Approaching the responsibility of homeschooling

Catholic Candle note: This is the First Part in a new series on EDUCATING YOUR CHILDREN during the crisis in the Church.  There can be no more important concern for traditional Catholic parents today than how to best educate their children since it is so intrinsically connected to helping them save their precious souls.

     Part I:  Reflects on how one traditional Catholic family approached the gargantuan responsibility of this formidable task.

     Part II:  Investigates what choices were available to the next generation, and how they met the challenge.

     Part III:  Examines what is involved in Home Schooling.

     Part IV:  Looks at some of the Benefits of educating your children at home.

How one Traditional Catholic family approached the gargantuan responsibility of homeschooling

Parents have always been recognized as the primary educators of their children (under the aegis of the Catholic Church).  But in the “old days” (before Vatican II) Catholic parents could confidently send their children off to their local parish school in the knowledge that they would learn more about their Faith and also get a decent education.  Which they did.

However, when our children were growing up in the aftermath of VC II, it was a very different situation.  We began to realize very soon that we could no longer assume that sending them to the parish school would automatically get them a good Catholic education.  It was a painful realization, and with it came the question of what other choices there might be.  However credible or doubtful, we felt constrained to check them out.

Thinking of our Blessed Mother’s promise that the flame of the Faith would always burn in Portugal, we left our children in the capable hands of a generous grandmother and flew to Lisbon to view firsthand the religious-educational situation.  We investigated all aspects, including employment for my husband.  (A job was not possible because there wasn’t even enough work for Portuguese citizens, let alone foreigners.)  All things considered, it became clear that moving to Portugal was not the answer.  Our Lady did promise that the true Faith would be kept alive, there, but that could conceivably mean in some remote corner of the country, not necessarily a guarantee that the Catholic schools would be free of the effects of Vatican II.

Our next stop was Ireland, which at first glance seemed a distinct possibility.  However, it might have been Our Lady who sent us to a restaurant where we were seated next to two young women who were teachers at a Catholic grade school.  They were almost giddy telling us how wonderful it would be teaching the new religion coming from Vatican II.  That, and other considerations, left Ireland out completely.  So we headed home satisfied that we tried, and that we would have to do our best at home to raise our family in the traditional Catholic Faith.

Now the only answer was to keep our eyes focused on finding a good school.  And finding a good school was always a top priority.

We bought our first house across town and joined our new parish.  Our oldest was making her First Communion, and we were learning to be cautious about what was being taught in parish schools.  Our new parish had a new pastor, and we invited him to dinner to hear in what direction he intended to lead his flock.

Well, it turned out he didn’t particularly plan to do much leading.  He made it clear he was “letting Sister” decide what catechisms and classroom subjects, etc., she would use.  (This was in the days when the sisters were beginning to “speak up” and wanted a greater voice in the Church.)  I recall that as Father left the house that evening, my husband turned to me and said it was clear we couldn’t leave our children in that school.  And we didn’t.

Next came several years at our “good ol’ neighborhood” (public) school, until they began the disastrous “drug education” and “sex education” programs, which under the pretense of warning children about drugs and sex, actually accomplished the opposite: piqued their curiosity.  Scratch school #2.

You know the old saying about God never closing a door on you without opening a window.  The good Lord directed us to a parish in a run-down part of town that was operated by a stubborn priest who ran the school his way.  And his obstinacy was what allowed us to send our children to his grade school.  He threw out the Diocesan directives and guidelines and hired his own good teachers, used the good Baltimore catechisms, and engaged nuns who wore the full habits.  (A word about those Diocesan guidelines in Part II.)

The school wasn’t in the best neighborhood and was located next to a large rough public school.  There were a number of issues we had to deal with, including letting the pastor know we wouldn’t allow our children to attend the daily Novus Ordo mass.  This prompted a recurring reminder from him every month when we paid for five tuitions that we wouldn’t have to pay if we were members of the parish.  (But, of course, we weren’t and couldn’t be.)  The implied “bribery” notwithstanding, the school accomplished what we needed it to: it got our children safely through the grades.

Safely, yes, but not without a small price to pay along the way, especially for our oldest daughter.  She attended five different schools in those eight years, which was not easy.  And sometimes she had to listen to catty classmates whine: “Why do you have to wear your skirts so long?”  One night, after the rosary, we were reading about St. Joan of Arc being burned at the stake, and she said in a burst of fervor, “Oh, I would be willing to do that for Our Lord!”  I recall answering her that God was not asking her to die a fiery death, but He did ask her to put up with the occasional churlish question about her dresses.

So that brought us to high school.  For several years before our oldest graduated from grade school, we had begun looking around for a good high school for them.

Both my husband and I had attended our local Catholic high school, but it was a no-brainer that we wouldn’t be able to send our children there.  Its curriculum had transformed into an unrecognizably liberal stew of modernism.  So that was a non-starter.

The choices were very limited.  There was a traditional boarding school in a nearby state, but you hate to send a 13-year-old homebody away from home (unless there is absolutely no alternative.)  There was also a correspondence school, and we listened to what their representative had to say.  (Nobody we ever heard of talked of Home Schooling in those days.)  And the purportedly “conservative” Franciscan seminary/boys’ school in the area was just for “he”s, and we were starting with a “she”.  (Which turned out to be Providential since the school proved to be only a tad behind in its swerve into modernism.)

However, we heard of another “conservative” Catholic high school in a different city fairly close by, and we looked into that.  This appeared a definite possibility, and we visited it one Sunday.  The nun-principal told us that there was a waiting list to get in, but she took us on a tour of the school nevertheless.  She gave us all the particulars about tuition costs and where our daughter could get her uniform, books, etc.  The sister looked a bit non-plussed when we said firmly that our daughter would not be attending the daily Novus Ordo mass, but she rallied to tell us that they had a protestant girl and an Egyptian boy at the school who similarly did not attend the service.  The upshot was that she decided she would allow her to by-pass the waiting list because she was a good student and would be coming from a distance.  (Since our daughter did not have a driver’s license, the commute would be two daily round trips – 120 miles a day.)

So it appeared all set.  That is, until we got a phone call from her the next day saying she was very sorry that they didn’t have room in the school for our daughter after all.

But as before, when that door closed, another window opened.  Testimony to that is our discovery of a private high school that was started up a handful of years earlier by a small group of conservative industrialists-businessmen.  They, too, had been looking for a decent school for their children, but had given up and started their own.  Long story short, it was nearly as good as we expected, even though it necessitated a 100-mile round trip daily.  (The headmaster of the school told us at the graduation of our last child that they had been figuring how many miles our family had traveled in those nine years, and they concluded it’d been over 300,000 miles.)

The next obvious challenge was going to be finding a good traditional Catholic college.  An important point to make here is that parents must realize that high schoolers do not have the intellect, wisdom, or experience to select the correct college that will determine their success in life, and more importantly, their salvation.  THAT IS THE JOB FOR THE PARENTS.

My husband investigated lead-after-lead all across the country from well-meaning people who thought they knew just what we were looking for.  Invariably, these small Catholic colleges used to be good, but every one of them proved to be liberal.  He always talked to the Dean of Students, and he got to be quite good at recognizing the signs of problems and asking the right questions, e.g., What did they do when a student used drugs?  Did they have single sex or coed dorms?  What kind of dress code did they have?  What curriculum did they use?  Etc.  He didn’t even have to discuss curriculum and textbooks with many of them because they disqualified themselves after the first three questions.

Unfortunately, it appeared there was no such thing as a solid, good Catholic college anymore.  Until …

Another window opened.  Deo gratias!  He found a gem, even if it proved to be a great distance away.  Here it must be stressed that the most important point in settling on a college is to visit it beforehand to confirm what the Dean has told you.  He did visit the campus, and again, it was nearly as good as we’d hoped.  Granted, it was thousands of miles from home, but that’s what it took to find the right school.  It was worth the numberless hours and time and effort it took to locate it.  It was well worth avoiding many of the problems of young adults.

I might mention that while my husband and I did not homeschool our family, it was only because we were able to find the last of the good schools to send them to.  And even then, it took considerable effort to research and locate the schools, pay the tuitions, and find a way to get them there.

However, if we weren’t compelled to homeschool the first time around, we got the chance to do so in Round 2, with our grandchildren.  Which will be discussed in Part II, in the next Catholic Candle.