Not all homeschoolers are Christians. But for those who are, home-centered education very much suits the Christian belief that parents have the right and the obligation to teach their own children. Whether Catholic or Protestant, home schoolers who pass on the Christian faith fulfill their duties as the first educators of their children.
Parents, says John Paul II, should educate their children because they conceived them. When parents beget children “in love and for love” they take on the responsibility of helping them to live “a fully human life.” Procreation implies education, the Pope teaches in his 1981 Encyclical, Familiaris Consortio.
Because of this link to the “transmission of human life,” the right and obligation of parents to give education cannot be usurped by others. Pope John Paul II points out the need for “other educating agents” in the community, but none of these can ever provide the parental love essential for the development of the highest virtues.
Charter of Family Rights
In the fall of 1980 the Pope with the bishops of the world met together in Rome to consider the role of the Christian family in the modern world. At the end of the meeting, the bishops presented him with a long list of proposals to protect and restore family life. Among these, the bishops called upon the Vatican to issue a Charter of the Rights of the Family. This it did in 1984.
The parents of the world need this Charter, explained Pope John Paul in Familiaris Consortio, because today “institutions and laws unjustly ignore the inviolable rights of the family.”
Article 5 of the Charter sets out the rights of parents as they pertain to education. The “original, primary and inalienable right” to educate their own children springs from procreation, explains the preamble to Article 5. All other rights derive from it.
Parents have the right to educate their children in conformity with their religious and moral convictions; they have the right to freely choose schools in keeping with their convictions; and they have the right to expect the media to reinforce family values.
The contrast between the rights parents should enjoy and the ones they actually do in western society is startling. This, the Charter acknowledges when it declares that “parents have the right to ensure that their children are not compelled to attend classes which are not in agreement with their own moral and religious convictions.”
In their understated way these phrases acknowledge the frustration many parents experience with the minor role school authorities have given them in the planning and implementation of educational policies.
Even Catholic Schools seriously fail to acknowledge parents as the foremost educators of their children, claims Ellen Blurton-Jones, a Puslinch, Ontario homeschooler.
“I’m sure there are many excellent Catholic teachers in the schools who try to follow the Second Vatican Council’s directives and guidelines for education”, she told The Interim “but even so I had to remove two of my children from their religion programs at different times and this places a burden on any child.”
The repeated emphasis in Familiaris Consortio and other papal documents on the absolute right of parents to educate their own children shows conclusively that, in the eyes of the Church, schools – including Catholic ones – are agents in what is primarily a family concern.
But some Church spokesmen seem unaware of this. Parents “should never forget that (catechism) is normally done in connection with the preparation which schools provide,” writes Rev. Msgr. Alan R. McCormack, Vice-Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Toronto to a homeschooling mother in the same city (emphasis added).
Msgr. McCormack then gainsays the teaching of his own Church on the home as the proper place for the education of the young. “Only the most exceptional parents,” he writes, “are able to ensure that Catholic education continues without the assistance…of regular daily classroom work.”
Domestic education is God’s plan, says Mary Kay Clark, founder and director of Seton Home Study School, a worldwide educational apostolate that provides instructional materials to parents from Alaska to Australia.
Citing the declarations of Popes from Leo XIII to John Paul II, Clark maintains that “the only reason Catholic parents should make use of the local Catholic school is if, in good conscience and for extremely serious reasons …. They honestly, even with supernatural graces, are not able to teach their own children.”
It is not only Christians who realize that of all the people on earth, parents best hand on religious and moral values. In John Holt’s 1987 book, Teach Your Own, a devout Muslim mother recounts how she was determined to teach her youngest child at home after the older ones were psychologically damaged by the relentlessly humanistic values of the schools they attended.
The letter that she and her husband submitted to the school superintendent before with- drawing their fourth child from kindergarten expresses the convictions of all home-schooling parents who want to pass on a living faith to their children.
“Because the religion of our family, Islam, is a complete way of life which requires that religious education go hand-in-hand with secular education, the educational needs of our children cannot be met in a normal school situation.”
The Moslem family had enrolled their youngest child in a Catholic school, hoping that it would be a significant improvement over public school. They were disappointed. Like some Catholic parents, they found that in this school, at least, religious and other learning are approached as two separate matters. The result is Christianity simply becomes another subject (and often extremely stinted) in an otherwise secular curriculum.
Seton Home Study
For some, the only workable solution is to teach the children at home, where, in the words of Pope Leo X111, “every subject taught is permeated with Christian piety.” Ontario homeschooling mother, Ellen Blurton-Jones believes in a “truly Catholic education where our Faith permeates the curriculum.”
In the first year of homeschooling, Blurton-Jones recalls, her son was delighted with new textbooks in history and science – school subjects in which religion is normally ignored or openly belittled. The book titles themselves speak volumes. History’s is “Christ the King, Lord of History;” science’s “God’s Orderly World.”
Seton Home Study School provides these and other books to Blurton-Jones and hundreds of other Catholic parents in the U.S., Canada, Ireland and Australia who want to teach at home, but feel ill-equipped to do this without some help.
Established in 1981 as a new division of the renowned Seton School of Manasses, Virginia, Seton Home Study School furnishes valuable, but” subsidiary and complementary” (Pius X1) assistance to Catholic families who have been indoctrinated with the view that education is too complicated for anyone but a skilled professional.
Clark believes that to be a suitable place for Catholic students – even if many of those students are learning at home across three continents – Seaton’s teaching and organization, its teachers and its textbooks in every subject must be governed by the Christian spirit.
Because she believes “all education, even in Math, has a religious significance, and can be Christ-centered,” Seton school has begun to write its own Catholic text books.
The Second Vatican Council reiterated church teaching on the role of parents in the education of their children: As givers of life, parents are seriously bound to educate their own children, says the Council’s Declaration on Christian Education.
It went on the charge other educating agents in society with safeguarding the rights and duties of parents as they pertain to education.
In Familiaris Consortio Pope Paul II enlarges on this commitment:
“The State and the Church have the obligation to give families all possible aid to enable them to perform their educational role properly.”
Ontario Ministry of Education
In the spring of 1988, Jake Rogers, an official with the Ontario Ministry of Education, released to homeschooling families across the province a memorandum on the subject of “assessment of instruction at home.” Called Schedule B, the memorandum was first sent to all provincial Directors of Education and came into effect march 28 of the same year.
Until the directives of Schedule B are either revoked or substantially modified, a Ministry of Education supervisor will have power to enter the home of parents who teach their own and there, if he so wishes, impose standards and values of education entirely opposed to the convictions that brought the children home in the first place.
Concurrent with these proposals for home-based education is a plan to re-define the legal meaning of “compulsory attendance.” In a confidential June 1988 memo to Lyle McBurney, Executive Director of the Ontario Association of Alternative and Independent Schools (OAASIS), Rogers recommended that new compulsory attendance legislation “change (the) wording from demanding attendance at school to ensuring attendance at and educational program – this validates public/private and home or elsewhere as potential modes of delivery.” (emphasis added)
By July 14, 1988, Roger’s compulsory attendance proposal had received the approval of official Ministry personnel, including Deputy Minister Dr. Bernard J. Shapiro. Now at the white paper stage, the proposal is being studied by a Cabinet Committee composed of Ian Scott, Elinor Caplan, Chris Ward and John Sweeney. After these Ministers make their recommendations, an amendment to the Education Act will be presented to the Ontario legislature.
Home schooling parents reading Roger’s memo might well be dismayed with its temerity. It presumes that home-based education has no value unless the Ministry authorizes it as a “mode of delivery.” “It appears that the Ministry is claiming primary responsibility for the education of the children of Ontario,” says Brian Taylor, president of the Ontario Association of Catholic Families (OACT).
Clearly the Ministry’s agenda is to acknowledge the existence of home schooling as a necessary first step towards supervising and evaluating the education given to children in their own homes. “It creates a dangerous precedent of state intervention that is not tolerable,” states Wendy Priesnitz the Ontario-based Canadian Alliance of Home Schoolers.
On the unfounded assumption that home schooling parents are either incompetent or uncaring, Schedule B grants wide-ranging powers to supervisory officers “to ensure that the child at home….is not being denied his or her right to learn the basic skills.”
These include the power to convene an introductory meeting with parents “preferably several weeks before the beginning of instruction;” to visit the child at home and discuss the effectiveness of his or her parent’s instruction; and to assess the instruction “so that appropriate adjustments may be made.”
In a July 20, 1988 letter replete with hard facts about functional illiteracy and the drop-out rates in publicly-funded schools, Ottawa home schoolers Bruce and Joyce Pringle remind Jake Rogers that parents choose to teach at home out of a profound desire to provide their children with a well-rounded education.
“Upon reflection on this situation, it’s rather hard to understand the need to assessing home schooling parents whose standards and expectations or their children are much higher” [than those of the Ontario school system], the Pringles write. The implications of Schedule B, they assert elsewhere, can only be understood as one more totalitarian encroachment on the rights of the family.
When he enumerates the ”basic expectations” of parents who instruct their children at home, Jake Rogers’ philosophy of education becomes painfully clear. If some parents want to behave as if they were professional teachers, he appears to reason, then the State is going to treat them as such.
Schedule B therefore mandates a massive bureaucratic intrusion into the lives of Ontario’s home schooling families. Parents must notify the school board that they intend to teach at home; inform the supervisor why they want to teach at home; provide the supervisor a written plan in advance of what they will teach at home; and furnish “sufficient access” for him or her to evaluate how successful the home instruction has been.
Such meddling will likely produce parent/school board disputes, and thus Schedule B provides a mechanism to resolve these. But it is the parents, significantly, who must satisfy the supervisor that their home instruction meets the ministry’s definition of what constitutes an acceptable education.
Since many homeschoolers are profoundly at odds with the religious and moral content of an “acceptable educating,” it is conceivable that in the future, the Ministry of Education will compel them to return their children to public school. And this is not an alarmist view of the situation Two years ago the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the case of Calgary pastor and schoolmaster Larry Jones that professional educators are the sole and final arbiters of an acceptable education. In the country held up as the model of enlightened social democracy, Sweden, it is illegal for parents to teach their own at home, and government officials are empowered to enter and remove children from such homes, says pro-family advocate Katerina Runske.
“Our position,” says OACF President Brian Taylor, “is that making parents accountable to the State for the fulfillment of parental responsibilities is an inversion of the social order; that the course upon which the Ministry has embarked exceeds its mandate; and that legally required home visitations by officers of the State and interviewing the child alone are an invasion of privacy whereby parents educating in their own home are subject to public scrutiny and approval.”
The state may no longer be in the bedrooms of Ontario families, but if Schedule B is entrenched in provincial law, it will most certainly be in their classrooms.