Homeschooling and the Local Parish

Our Sunday Visitor has an interesting story up on the tension between Catholic homeschoolers and Catholic schools. I was very interested to read the article since my family has been living with this tension this past school year — a tension made more acute due to my position with the diocese. (Catholic schools are part of the office I direct.)

I encourage you to read the whole article (and OSV’s remarks on the feedback they’ve  received). In this post I want to focus on remarks made by  Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas, executive director of the  Catholic Education Foundation:

There are several reasons to prefer Catholic schools, Father Stravinskas told Our Sunday Visitor, including that the Church Fathers made clear that catechesis is the job of the whole Church, with the main responsibility resting on the shoulders of the pastor, not the parents.

And Catholic parents who choose to home-school when there is a Catholic school available at least implicitly send the message that they do not trust the Church to educate their children properly, and the children get that message.

“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.

I’m not sure that this necessarily follows; there are many reasons to choose to homeschool, not all of which pertain to the perceived merits or deficits of the local parish. The homeschooling families we’ve met this past year are extremely loyal to their parish and their pastor; no one has mentioned any concerns about doctrine or orthodoxy to me.

Our family chose homeschooling for a number of reasons, including the fact that our second child, who was slated to begin kindergarten, was already reading chapter books the summer prior. On top of that was my wife’s increasing dissatisfaction with her job situation and a desire to remain at home with our younger children.

But a primary reason for our decision was our firm belief, informed by the teachings of the Church, that parents are the primary catechists of their children. Pace Fr.  Stravinskas, it is not my pastor’s duty to educate my children in the faith. That duty belongs to my wife and I, assisted by the Church. Homeschooling has brought this into stark focus for us. I won’t speak for my wife, but I certainly feel more engaged in my children’s education that I did before,  precisely  because we have taken more ownership of it. Which is not to say that the teachers educating our children before this year made us feel left out or in the dark. But there is a difference in the type of engagement we have now.

All of that having been said, I do believe that dioceses have a role in setting up guidelines and policies for how homeschooling parents connect with parishes, particularly when children come for to  receive  the sacraments. Pastors have the duty to ensure that children are properly formed before receiving  Confirmation or First Communion. But I also believe dioceses can do more to support homeschooling parents and provide them with resources and guidance in the catechetical formation of their children. I will be working in the next few years to develop this more in my diocese and will be sure to report the results here.