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The intelligentsia is attacking homeschooling. This isn’t new, but the intensity of the attack is rising. Most recently, an article published this May in Harvard Magazine calls for an explicit ban on homeschooling due to supposed harms to the child. The article questions parental rights on a fundamental level. Though there are many responses to the piece, homeschooling provides an interesting case study of the application of Catholic Social Teaching in our age.
Homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice for parents who are concerned about liberal and atheistic (but I repeat myself) perspectives in modern schools. Parents have many allies in this effort, including an array of curriculum options, a legal defense organization, and even “school choice” advocates in the conservative and libertarian movements. No doubt, homeschooling is easier now than it has been in recent memory and most states have relatively low regulatory barriers to homeschooling.
However, many traditional American practices are ostensibly based on the anti-Catholic rugged individualism that has its intellectual foundations in revolutionary liberalism. Solidarity is an integral part of Catholic Social Teaching and it should be fostered by policy and by Catholic families. Does this mean that light-touch regulation by the state is bad? Should it be more restrictive? Should Catholics send their kids to public schools in an attempt at a Leonine march through the institutions?
Catholics should always be cognizant of the possibility that American traditions are contrary to Catholic Social Teaching. Does homeschooling fit this mold? Homeschooling seems to fit in well with individualist liberalism; after all, libertarians are some of the most vocal proponents of homeschooling and “school choice.”
An important consideration in judging whether homeschooling is consistent with the social teaching of the Church is whether it fosters solidarity. Ideally, public schools would foster community solidarity by providing community-oriented benefits such as sports and other activities and lowering the costs associated with educating children. Unfortunately, schools today are far from ideal. Public schools push a progressive liberal ideology on children that undermines Catholic values. This creates confusion in the child; what they hear from their parents about ethics and morality is different and sometimes diametrically opposed to what their teachers tell them. Who are they to believe? Ultimately, this divergence undermines the authority of the parents.
True Solidarity Is Needed
True solidarity cannot be fostered by schools if schools don’t support the authority and primacy of the family. The family is the fundamental unit of society, not the individual. Is there a solution to this problem? Aren’t parents afforded a means of changing the schools? Parents could become an active part of the PTA or even run for school board. Whatever power a Catholic parent might attain, the institutional inertia is too great. No school board member can ensure that only good Catholics are hired as teachers. No school board member can ensure that the curriculum is consistent with Catholic principles.
Those who believe we should be part of the culture so as to implement Catholic principles are correct that we have much work to do. However, there simply is no way to reform modern schools without risking our children’s formation of conscience in the process. Some families are not situated to homeschool and must put their children in public schools. These parents bear the burden of keeping their children pure of mind and heart while the culture attempts to destroy their consciences.
Aligning American culture with Catholic principles is a monumental task that we must undertake, but we should be prudent about how we go about it. Solidarity is a key tenet of Catholic Social Teaching, but we must foster genuine solidarity and not cede ground to the secular religion. It is far more likely that exposure to malignant catechesis by the priestly caste of today’s secular religion will ruin your children’s morality than you will reform even your local school system by participating in the PTA.
Levi A Russell, Ph.D. – Founder and Fellow of the Leonine Institute for Catholic Social Teaching. He is also the host of the weekly Catholic Economics podcast.