spouses, etc.
- We need NOT to force them to embrace and practice the Catholic faith.
- We need to provide our children with the best general education possible (i.e., the classical Catholic curriculum)
- We must help our children research options for vocations and help them find expert counsel when needed.
- We must help our children prepare for college admission if necessary for their future plans.
- We must help our children pursue career training is necessary for their future plans.
- We must support our children in their efforts to prepare for independent adult living.
- We must nurture in our children a responsible work ethic that will allow them to suceed in a competitive market.
If we provide these things for our chlidren, we will have fulfilled our duties and served God well as homeschooling parents.
In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, I do not believe we have done this nearly as well as we can, which is why I am making changes in 2021 to greatly simplify the work of homeschool students and eliminate whatever I find to be distracting and hindering students from the true goals of a classical Catholic education. I invite you to join me in this work and assure you that we can serve our children much better than we have been. The work we need to do, I believe, is much simpler than what others are doing.
William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy