Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Letter to the Editor

There was a letter to the editor in our diocesan newspaper yesterday on the topic of Catholics who homeschool. You can find the letter (currently, at least) at this link:

You need to scroll to the last of the four pages this link brings up, page 8.

This is my response:

This is in response to Michael S. Davis' September 21 letter to the editor regarding why some Catholic parents choose homeschooling over the Catholic school system. I appreciate the invitation to dialogue on this topic for the sake of greater mutual understanding among Catholics in our diocese and especially in our city.

I must take issue with a few points Mr. Davis makes. First of all, he states that homeschooling grew out of an Evangelical Protestant move away from secularism in public schools. This is not entirely accurate. John Holt, just to name one of the best known homeschooling pioneers, had no particular religious perspective. He drew attention to basic educational benefits to be found in removing children from the structures of schools and freeing them to learn without the interruptions of bells, schedules and other limits on how or when ideas can be explored, or other unnatural structures made necessary by trying to educate large numbers of agemates at one time. Christians drawn to homeschooling as a safeguard against secularism in public schools are but one sector of the movement.

Secondly, I believe it is a complete misapplication of terms to call the diocesan school system “the official teaching arm of the bishop's magisterial authority”, to quote Mr. Davis. The role of the Bishop as Teacher is in the context of being “endowed with the authority of Christ to preach the faith to those entrusted to them” (CCC 2034). Academic instruction is quite another matter. While Bishops are charged with operating Catholic schools (this became a burning issue in the US when public schools had a blatant anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant bias roughly a century ago), participating in the Catholic school system is not a matter of morality that binds the conscience of the faithful. Canon law states “[p]arents must have a real freedom in their choice of schools” (Can. 797). And further “[p]arents...have both the obligation and the right to educate their children. Catholic parents also have the duty and right to choose those means and institutes which, in their local circumstances, can best promote the catholic education of their children” (Can. 793.1). There is no statement in canon law nor in Magisterial teaching regarding an obligation to enroll children in Catholic schools, only to ensure that children receive a catholic education.

This begs the question: What is a catholic education? Speaking for my family, our educational choices reflect no judgment against the faithfulness of our local Catholic schools. Rather the choices arise from knowing my children's needs most intimately, from prayerful discernment of my role in helping my children grow in virtue and wisdom, and from embracing the principle of subsidiarity (CCC 1883), to name just three motivations.

As for “the homogeneity of the home-school experience”, Mr. Davis would only need to spend an afternoon in our home to learn how the innate differences among our family members make dealing with those who are different from ourselves a most pressing daily task! In fact, this task is the richest educational resource I know of for true and deep formation in the Faith (please see CCC 2223). I am most puzzled by his worries that children are being taught the Faith by their parents at home (not to mention how this somehow is linked to fashion choices). Religious educators will tell you that if the parents do not practice the Faith, no amount of religious education in schools or parish programs is likely to have significant impact on the children. I would be much more concerned about those who feel their faith example is unimportant because their children “get their religion at school” or at PSR.


Mathochist said...

Guess you told him! ;) Seriously, though, what a well-thought-out, very well-documented response!

Beate said...

Great letter - now that it's been published, you'll have to share the response it garners!

Marie said...

The day following the letter's publication as I was out and about I had several positive comments from fellow Catholics. One 80-something gentleman yelled to me from across the church parking lot (which had no other people in it at the time) "Way to answer Mike Davis!" People also commented positively to my husband. It was a nice little affirmation blip.