Hope and Support — Not Condemnation

I think my “Now for Something Really Controversial post left ambiguity on the point I was most desiring to make, because I felt I had to do some convincing that public schools are truly dangerous to Catholic children and families. I want to emphasize that I’m not trying to make anyone in difficult circumstances who sends their children to public schools feel shamed. I understand that there are circumstances where there honestly seems to be no alternative.  My hope was to encourage families to pray for and look into every other conceivable possibility.  I also very much wanted to generate discussion from my readers about alternative possibilities in Catholic education they’ve heard of or discovered for themselves. Homeschooling co-ops? Private Catholic schools?

I received this question from a reader:

In your mind, what should a family do when neither good Catholic schools nor homeschooling is an option? I’m thinking of cases where the father is ill/disabled and the mother must work to make ends meet or single parent families. I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just curious. I’m all for homeschooling or traditional Catholic schools.

Blog posts like this (and the numerous comments following) telegraph to me loud and clear that homeschooling cannot be for every family. I am not yet a homeschooler, but I can surely appreciate how very difficult it is and that it can sometimes be too much. And, it doesn’t need to be horribly extreme circumstances which cause a mother to close up the kitchen classroom.

Some of the mothers commenting at the site say they sent their children to public schools when they could no longer homeschool.  I was left wondering: Was this their only alternative? Why? What were the circumstances? I was trying to underscore in my original post how serious the situation is with public schools and that as Catholic communities we need to help families avoid being backed into the public school option. As Catholic parents, I feel we need to do everything humanly possible to avoid sending our children there. Everything. Humanly. Possible. But I think we need ideas and creativity before many Catholic parents can avoid being backed into the public school system corner.

For some mothers this seriousness with local public schools may, in the end, mean trudging on with homeschooling. Maybe she would find some relief from receiving much more support from her Catholic community — perhaps a Ministry to Moms volunteer to help her? Maybe, there are other solutions that can be tried to make her job at home easier? Ideas?

I have to confess that articles like the one I linked above and its subsequent comments concern me a little bit. I would hate for women who are discouraged, as seems to happen frequently and universally with homeschooling, to see the discussion and prematurely decide to throw in the towel. While some families are truly in a situation where they cannot continue homeschooling, there are others who are in a situation where they need support and encouragement to find a way to continue, not affirmation in their despair. As a balance to the first post, I’d like to offer this one written by my dear friend Kimberly at Catholic Family Vignettes.

For other families, maybe there is a need to move and settle in a location near good Catholic schools and a good Catholic community. If they cannot move near such schools, perhaps, maybe consider Catholic boarding schools as alternative? (Though, I imagine not a very good option for families with very small children to be educated.) These alternatives take money, though, and not every family is in a position that allows them to move –particularly in this economy. Sometimes jobs just are where they are.

This serious problem facing Catholic families is why I think it extremely important that families/couples start out their lives together praying seriously and discerning what kind of career a husband will pursue, where the family can live with such a career, and what kind of educational and faith community situations are open to them in those geographies. Raising children and educating them and forming them in the Faith is the mission of the family. Every other choice a family makes has to be seen as supporting that end.

I would like to hear more ideas and suggestions on this problem of Catholic education from my readers. PLEASE feel free to share. I’m dying to hear from you!

This entry was posted in Catholic Education, children, faith formation, Public School. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Hope and Support — Not Condemnation

  1. Gretchen says:

    Suzanne

    I absolutly agree that education should be a part of any prenuptial conversation. For our part, we discussed and decided that Catholic education was a must for our family, no matter what the sacrifice, and belive me we sacrifice! I also know that the school where I send my children is trustworthy, or I would not be sending them there, in fact, the only concern I might have is for the other families, not the staff. But I know we would run into that any where we go. I have also not left homeschooling off the table but for know I know this is where God wants us to be.

    I would laso like to add that Catholic school tuiition can be and is duanting! It is frightening in fact. That being said, most Catholic schools are VERY generous with financial aid. The church wants their parishoners there and will help make it happen.

    Like I said, I love the idea of homeschooling but as far as I can tell, that is not where God is leading me.

  2. Suzanne says:

    Gretchen — Out of curiosity, do you know approx. how large the parish which supports the Catholic school your children attend is? I’m wondering if larger parishes are able to offer families better financial aid.

    • Kate says:

      We are lucky to have wonderful financial aid here in Iowa. The state has set up a system where a certain amount of money is allowed to be donated to a STO (School Tuition Organization) with those who donate receiving a 65% state tax credit. That is 65% directly back when filing taxes. The donation can also be claimed as normal charitable donations on federal taxes. Our diocese can collect over $3 million this year – beyond that the tax credit ceases to exist. The school also gives out it’s own financial aid. The STO has helped make Catholic (and other private) education a possibility for many more families.

      I, too, do not rule out a homeschooling future. We’re just not in that place right now.

      • Suzanne says:

        That sounds fabulous, Katie! I wonder if there are any other states that offer the same kind of benefit. I wonder if some of this aid would be available to homeschooling families to help defray the cost of purchasing books and curriculum for home education?

    • Gretchen says:

      that is definately a possibility. We do belong a a large parish and on top if the diocesan assistance our own parish give %30 of the weekend offerings to the school for this purpose.

      I also know that My sisters Parish and school are VERY small but they assistance on a need basis simply through donors who see the need in the parish.

      • Suzanne says:

        I think that’s a very important point, Gretchen — “donors who see the need in the parish.” I think the number one appeal in the Catholic education crisis has to be made to folks with means to help Catholic families make Catholic education possible for their children.

  3. Hi, Suzanne –

    Thanks for the link to my blog post.

    For the record, I am not sending my kids to a Catholic charter school (is there such a thing?); it’s secular, and I’ll have to continue being their catechism teacher. (I would have had to continue that even if we had chosen the local Catholic school, which is not only prohibitively expensive, but its religious education is feeble at best.)

    I appreciate that your post here was very carefully and sensitively written. To me, though, the most important phrase was: “I am not yet a home schooler.” A person who is struggling needs to hear advice from other people who have struggled, and not from people who have high ideals but no experience.

    This is a common error among well-meaning people, when speaking of home schooling and many other quasi-moral issues. There are just so many personal variables (what is the child like? What else is going on with the family? What is the mother’s temperament? What is the public school in that area like?) that it is not only false to say that public school is always automatically a bad option – it is dangerously discouraging. Making decisions about your child’s education is already emotionally fraught — let’s not also pretend that it’s a simple choice between right and wrong.

    I would like to reassure you that I know several of the formerly-home schooling women who commented on my post. They didn’t just throw up their hands and abandon their children, and they have prayed and agonized over their choices as much as any mother has prayed and agonized over any child. When someone has made such a difficult decision, I call it uncharitable to discourage her from talking about it.

    You read all of this and saw “affirmation in our despair.” What we were actually talking about, though, was understanding the paths of our own lives, and trying to follow God’s will — and looking for some support from people who have experienced something similar.

    I hope that your family turns out the way you imagine! But it may not, and that may not be as bad of a thing as you imagine.

    • Suzanne says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful response, Simcha. I guess my interest in the topic is precisely because I am not a homeschooler — yet. I’m honestly not looking to give anyone who is struggling advice on “how to fix it.” (Though, I shared one idea for help in the struggle (Ministry to Moms), which was the brain child of Kimberly Hahn.)

      I absolutely don’t know if homeschooling is going to work for me and for my family. The more stories I hear about families abandoning homeschooling, the more I want to hear about the reasons why it didn’t work for them. What do I have to look out for and consider in my own journey toward discerning how to best educate my daughter and any future children. My hope was to generate discussion from experienced readers who might be able to offer suggestions and support either with regard to difficulties in homeschooling or finding alternative Catholic educational opportunities.

      I absolutely wouldn’t want to discourage mothers from sharing their struggles with one another. And, I didn’t mean to suggest that you and the other mothers in the conversation intended to affirm one another in despair. I do appreciate the difficulty of the decisions involved. I guess I saw the possibility of affirming despair stemming as an an unintended consequence, not the purpose, of conversations like these. But I’m not saying the conversations should not be had or shared on blogs. I offered the other link as counter-balance for someone who might be in a situation where they need encouragement, not to throw in the towel. But I sure don’t want to tell anyone which category they fall into. That’s not my business or desire.

      Because of my own experience growing up in the public school system and being seriously damaged by attending them at a very tender age, and all the reading I have done on public schools since, I don’t want to be backed into that option if homeschooling fails me. I don’t want what I had for any child. Are all public schools created equal? No. But it was largely “other peoples’ kids” who polluted my innocent mind and heart. My parents never even knew I associated with these kids.

      We live in a culture and an age where children have FAR MORE access to really damaging media than existed when I was in public school. The thought of sending my children, still in faith and moral formation, among those children with access to such media makes me heartsick. I know the damage too personally. I think most parents who discontinue homeschooling would be happy to have alternatives. As a Catholic community, we need to come together and start getting creative about alternatives. I don’t have the answers — I’m seeking ideas.

    • Suzanne says:

      P.S. RE: Charter Schools — I had mistakenly understood that term as small private schools created by concerned Catholic laypersons. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to get straightened out on that point!

  4. Martha says:

    I am probably commenting more here on the comments than the post. :) This is an interesting discussion & well worth having. I hope you find some good ideas. The co-op idea can be a good one, especially for high school.
    But the situation RIGHT NOW is that for some families, public school is the best option. It will take time to create other options for families whose children have special needs the parish school doesn’t meet. Or families who can’t afford Catholic school. And frankly, I am not sure the will is there across the country to create those options. I’d say it’s not here in the Diocese of Dallas, Texas. There’s not even such a thing as Ministry for Moms, which is a relatively inexpensive and easy to set up program.
    Our situation is very good so I will share it: Our parish school has 800+ kids; it is wonderful, and they give us lots of financial help. They are not able to educate anyone who is not “middle of the road” in abilities, and they have no desire to develop that. They have 800 kids already! They also will not allow partial homeschooling. Now, the school is great. The teachers and administrators are dedicated and have a good understanding of what it means to be a Catholic school. The flipside of that, is that the school is large and established and sucks up a HUGE amount of volunteer hours and money. (Thus, you will not find many people wanting to join, much less start a co-op, or a Ministry for Moms.) Also, there are a lot of wealthy families at the school who can afford the tuition with no help, so my kids go to school with other 10 year-olds who are on their 3rd iPhone, or their second laptop, or just got back from their Spring Break trip to Cabo, or are horrified to find out we don’t have cable. Trust me, public schools have no monopoly on kids who will act inappropriately, or even use sexually explicit language in elementary school. Modernity is everywhere (and of course sin is not even modern.) So while our parish school is good, I do not judge any of the families who choose public school.

    And while of course it is a good suggestion to try and prayerfully discern options early in the marriage, frankly, you cannot anticipate what God will send you. Or where. Personally, I found that when I was homeschooling, there were about 30 people saying “Don’t throw in the towel! If you’ll just ___ you can continue! Like God wants you to!” for every one saying, “It won’t be the end of the world if your kids go to school. God is everywhere and he is in control.” I hope we are all open to God’s will and pray we are able to recognize it when He shows it to us!

    • Suzanne says:

      Martha – I do agree about the situation “right now.” However, what most concerns me is how in the interest of not upsetting already anguished mothers who have been backed into the public education corner we go too far in saying that a public school can be “good.” I don’t agree with this evaluation. And, it has the effect of encouraging other Catholics to select public schools from the get-go and not even try out or look for other options. I’m not saying the homeschooling moms are weighing their options carefully, but we have to be careful in how we speak of this option.

      The public school option may be an option to be born with, but I wouldn’t call these schools “good,” no matter how excellent the education or particular teachers (and they do exist, thank goodness!). Years more of experience in life and homeschooling isn’t going to change my evaluation of public schools. (And, I am rather middled aged, not young and fresh out of school, so I’ve had a little time to observe and experience the world in its realities beyond ideals.)

      Re: “Other peoples’ kids” — Yes, they’re in good Catholic schools, too, and sin is everywhere — even at home! But, a good Catholic school is still much better than a public school. There, children at least have the opportunity to make friends among peers from like-minded families. Whereas in a public school these friends can be harder to find, either because they do not exist, or because faith is something secular schools encourage children to keep to themselves.

      Also, bad ideas are not being simultaneously reinforced by teachers in good Catholic schools. Secular schools and their teachers are far more inclined to promote tolerance of other peoples’ morals, or the lack thereof and sometimes even peddle their own immoralities. If the Faith, unadulterated, is truly being well incorporated into a student’s classes, he stands a far better chance in a Catholic school. It’s not the one-off situations that bother me so much as the overall, all-day formation.

      Not all Catholic schools are equal, though, so I certainly wouldn’t necessarily choose one of those in a pickle either. My personal preference is for small, private Catholic schools where parents can more involved and better know their children’s teachers. But they are few and far between, sadly. We don’t know exactly where God is going to lead us early in our marriages, but we should try to control the decisions that we can in the interest of giving our children a solid Catholic upbringing and educational formation.

      God is everywhere and in control, but we as Christians are still required to exercise the virtue of prudence. Just because a particular choice doesn’t necessarily mean the destruction of a child’s soul and the “end of the world,” doesn’t make alone make it it a good choice.

      Lastly, the school’s parish volunteers might be too tapped out for a Ministry to Moms group — but what about the University of Dallas? What about other parishes in the diocese? What about Catholic high school students? I would guess in a diocese of over a million Catholics, there has to be some recourse to Catholic human resources for ministries like this. Maybe it’s time to poke around and see who can be scared up?

  5. Jennifer says:

    Suzanne — I like how you’ve not only taken care to be gentle in your post but also how you’ve been so patient explaining what you’ve definitely not said but get accused of saying anyways! Maybe Martha and Simcha just expected you to be saying the stuff they brought up because they’ve heard that stuff from other people before. Or, maybe I missed something?

    Martha — She said the situation RIGHT NOW is that some for some families public school is the only option. I might be wrong, but I think that was the whole point of her post! She outright said she’s not judging these folks. And she said she was drawing out the situation with public schools because nobody does seem really motivated to do anything about it! It’s exactly what she’s worried about for her family and other families who feel the same way. (Me being one of them!)

    Anyways I think the way both of you picked at some of her ideas was kinda patronizing. It doesn’t seem to me like she thought her ideas were something everybody could do — but that it might help some people in some situations. Why not encourage that more thinking like that instead of automatically shooting her down because it doesn’t work for everyone everywhere?

    And can someone explain to me why she needs years of experience in homeschooling to say there’s something wrong with public schools? I mean if she fails at homeschooling is that going to make what’s true about public schools somehow untrue then?

    And yeah God is everywhere and is in control and all that but, tell me, do you still lock your car doors in bad neighborhoods and remove your valuables?

    Gosh, give a girl a break! There’s room for disaggreement but disagree with what she is saying not what you’ve heard other people say.

  6. Jessi says:

    Well I must have missed the former post before this but will have to go back and read it. I can say that as a girl who was raised in a very Catholic home and went to Catholic school until 5th grade, was homeschooled 6-9th grade (after our catholic middle school closed down) and went to a public high school, then a Catholic college. I have seen a broad range of educational opportunities for parents.

    Pesonally I had always thought we would send our kids to Catholic school and this was always our hope and wish, but I believe many people have reasons for choosing the public school option and there is nothing wrong with that. We DO send our kids to public school and we love it!!!!! Unfortunately our Catholic schools here are EXTREMELY expensive and even as parishioners there is no way we could afford it right now. And we both work!!! We live modestly in a 3 bedroom home- note- (we will soon have 6 children) We do not vacation every year and live a happy yet not outlandish lifestyle, but there is not a good scholarship program here nor do we have the luxury of moving to another community that would offer this as we have our roots here now. Most importantly to us as parents is that we have chosen public school for our children because of the opportunity it offers our oldest son who has Aspergers and our 3 year old who receives Speech services and we are “monitoring” for Autism as well. I am sadly disappointed that these services are not available to our children in the private school and when they are- (as I have called the schools here to get info on them)- they are so limited they would not be helpful. I am sad that even though these are services we pay for as taxpayers- (especially in our city where the taxes on our home are insane!!) The private schools choose not to be too interested in getting these implemented into their schools. For that important reason we will continue to send our kids to Public school for the time being.

    Luckily we are blessed to have a good school here, with teachers, student body and parents that work together to make a safe and appealing environment for our children. I personally believe that not every public school is a bad option!

    I can honestly say that we are strongly considering the Catholic school for middle school but will then probably revert back to Publis high school since our Catholic high school here has the worst drug reputation in town and I would much rather send my child to a Catholic university than spend that tuition on a Catholic high school that does not have the best track record here.

    On anothe note, I applaud any person who can successfully home school and if that is what we “had to do” we would chose that path- but for now the option we have chosen is a wonderful one and one we are very happy to share with others since we have had much success with Public school. As for their religious education we have a wonderful CCD program here that we are very involved in- in fact my husband is the 1st communion teacher=) And we as parents of course have our faith present in our home environment as well- after all- we are the first teachers of our children in the faith!! The children know about their faith and we are happ that they are learning that as well.
    Sorry this is so long but I felt that maybe others who have chosen the public school path could identify- I am in no way ashamed of our decision and are happy for anyone who chooses otherwise- I believe that this decision is one that fits each family differently.

  7. Allison says:

    About to start our 5th year of homeschooling. My youngest will be in 1st grade and I wonder how I will *feel* about it in all the years to come until she graduates 12th grade? So many years ahead….

    But my feelings I hope will remain positive and that I could never imagine handing my children over to someone else for all those hours and questionable influence. I do not believe there is a better alternative and I pray I don’t have to visit one. I pray that I can continue to sacrifice myself and my doubts to serve my family. I don’t want what I see in those places, the distancing it gives children from their parents and their siblings, their family identity and values…

    So I hope and pray to continue to show the joy in homeschooling, Catholic homeschooling. I can’t help but feel sad for those who have decided to stop. And I wonder if they were still “attached” to the world and if I find it easier because my family is not so much?

    I think they will see changes in their children…

    Your were courageous and thought-provoking to post this. I liked what you and your husband wrote and forwarded it to the 35 Catholic homeschooling families in our area.

    God bless!

    • Suzanne says:

      Oh, thank you so much, Allison! My husband was so honored that you forwarded his little piece on! I have to admit I fell a even more in love with him after I read what he wrote. :) I am praying now for all the graces I need to homeschool when the time comes and to complete Lily’s education through high school that way.

      And, I agree, I think these families will sadly see some changes.

  8. Katherine S. says:

    I had previously posted this on the “Truly Controversial” post before I realized there was a more current discussion. I am not certain that this option had been fully discussed, but I only had time to skim the comments.
    I suggest an online public school as an alternative for those who are absolutely unable to homeschool or send their children to an orthodox catholic private school. My youngest sister is in her second year with K-12 and it has worked well for my family. The parents play an active role in the child’s education and I believe they can choose what classes their child takes (there are certain requirements that need to be filled, however). The benefits are: the parent still has a great degree of control over what their child is exposed to; the child is able to continue to learn in their home and avoid negative peer influences that public school brings; in most cases it is free and they will even send you a computer for the child to use for the online classes. The downsides that I see are: it doesn’t seem to be as intellectually rigorous as homeschooling can be, but there are many options available such as honors and AP classes; from what I have heard it takes more time to get the same amount of information; working in front of computers can be dehumanizing; although they don’t teach anything immoral, some of the classes are politically correct and have been influenced with a slight liberal slant.
    I was homeschooled from Kindergarten through 12 grade and it was a very good experience, which I would not trade for anything. That being said, homeschooling did not work well for my youngest sister, she was highly distractable and my mother was not able to give her the constant guidance she required. Schoolwork used to be a frequent source of fights for them as well. Due to our financial situation it also became prudent that my mother go back to work. My mother has said that ideally she prefers to homeschool, but that K-12 has been a good alternative for my sister.
    I just wanted to pass this along. Hope it is helpful in the discussion.

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi, Katherine — Thanks for jumping in on the conversation! I have heard of public school curriculum home education. I agree with most of the benefits and drawbacks you have pointed out. It is definitely better than sending children to a public school and allowing a host of undesirable influences in the form of “other people’s kids.” I think my biggest concern about it would be the lack of Catholic-informed perspective. I would feel compelled to pore over the content to correct errors and biases and try to fill gaps — which in the end might be more work! ;) Still, it is better than the alternative. A while back, I noticed that there is one Catholic online homeschool education company. I forget who they are and how much their materials cost. And, I know Seton Homeschool in Va. also does a lot of work creating packaged curriculums and grading home schoolers work.

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