A Case for Public School (…kind of)

Question:

I’m a mom and cradle catholic who is wondering about how to school my kids. I see from your info on this blog that you attended public schools through high school. To what do you attribute your strong faith now? What people, practices of faith, challenges, shaped you into the person you are today? What would you do differently?  You also seem to have a good balance with popular culture, not shunning it altogether yet being discerning in your choices. This is an important skill to learn, because we’re social by nature and it is hard to share Christ if you’re too sheltered. Any thoughts on this aspect of being a good Catholic?

Answer:

Good question.  I will warn you…the short version of my answer to the homeschool vs. public school vs. private school question is simply: “I don’t know.”  It is something I go back-and-forth on all of the time, to be honest.  I will try to answer your questions about my specific background and we will see if that is helpful to either of us :)

Hands down, I attribute my faith to my family more than any other influence, and specifically to my parents (and of course it goes without saying that I was given such an amazing and faithful family by the grace of God).  Yes, I went to public school and no, we didn’t always get a family rosary in or memorize the Baltimore Catechism, but I never once questioned my parents’ love for Christ and His Church.  Religion wasn’t a game; and God was real.  Conviction like that demands your attention no matter how it is expressed.

For my family, it was expressed by living out the faith no matter what situation we were in.  If my sister and I had a cheerleading competition that happened to fall on Sunday, we may have had to skip out a little early and miss the awards ceremony because mass came first.  One year, we hosted an “All Hallows’ Eve” party at our house, which included listening to a portion of the Screwtape Letters on tape.  If we happened to have school on Good Friday, we would be taken out a little before noon to spend the afternoon either at service or in silence.

It wasn’t always easy; but I don’t think any path ever is.  Homeschoolers sometimes talk about feeling like they were missing out in high school when I often found myself feeling like I didn’t fit in entirely (there aren’t a whole lot of teenagers who are serious about taking their faith seriously).  Fortunately for me, that classic “rebellion against authority” phase that teenagers are often prone to often found its expression in taking pride in the fact that being a devout Catholic isn’t exactly “mainstream”.

And my parish youth group helped.  Actually, my youth group helped a lot.  And so did the fact that my parish had a blessed sacrament chapel open 24/7 to those who knew the door code…not that my parents ever let me go by myself past 6pm, but that chapel meant everything to me in high school.

Bottom line: I don’t think my parents laid out a battle plan the day my oldest brother was born and had it all figured out.  I think they followed God’s will to the best of their abilities and, for us, that ended up meaning living very much in the world, but always doing our best not to be of it.

All of that being said— I spent the past three years of my life in college getting to know some of the best people I have ever met.  Being at a small Catholic university, a good amount of them had been homeschooled.  And I’m not afraid to admit: there is a lot to love about homeschooling.

First of all: these people knew more about the faith when they were twelve than I knew going into my freshman year of college (and I was no dummy!).   Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they loved God more than I did—but they knew a lot more about Him and therefore were able to love more about Him than I could.  Maybe I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much when I was nine…but who knows?

Secondly: as a public schooler, talking to a homeschooler about the books I have read (or, um, haven’t read) can just be embarrassing (a lot of smiling and nodding along happens).  Of course, there are exceptions: homeschoolers who hate reading and public schoolers who read everything.  But by and large, homeschoolers have read the classics by age 10 and public schoolers can graduate high school with an eighth grade reading level.

When it comes down to it, there are pros and cons to everything.  If you choose to homeschool, your kids will miss out on certain things, but the same will be true if you choose to put them in public school.  There is no objectively right or wrong way here; it is just what works best for you and your family (and ultimately, what will help get your children to Heaven…because, as far as I can tell, that is why God gives people children in the first place).

So, that’s my take.  Any homeschoolers out there want to share their perspective?