When you decide to home school your children, you are likely doing so for a number of virtuous reasons.
First, when your children are born, your heart is overwhelmed with gratitude to God for healthy pregnancy and delivery, and the health of your children. You can’t wait to have the child baptized and these experiences are emotionally overwhelming. Births and baptisms, for me, are the most amazing events in my life. At that time in your children’s lives, you are thinking soberly, with the children’s highest good and life’s priorities in mind.
Second, when the time comes for your children to begin schooling, the idea of taking that precious Christian soul in that fragile little body and sticking him/her on a bus with strangers is rightly upsetting. It takes some kind of brainwashing or worldly pressure to desensitize parents to that completely unnatural and historically unprecedented decision to ship little children off to “school”–especially Christian children. Do you realize the idea of “compulsory schooling” was unheard of until the mid 1800s? This is not “normal”.
Third, further down the road, you may see for yourself the bad results coming into your family from your children’s schooling and you wish to get them out of the schools and home where at least their spiritual life will be nurtured and worldly influences kept away. Contrary to what anyone says, the Bible teaches us that “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Cor. 15:33). It doesn’t matter what the teachers or administrators are like in a school. What matters is what the most influential students are like–and they will almost always be bad influences.
In the context of priorities and principles, the decision to home-school is usually made. Once that decision is made, however, all hell breaks loose. Pressure comes upon you from a number of sources that is very difficult to fight against.
Pressure from Outsiders
First, outsiders begin to pressure you with doubts and disagreements. By outsiders I mean everyone other than your spouse and your children. After all, the right is given to parents to choose for their children an education that serves their convictions. The Church 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. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators.” (CCC 2229)
Notice that the driving light in the education of our children is to be the parents’ convictions or firmly held beliefs and judgments. Our own conscience is to be the only rule in deciding how our children are educated and when we make decisions contrary to our own judgment, we are surrendering this right, neglecting this duty and giving our children over to others, which is not God’s will. Anyone who seeks to take this right away from us is acting unjustly and contrary to the teaching not only of the Church, but also the State, which gives us the right to choose to school as we please. When no schools are found that serve our convictions, then home-schooling becomes a necessary option.
When we are pressured by others, we must know how to respond and nip this stuff in the bud. First, we must ask them whether they believe that parents have the right to choose how their own children should be educated. If they say, “No.”, then they are dishonest at best or just crazy. Second, we must tell them what we believe and ask them whether they believe a school will teach them so. If we hold to a traditional Catholic faith, that teaching will be found in no local schools. Third, we must not allow them to exaggerate the positive effects of schools, but remind them that what modern schools claim to teach in their curriculum, or what select students accomplish is the experience of most students and, ultimately, good parents make good students, as any good teacher will affirm. Lastly, we must assure them that the more important things in the children’s education are their spiritual life, moral formation and physical safety, and that local schools do not serve these interests. This pressure from outsiders needs to be resisted and ignored.
You may need to choose between your conscience and your parents, siblings, friends, pastors, etc.. We had one parish priest pressure us to send our children to public school and not home-school them. Now, our family is happy and he is nowhere to be found. He would have advised a course in their lives and not been around to help them anyway. The Church doesn’t say priests should decide how our children are educated–or anyone else–only parents. Will the people pressuring you be around when your troubles and regrets come?
Pressure from Within
Secondly, pressure comes from within us. Home-schooling is a heroic sacrifice that requires everything we have. It is scoffed at and unappreciated by people who want to make excuses for their own guilty consciences. It is driven entirely by principle and priority and faces constant attacks. As Christians, we do not have confidence in ourselves and we know all of our shortcomings. We are humble and know that “in us nothing good dwells”. When people attack us for home-schooling, we know that many of the things they say are true. We are usually not experienced teachers. We are usually not “qualified” to teach every subject. We certainly don’t have the material resources schools do. We know all these things. However, we believe that a Christian education is God’s will and we believe that “with God, all things are possible”. It is this true faith that gives us the crazy idea to home-school in the first place and we must remember that always.
Throughout the lives of our children and years of home-schooling, the trials and troubles will never stop. We will go through times of sickness, financial stress, marriage trouble, confusion, spiritual darkness, exhaustion, etc.. We must understand how great the battle is that we’re fighting and how intense the attacks within us will be. We must think of how Satan accused Job of only loving God because God made everything easy for him and that he would curse God if he faced any difficulty and how God allowed him to attack Job and try to crush his spirit. We must have the patience of Job and remember the things that protected Job from those attacks. He said, “Naked I came into this world, and naked I shall return.”, remembering that anxieties about temporary possessions are foolish. He said, “Even though God should kill me, yet will I trust him.”, remembering that our life in this world is not the end that we seek, but eternal life. This real, heavenly-minded faith must be maintained because home-schooling is a direct fulfillment of Christ’s command to
“Go into the world and make disciples. Baptize them and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
What we are doing is not crazy. It is basic Christian living. That others are not doing what they should is none of our business. We are Christians.
We must work to remember why we chose to home-school and why we initially believed we could do it. It was never because of confidence in ourselves, but because we trusted in God’s help. It takes great humility to accept the objections of others, but we must answer them rightly. “I don’t believe that this is about my abilities or resources, only my willingness to obey God’s will and do what is right. God will provide all the help we need, at every step of the way.” We must maintain our faith to persevere in this good work and overcome the pressure that comes from within us.
Pressure from Our Children
Lastly, pressure comes from our children. Let’s face it, when we choose to home school our children, we put them in a very difficult place. Usually, home school parents have no idea what they’re doing when they get started–and the kids begin to realize that at some point. Sure, the preschool and early elementary years may go well enough, but by third grade, home school students begin to hear from other kids at church, in the family or in the neighborhood about “all the stuff they’re learning in school”.
Our children have no idea what these other kids are talking about and they begin to be embarrassed that they are not learning division or Algebra yet, that they don’t know how to play scooter hockey or that they don’t know how to ride a school bus. The real reason for this “deficiency” is that our children are (or should be) spending time studying Theology and Philosophy, serving at Church, helping with family business or household chores–things that Christian children are supposed to be doing. Are the school kids doing these things? If not, who cares about their stupid academic work? Our children can’t understand this, and they have no idea what they’re talking about as far as what other kids are doing in school, but that’s irrelevant. The decision for how our children are to be educated is our decision as parents, not our children’s.
As our children get older, especially into the “high school” years, the pressure becomes worse. High school students become busied with all kinds of extracurricular activities and puffed up subjects, have all kinds of social relationships, etc., and our children are continuing in the same studies and duties they were working on when they were younger–as they should be. Our children may simply refuse to study or cooperate and, while that’s unfortunate, it doesn’t matter. The decision for what education we provide them with is not theirs, but ours. We will have to answer to God for the opportunities we made available to our children, not what our children choose to do with those opportunities. Our duty is to provide them with the best available studies and to do all that we can to help them progress in them. We will be judged for what we tried to give our children, not for what our children chose to have.
This pressure will continue until our children reach age 18. At that time, when kids graduate from high school, the artificial “bubble” of K-12 schooling in America suddenly bursts and all of the pressure and foolishness of that period of life ends. Our children watch as other kids scramble to find something to do with their lives and many kids they thought were so cool and doing so much are found to be doing nothing. The fantasy world of state-funded schooling abruptly ends and our children realize that what we have been telling them all along is true: that the all of the “school” stuff other kids are boasting about is fake and temporary. What matters most is God, family, church and work. Education is only a servant of these things. When our children reach the age where, legally, they and the children they know are now free to begin doing “adult” things, they will suddenly learn that what we have been telling them is true.
Some of our children will make bad decisions growing up, but we will find that it really isn’t a big deal. If a child is well-taught in the faith and has had parents directing them throughout their foolish years, keeping them from forming harmful habits and explaining the truth to them, they will begin to understand it all as they reach adulthood. Even if they do badly in their studies, they will have 0pportunities if they are free from harmful habits and have good moral character. A child can put off college or career decisions for a few years after coming to his/her senses and quickly make up for lost time. Military service provides Christian young adults with excellent opportunities.
I strongly recommend, however, that home-schooling families work to develop family businesses during the home school years to give children opportunity to earn pocket money and, God willing, an honest full-time pay when they reach adulthood. If you leave them to depend on the world for employment when they grow up, what do you expect if they seek to befriend the world and abandon their family? This, I believe, is a key mistake modern home-school parents make today, but it can be avoided.
How the CLAA Can Help
When we get into the work that’s before us as Christian parents, we can see that it extends far beyond “home schooling”, which is just the beginning. Nevertheless, “the beginning is half of the whole”. We have to endure this difficult period of our family lives.
Choosing a school or home-school program that, despite claiming to be “Christian” focuses on standardized tests and college admission makes no sense. You’re just bringing a bad education home. There’s nothing “traditional” or “Catholic” about giving children a secular education where subjects like Catechism, Sacred Scripture, Reasoning and Ethics are replaced by Math, Science and Social Studies. When these changes were happening in the 19th century, the Popes were warning Catholics to resist them. Pope Leo XII warned of the cause of modern errors in the Church:
“If you carefully search for the cause of those errors you will find that it lies in the fact that in these days when the natural sciences absorb so much study, the more severe and lofty studies have been proportionately neglected – some of them have almost passed into oblivion, some of them are pursued in a half-hearted or superficial way, and, sad to say, now that they are fallen from their old estate, they have been dis figured by perverse doctrines and monstrous errors.”
In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, your children are provided studies that nurture traditional Catholic faith and life. They are the only course of studies that anyone can say are truly, historically, traditionally “Catholic”. In me you have an instructor who is as concerned about your children’s spiritual life as you are and will never, ever introduce anything impure into your children’s minds or hearts. I will always support you in your home-schooling, always encourage them to love and obey you, and will remind them of the things that I’ve explained in this article. Yes, we can address needs for modern Math and Science, but these studies must be kept in their proper place. I believe that the CLAA is the only place where you will find that balance maintained.
Remember, I may be a classicist and professional teacher, but I am first and foremost, a home-schooling Catholic father. I’m writing this article not from theories or good ideas I think will work, but from experience. I know everything you have to face and I believe that, with God’s help, I have learned to persevere through it all. I’m on your side, and will be until the end. If you ever need to talk through a situation or would like to hear about my own experiences with situations you may be dealing with, please ask.
You must not allow the pressures around and within you to overcome you. You must never think of the present, physical ease you will have if you give up and send a child to a school that does not serve your convictions and act against your conscience. You must focus on the joy you will have when you endure all of the attacks and prove yourself a “good and faithful servant” to God in the end. You must hope that, if you pray and work with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, you will enjoy success and have your reward. You must never faint, but always continue praying, waiting, working and trusting. If you do, you will have peace–forever.
God give you strength to “weather the storm”.
Mr. William C. Michael is the founding headmaster of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. He graduated from Rutgers University with an honors degree in Classics & Ancient History and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Mr. Michael has worked in private education as a Classics teacher and administrator for over 20 years. He is a Roman Catholic homeschooling father of ten children, and keeper of a quiet family farm in North Carolina. Mr. Michael enjoys studying ancient natural philosophy, gardening, and running.