Saturday, June 4, 2011

On Homeschooling and Our Sunday Visitor

In the current issue of Our Sunday Visitor (OSV), Michelle Martin wrote what she no doubt felt was a balanced look at homeschooling and its relation to the Catholic Church.  The article has touched off a firestorm on the site and in the blogosphere as a whole.  I believe an objective reading of the article will show that it is not balanced, and that bias harms the work greatly.

1.)  On Balance

When faced with criticism, Greg Erlandson of OSV responded to the criticism on Steve Kellmeyer's blog by stating:

No publisher likes to see calls to boycott his publication, but I appreciate the strong feelings engendered by our news story on the occasional gulf that appears between home school advocates and some in the institutional Church.

I think the issue is a bit more complicated than Mr. Erlandson makes it out to be.  The article was clearly written by someone who looks down on homeschooling, or at least following an editorial position hostile to homeschooling, which has been the OSV viewpoint in the past. 

While there is an "occasional gulf" such a gulf is hardly one-sided.  The response towards homeschooling varies from diocese to diocese, even parish to parish.  Some have widely developed homeschooling networks, and these people are an integral part of the parish.  Some dioceses offer several "homeschooling Masses" a year.  Finally some do indeed act like Bishop Vasquez, to their shame.  The article quotes not one Church authority in favor of homeschooling.  If one goes off the article alone, homeschooling is not "sometimes" opposed by Church authorities.  It is always opposed.  The dioceses where it is allowed, nothing is said about why they allow it, only that they "recognize" it as an option.  As I intend to show, that position is the default Catholic position.

2.)  Insufficient Evidence

In order to defend the idea that homeschooling is contrary to the Catholic faith, proponents of such a view have to give some pretty creative exegsis.  So creative, it would get most students flunked out of a classroom.  We will only deal with one of the "proofs" cited.  Ms. Martin states:

But not all priests and bishops agree. At the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, the bishops wrote that parents have an obligation to send their children to parochial schools, and some clergy members today say Catholic home-schoolers abrogate that responsibility.
Sadly, she left something out.  Here is the exact text, emhaspsis mine:

Title vi, Of the Education of Catholic Youth, treats of (i) Catholic schools, especially parochial, viz., of their absolute necessity and the obligation of pastors to establish them. Parents must send their children to such schools unless the bishop should judge the reason for sending them elsewhere to be sufficient. Ways and means are also considered for making the parochial schools more efficient. It is desirable that these schools be free. (ii) Every effort must be made to have suitable schools of higher education for Catholic youth.

When one includes the entirety of the statement, one finds it is a lot less sweeping than was originally portrayed.  Even judging solely on this text alone, the "obligation" is not an absolute one.  First and foremost, the Bishop can judge it not neccessary.  The price of the schools and the quality of them also must be taken into consideration.

Yet we cannot judge solely on this one piece of evidence.  The Third Plenary Synod is but a local synod of American Bishops.  Our Catholic faith teaches that such synods are not binding on Bishops, or even the faithful outright.  In the end, the documents of Popes and Councils are far more important than that of a mere regional synod of a (at the time) small Catholic population.

As far as the Popes, not much is said about the nature of Christian education until Pope Pius XI.  (Leo XIII touches on certain facets of education, but not the root itself.)   According to Pius XI, there are three spheres of society, and all three have an importance in education:  the family, civil society, and the Church.  As Divni Illus Magistri makes clear, the first of these is the family.  They possess the right of education from nature itself.  The individual family unit existed before the State, and without the family, there can be no Church.  Yet as families have obligations beyond themselves (to the common good and the Church), there are certain instances where they have a pre-eminence (but never trumping) of the family.

On matters of faith and morals, the family must be in union with the Church.  Whereas the family has the right to educate their own children by nature, the Church has the right to educate souls by Divine Commission.  Yet in keeping with the notion of subsidarity, the Church does not seek to usurp the authority of the parents.  As the Pontiff states:

The fundamental reason for this harmony is that the supernatural order, to which the Church owes her rights, not only does not in the least destroy the natural order, to which pertain the other rights mentioned, but elevates the natural and perfects it, each affording mutual aid to the other, and completing it in a manner proportioned to its respective nature and dignity. The reason is because both come from God, who cannot contradict Himself

To emphasize that he is not kidding, the Pope states:

The family therefore holds directly from the Creator the mission and hence the right to educate the offspring, a right inalienable because inseparably joined to the strict obligation, a right anterior to any right whatever of civil society and of the State, and therefore inviolable on the part of any power on earth.

 That this right is inviolable St. Thomas proves as follows:The child is naturally something of the father . . . so by natural right the child, before reaching the use of reason, is under the father's care. Hence it would be contrary to natural justice if the child, before the use of reason, were removed from the care of its parents, or if any disposition were made concerning him against the will of the parents.
And as this duty on the part of the parents continues up to the time when the child is in a position to provide for itself, this same inviolable parental right of education also endures. "Nature intends not merely the generation of the offspring, but also its development and advance to the perfection of man considered as man, that is, to the state of virtue
To end our lengthy quoting of Pope Pius, he discusses the relationship between the Church and the family when talking about education:

We have therefore two facts of supreme importance. As We said in Our discourse cited above: The Church placing at the disposal of families her office of mistress and educator, and the families eager to profit by the offer, and entrusting their children to the Church in hundreds and thousands. These two facts recall and proclaim a striking truth of the greatest significance in the moral and social order. They declare that the mission of education regards before all, above all, primarily the Church and the family, and this by natural and divine law, and that therefore it cannot be slighted, cannot be evaded, cannot be supplanted.
The Second Vatican Council confirms and even elevates this teaching when the Fathers state:

Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators
And lest anyone say that the parent does not have a choice in where to educate their children (a la Father Peter Stravinskas), the Council states:

Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.
This is but a sample of Church teaching on the manner.  It really matters little whether or not "all priests or Bishops agree."  What matters is what the Catholic church says.

3.)  Just Flat out Wrong!

Up until now, there have been certain statements which could at least be defendable from an evidentiary standpoint, and a standpoint of Christian charity.  When we pass to the statements of Fr. Stravinskas, we cannot allow them to stand.  For some reason, and we will not speculate, Fr. Stravinskas has a certain loathing of the concept of homeschooling, and this colors anything he writes about the topic of education.

First and foremost, he tells Ms. Martin:

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.

As we have seen from the evidence, this is wrong.  The Church has a special responsibility beyond that of the family or civil society.  As a "perfect society" she has a strength in her claims the family lacks.  But the right of the Church to educate does not supersede the family.  On the contrary, it strengthens it.  As Pius XI noted, the family chooses to entrust their children to the Church.  The Church cannot and does not seek to act contrary to the rights of the family.

Logically speaking this is flawed as well.  Let us say there is a child in a parish Father Stravinskas is at.  Said child ends up not being educated in the faith.  He never comes to the Catechism classes, never seeks out Father privately, etc.  This child grows up and remains in that parish, but still doesn't seek the education out.  The individual dies in a state of mortal sin, and as a result is in hell.  Father Stravinskas won't be faulted.  Yet if the parents tried to say "well we offered him the chance to go to catechism classes" they will still be held accountable.  They were the child's primary educators.  They can't pass the buck off to someone else.  That this child failed to receive an education would not be a failure of Father's priesthood.  It would however be a failure of the parents in excercising their authority properly.

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.

When I hear this statement, I am reminded of the rather blunt assesment Archbishop Fulton Sheen gave towards Catholic schools during his time.  He stated that if a child wished to learn the faith, they were better off in a public school.  At least they could fight to get faith, rather than be given modernism under the appearance of faith.  Does Father Stravinskas think Archbishop Sheen was disobeying what the Church said?  It is a simple fact that in many Catholic schools today in America, Catholicism is the last thing you will find.  Nowadays, many of the teachers are laymen, not priests/religious.  This is not neccessarily a bad thing, but it must also be kept in mind.  Sometimes, they aren't even Catholic.  They act in contravention of Church teaching in the classroom. 

What Father Stravinskas sees is a reaction to a situation.  Fix the situation, do not shoot the messenger.  If you want Catholic schools to flourish, work towards re-affirming their Catholic identity, and ensure they teach the Catholic and Apostolic Faith without regret.  One could also do well towards addressing some practical concerns.

If we remember the Baltimore Synod, they wanted Catholic education to be free.  Today, education can cost even in "average" Catholic schools at $6,500 a student, per year.  Let us say you are a family with four children, paying a mortage on a house.  Between those four children, you will be spending at least $26,000 a year on Catholic schools.  Good luck trying to accomplish that if you are middle class, or if the wife is a stay at home mother.  If you have more children, this only becomes more prohibitive.  In a rather perverse incentive, smaller family sizes are encouraged if Father Stravinskas' dictums are to be held.  What about those families blessed to have 8 or 9 children?  The days where most of the instructors were religious members (which helped mitigate cost somewhat) are gone.  Combine that with a weakened economy, and Catholic schooling nowadays becomes unaffordable for those with large families.  How much tuition assistance is Father Stravinskas urging Catholic schools to provide to these kind of people?

While these previous statements were bad enough, they pale in comparison to what he says next:

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.

The "anti-clericalism" is so subtle, it only exists in the mind of Father Stravinskas.  He "sees" a dearth of vocations in his own mind, not reality.  He cites no evidence for this, because there is none.  OSV tried to carry the water for him when one of their members posted the following in the comments section:

For those who wondered about the connection between home schooling and vocations to the priesthood -- interesting question!

I did some digging on the U.S. bishops' website, and found this statistic for all priests being ordained in 2011:
Only 4 percent of ordinands (5 percent of diocesan and no religious ordinands) report being home schooled at some time in their educational background. Among those who were home schooled, the average length of time they were home-schooled was six years

For the full report, go here:
When one goes to the report, it doesn't say what they want it to say.  Nowhere does it say that homeschooling leads to less vocations.  It simply says that out of those in the seminaries, 4% are homeschooled.  What is the percentage of Catholics homeschooled at large?  What is the percentage of those who go towards Catholic schooling (out of all those educated) who go onto the seminary?  The report doesn't say, because it isn't interested in that.  The report simply analyzed the backgrounds of those priestly candidates.

One also needs to keep something of context in mind.  The home-schooling boom is rather recent; only within the last 10-15 years has it really taken off.  To see such a small number would not be surprising.  As homeschooling continues to grow, it is only natural you will see ordinations continue to grow.

There may indeed be evidence that homeschooling leads to a lack of vocations.  OSV doesn't even try to provide it.  They simply state it, and expect their audience to believe it, based on the authority of Father Stravinskas.

In the end, that's the problem.  Father Stravinskas is setting himself up as the Magesterium.  His personal opinions are ultimately irrelevant, as are mine.  We have a Church who decides.  What Father Stravinaskas says and the Magsterium says are two different things.  Catholic parochial schools can be a very good thing.  Yet they are one option amongst many a parent can use in educating their child.

If one would want to report on a real problem, I have one for OSV.  Why is Father Stravinskas not being pastoral in trying to outline a variety of resources to help Catholic families fulfill their obligations under Divine and Church law?  Why is he instead trying to force everyone to adopt his personal opinions?  Perhaps Ms. Martin can get on that for us.


  1. Wow, I knew something about homeschooling caused a massive upheaval, but I didn't get the chance to read up on it.

    The way I see it, a good, robust Catholic school that is affordable (even free), orthodox, and staffed with Nuns and Brothers is ideal since it exposes the kids to the Fullness of the Faith and Church life lived out.

    Homeschooling only came in because that once glorious institution has gone into the sewer almost everywhere. As you pointed out, most Catholic schools today are not affordable, not staffed by Religious (or even Catholics), and worst of all not even orthodox (or at least extremely deficient when it comes to religion). Also as you pointed out, so many kids who go to Catholic school today are so engulfed in the secular culture that they make the atmosphere as immoral as public school, and this greatly harms children who come from pious households.

    The main weaknesses of Homeschooling that I see are that the mother often doesn't know enough herself to teach her children beyond the basics, her job as educator gets harder the larger the family becomes, and the kids don't always grow socially or know how to operate when in paganized college or work environments. And it does give off the impression that many Catholic schools and Religious have failed their duty, which is a sad reality.

    A popular trend today is for homeschooling families to meet up at various days of the week at a parish and have parents who excel in certain fields be the teacher for a given subject. This is very commendable, but it's also more of a hybrid rather than classical homeschooling.

    The language of Fr Stravinskas and the Bishop is that of someone who doesn't want to see a mass exodus of Catholic students, especially if Catholic schools are an importance source of 'income' for the parish either by donations or tuition. If you shut down many Catholic schools, the parish life would also go downhill.

    My advice for Fr Stravinskas and Bishop Vasquez is if they want to encourage parochial schools, then they need to take charge by calling out the lousy job Catholic schools are doing, call out 'lame-duck' priests in key parishes, and in whatever other ways necessary champion the point that orthodoxy and fidelity to the Church is what breeds successful Catholic schools. Simply maintaining the status-quo doesn't help anyone.

  2. I hate to be the one who rants on your blog, but I have to add another point: the reason why Catholic schools became unaffordable and even a financial burden on the parish is because they went from being staffed by volunteers (Nuns) to laymen who needed a reasonably sized paycheck.

    The math is simple, if a school needs 10 full time staff members, all at a meager $30k per year, that's $300k in revenue the school must come up with - and that's bare, bare minimum. Many schools would need over double that.

    If a parish has 500 families, with 100 dads contributing to the collection plate, that's $3k per year just for teacher salaries, not including maintenance and other essentials. So with that the real 'burden' is each father having to pay $5k per year from the collection plate.

  3. Kevin,

    I was just reading an article that pegged the percentage of homeschooled children in the U.S. at 2.9. That was from 2009 (the statistics were probably older), but it is probably fair to say that less than 4 percent of children are homeschooled. Furthermore, my guess is that the percentage of Catholic children who are homeschooled is even less than that. Homeschooling Catholic ( estimates the number of homeschooled Catholic children at 80-100,000. There are 68 million Catholics in the U.S., so assuming an even distribution of ages from zero to 80 means that there are 11.9 million school-aged Catholic children. To be fair let's say 6 million -- there are certainly more than that. So if we take the high number from above (100,000) and divide it by 6 million, we get approximately 1.7% of Catholic children being homeschooled. This means that homeschoolers are, if anything, over-represented in seminaries. (I admit that it would be interesting to compare practicing Catholic families in general to homeschooling families.) Furthermore, as you point out, homeschooling is a relatively recent phenomenon (certainly I never knew anyone who was homeschooled while I was growing up), so older seminarians (say, 30+ years old) are very unlikely to have been homeschooled. Removing older seminarians from the overall numbers would mean that homeschoolers are even more overrepresented among the seminary population.


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