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A Little History
Public education is a relatively new phenomenon. Home schooling, tutoring, private schools, religious schools and apprenticeships were the norm for a much longer time.
Public education had humble beginnings in pioneer times in America when farmers and merchants, too busy to deal with the education of their children but anxious that they be literate, built schools and hired teachers directly. The public school system emerged when the government took over responsibility for education and began to fund schools from tax revenues.
As a vehicle for educating children, it was fairly effective and efficient. Parents still had complete hands-on control until boards of trustees became elected positions and government departments of education were formed. But then the predictable happened. With an unequal balance of power in the relationship, parental control and involvement in education gradually diminished while Boards of Education and educational organizations extended their influence.
Billions of tax dollars are now being poured into public education every year, while parents, who believe they should be able to focus their attention on their careers, leave the business of education completely in the hands of the public education system. However, the public education system is now plagued with problems: high cost, violence, strikes, poor academic results, reductions in services etc.
Lobbyists for political correctness on both sides of the political spectrum, have caused textbooks and curriculum to be stripped clean of factual but controversial information in the name of sensitivity and political correctness. Textbooks with more "enlightened" content replace the old ones at a huge cost every few years.
Incidents of violence, bullying, drugs and incidents of unrest at schools fill the papers. Students are frequently subjected to teachers strikes, work-to-rule campaigns and reductions/restrictions of services. The only education topic that seems to matter to education anymore seems to be the ranking of schools on the academic achievement tests.
How did we get here?
Educators such as John Dewey, and others, brought new methods and theories of education that seemed to advance education but contained poisonous seeds of liberal thinking.
A new class of "educrats", keen to make their own reputations, developed and promoted questionable educational theories, methods and curriculum and an army of consultants introduced an endless round of changes in the classroom and new text books every couple of years. The cost of education spiralled as teachers struggled to keep up with new curriculum and resources. Even school architectures were changed to support these new theories. As the number of problems soared, the demand for more money to fix them skyrocketed as well. But throwing more money at the problems has only made them worse.
More importantly, the public education system seems to have lost its commitment to its primary responsibility of educating children. It now views its role to be that of correcting social problems. Frequently, this attitude is transformed by liberal thinkers into questionable programs and policies that have a clear bias.
Many in the school system seem to be tired of being educators and now prefer act as agents for social change, using the school system as their tool to transform society according to their own vision. In the process, they have become politicized and co-opted by left-wing political groups.
Teachers themselves are more occupied with administration, discipline and training for the academic achievement testing that was designed to improve poor school performance than teaching. The result is that there is very little time devoted to instruction in the classroom.
With all these problems, how can children possibly receive a proper and effective education?
You Are Already Homeschooling
A large portion of this instruction time has fallen back on parents who can ill afford this extra burden. In many cases, teachers now actually send assignments home with the children with instructions that the parents are to deliver lessons and assist to their children to complete projects that would normally be done at school. Many students have two or more hours of homework every weeknight.
So, many parents are home schooling whether they want to or not. If they are helping a child with their homework or assignments, they are already home schooling.
Parents who have a child who is not doing well in school are also doing the bulk of the remedial instruction since special education has been cut in many boards.
Many children still succeed, mostly due to their own intelligence, skills and effort. But this just hides the problems and allows the system to continue down the wrong path. An increasing number of children have lost their way and are headed for trouble.
So, What's the Big Deal?
The Public school system shows absolutely no resolve to attack the real issues and continues to escalate demands for more money while delivering fewer services.
Colleges and Universities continue to be frustrated with applicants who present themselves with clearly deficient literacy and math skills. Some universities have demonstrated their loss of faith in the public school system by insisting that applicants must pass entrance exams before being admitted.
For Catholics though, the big problem is that Catholic schools no longer teach solid Catholic truths. Instead they teach errors condemned by Pope St. Pius X as the heresy of Modernism or a watered-down "lite" Catholicism that is no longer recognizable as Catholic.
Parents are concerned about the poor literacy of their children. But they are outraged when they find their children challenge their own beliefs and values by spouting inaccurate information they learned in school. School officials are seldom sympathetic and often react defensively to these concerns.
Parents Are Part of the Problem
Parents should perhaps not be so surprised at this. Teachers are first-hand witnesses to the effects on children of the destruction of families due to family break up and parental neglect and irresponsibility that is common in our times. Some parents can be unreasonable when reminded of their duties toward their children.
In response to challenges from parents, teachers have become cynical and contemptuous towards parents in general.
There is no easy solution to this conflict. Both sides share fault and neither can see merit in the other's position even though problems are specific to given circumstances. Unfortunately, faithful and responsible parents are treated the same as parents who neglect their children.
The Real Culprits
The ones who are getting off lightly are the officials and so-called experts who caused the problems in the first place – mostly overpaid, liberal intellectuals who in their zeal to realize a utopian vision of society have for years promoted attitudes and established policies that have led to the destruction of families and traditional family life and values. Many of these people are well-meaning but naive and, like many misguided intellectuals who are motivated by pride, they do not really understand what they are doing and cannot admit their errors. Other more sinister and dangerous individuals and groups, make use of these people for their own agendas. What's worse is that they have used tax dollars to accomplish their destructive enterprise.
Parental Rights and Responsibilities
The Church describes parents as the first educators of their children and assigns to parents the primary responsibility for their children's education. In fact, several papal encyclicals state that Catholics cannot assign this responsibility away.
Here's what the encyclical The Declaration on Christian Education of Youth says:
"As it is parents who have given life to their children, on them lies the gravest obligation of education. They must therefore be recognized as being primarily and principally responsible for their education. The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is impossible to provide an adequate substitute."
This statement is backed up and confirmed by other encyclicals, Canon Law (Canons 226.2, 793) and interpretations of Canon Law and letters of the Pontifical Council for the Family by Canon lawyers. If anyone holds a different opinion, they are in opposition to Church teachings and you should refer them to the competent ecclesiastical authorities.
Home Schooling is Normal
Home schooling is therefore a natural part of parenting and it is normal for parents to take matters into their own hands when feel their children are not doing well in a school setting.
This may seem to be a daunting task at first. Fortunately, there have been pioneers who have smoothed the way. Unlike the early days of home schooling where parents had to find their own resources and develop lessons, there are many resources available today including complete curriculum and lesson plan support.
Many major universities have developed policies that favour home schooled children and are actively recruiting them. They have found that home schooled students are better prepared and socialized and more mature and capable academically. Many former home schooled students have a track record of high achievement and have graduated with honours.
Homeschooling is going mainstream. It is no longer regarded as a practice of those who are slightly eccentric. Increasingly, parents, children and universities are beginning to recognize the benefits of home schooling. Dr. Brian D. Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institution in Salem, Oregon, believes that a modest 7 percent annual growth rate will mean that "about 3 million students would be home educated during the fall of 2010 [in the U.S.]." Ray, who says he has studied home schooling for 16 years, believes that its popularity is increasing because it works. "Year after year, studies have shown that home schooled children perform at a higher academic level than their peers in conventional schools," he said.
None other than William J. Bennett author of “The Book of Virtues,” “The Children's Book of Virtues,” and the former Secretary of Education in the Ronald Reagan administration is committed to homeschooling, has started his own homeschooling business and is totally committed to homeschooling as the preferred method of educating children.
Why Home Schooling?
Parents home school for a single reason: they want the best for their children and they feel that they can do better than the school system. There can be other issues such as disabilities, bullying, religious education or cultural or philosophical differences but it comes down to the same thing: parents exercising their natural parental responsibilities to educate their children in the manner they feel is the best.
There are good parents and bad parents. The Church tries to ensure that a couple will be good parents by informing about their responsibilities before they get married. It mandates pre-marriage courses and specifying a long engagement period so a couple will have a chance to reflect on these matters and to ensure that they will be fully committed to all their married responsibilities - including having children and caring for them. God ordained this role for parents and parents should remember that they may either be saved or condemned by their efforts. Unfortunately, social and financial pressures often cause parents to lose sight of their family responsibilities.
There are good schools and bad schools and good teachers and a few bad teachers. However, militant, peevish and angry teachers don't generally make good teachers.
Children will have good and bad experiences at school. The bad ones are getting worse, though. Some schools actually have an office for a full time police officer. That's just not right. If schools are in that situation, there are fundamental problems with the way schooling is done. The public education system has a lot of challenges right now and many children are suffering as a result.
Home schooling is an ideal but, for a variety of reasons, it may not be for everyone and it is not the answer in every situation. Some parents are sufficiently wealthy to select a fine private school and that may be the best solution for them. Many of us, even after analyzing all our options and making sacrifices, cannot home school for financial reasons.
It is not a measure of how much you care about your children if you home school or not. However, it is a good indicator that parents have made an obvious effort to do the best for their children, especially if it has involved some personal sacrifice. It's a matter of priorities.
How to Homeschool
This is a big topic and parents should carefully consider how to match their own teaching style and philosophy of education with the learning style and capabilities of each child (briefly) before moving forward. There is all sorts of advice and books about how to set up the environment, instruction schedule, picking resources etc. We don't have the space to repeat the information here.
There are many books available and resources on the Internet. Catholic Home Schooling - A Handbook for Parents by Mary Kay Clark - foundress of the Seton Home Study School is a good starting point for Catholics. Also, get in touch with a local home schooling group (preferably Catholic) to get information on the fast-track and to get an idea of the situation in your locale.
If you are a confident homeschooler, you will already have your own philosophy and style, so you will likely pick your own resources and individualize your teaching for each child right from the start. A book such as Laura Berquist's Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum may provide some valuable information. (Please note that this book recommends some non-Catholic resources. Catholic resources can be substituted for them).
If you are less confident or you have a number of children and classes to juggle, you might be best to start by signing up with one of the several very good Catholic home schooling programs such as Seton Homeschooling, Our Lady of Victory, Mother of Divine Grace (L. Berquist), Kolbe Academy or several others.
Some parents may need to have their child assessed. There should be resources in each community to do this. Check with your local municipality or hospitals. Don't rely on the information provided by a school. Your child may have been assessed and categorized incorrectly due to a single bad year or a past misunderstanding with a teacher. Please see our page on Special Education.
One thing Catholic parents should take special care to do is to select Catholic resources. For more information on why this is important, please see our section on What Is Catholic Home Schooling?
The main things to realize are that:
Another recommendation is to join the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). They will advocate for you if you have trouble with local school authorities. Their newsletter is packed with good information.
You should also consider joining a local home schooling group (preferably Catholic). This will allow you to develop teaching strategies and locate resources quickly, provide a forum for activities and trips, provide socialization for your children and, perhaps most important, provide you a chance to spend time with other adults. Some groups are able to establish a regular meeting schedule at a location that has been provided for free, such as a church hall or other public meeting room.
But the number one recommendation if you know something must be done to rescue your child's education is ...
... Do it now!
There will be no profit in waiting.
Get advice on the process of taking your children out of the system from homeschoolers in your area – preferably ones in the same board.
This can be the most troublesome time in your home schooling experience if you do not do things correctly. The school may raise all sorts of objections and insist that you will be subject to all sorts of checkups and monitoring. You may be tempted to agree with things that will later come back to haunt you. This is where HSLDA lawyers may come in handy to explain your legal rights and intervene if a school board oversteps its authority.
In fact, if your Catholic school board gives you trouble and if you can be sure the public board will not give you the same grief, consider registering with the public board. After all, your children won't be going to their schools either.
To be fair, some boards have now adopted a totally different approach. Some are very cooperative and offer to parents any assistance required and even the opportunity to use school facilities or allow your children to participate in team sports. This may be an example of an enlightened approach or an attempt to "win you back". In most cases, however, it is simply a case of economic self interest since the board will receive funding for your children as long as you are registered with them - even if your child never attends a single class.
What about High School and University?
Many homeshooling programs will take you right through high school. If you are feeling nervous about teaching high school, keep in mind that by then:
As has already been said, many universities now prefer homeschooled children and actively recruit them. Each year it gets easier for homeschooled children to get in. Just keep track of all their accomplishments and experiences by maintaining academic records (transcripts) and a portfolio of their work.
However, if you have spent 12+ years trying to protect your children's innocence and instill your values in them, they may not survive the typical university environment intact. A liberal arts degree, political science, history, science, psychology or philosophy course will surely do them in. If your child is mature, you select a Catholic university or college carefully and make sure your child is supervised (if out of the home), you might have a chance.
Please take special note (unfortunately) that many of the theological courses and Catholic seminaries are an even worse risk to your child's faith than a secular education. You will have to search very carefully to find a solid Catholic school. Even if they claim to be loyal to the teachings of the Church, sometimes they are really just loyal to their own version of orthodoxy or the views of their favourite heterodox theologian.
A vocational school, apprenticeship or professional certification may be a lesser risk to a child's faith than liberal arts studies at a typical, or even a Catholic university.
For the best classic Catholic resources available. We specialize in homeschooling curriculum and resources, devotionals and Catholic reading material for all ages. At St. Francis Books, you will find everything you need to support your Faith and to raise your children as Catholics. Ask for a free catalog.
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