(LifeSiteNews) — I never in a million years thought my kids would be homeschooled. I wasn’t homeschooled and I grew up thinking homeschooling was weird and made no sense. I went to Catholic schools and always assumed my kids would as well.
My parents, like many parents, made major sacrifices to pay for Catholic school tuition (preschool through high school, and I later attended law school at a Catholic university). I had a dramatic conversion in my early 20s and started taking my faith seriously for this first time. It was only then that I began to realize that even the good Catholic schools I attended didn’t teach me the true faith. It was watered down; there were terrible things being taught; we had heterodox teachers; very bad (and pervasive) influences at school – and these things did great damage to my soul – even though I had loving, faithful parents.
Unfortunately, Catholic schools where I live have only gotten worse, not better (with very few exceptions). It was only by God’s grace that I found my way back to the faith – and after much spiritual harm. I later realized that I wanted a better path for my kids; I couldn’t assume that things would eventually work out for them like they did for me. To be sure, some of the harm I experienced could have been prevented by other means while I stayed at a Catholic or even public school – tighter supervision/limits and more oversight in certain matters – but it would have been very difficult, and much more so these days with currents trends in social media and cell phone use. I eventually learned about a much better option, at least for my family.
A friend and mentor once asked: What do we value more – that our kids make it into Harvard, or that they make it into heaven? Sure, it’s nice to think that they will make it into both – and that is certainly possible. But his question raised a valid point: Far too many good Catholic and Christian families prioritize education way higher than they prioritize their children’s spiritual formation. After all is said and done, and your kid gets into the Ivy League college, what good is it if they have lost their faith?
Unfortunately, that is an all-too-common scenario, as recent studies plainly show. And that was my story: I attended some of the best schools and universities, and I achieved “success” in the narrow, academic and worldly sense – but not in the broader sense that matters to God, which is infinitely more important. Homeschooling offers a path that more parents should prayerfully discern: one that will allow your child to get into a great college or university (ideally one of the top ten on the Cardinal Newman Guide) with a much stronger spiritual and even intellectual foundation.
The homeschool movement is growing fast, but there are still many misconceptions. There are a thousand ways to homeschool successfully. Some families are less structured, while others (like ours) follow a strict curriculum.
What convinced us to homeschool early on was meeting kids who had been homeschooled. Back in 2011, I was asked to judge a homeschool debate tournament for high schoolers, and I was blown away. They were so intelligent, confident, and well-rounded. As I met others in the homeschool world, I quickly realized that it wasn’t just a family here or there – it was most of them. They also had great bonds with their siblings and parents. We would often meet large families with confident, loving, faithful children that would kneel during an entire Rosary. My wife and I were amazed at how doable it was, too. We prayed a lot about it, and we read a lot of great books (like Catholic Home Schooling by Mary Kay Clark). My wife loved that homeschooling was a vocation, in some ways a chosen cross, that would be challenging but also greatly rewarding as we try with God’s grace to raise our children as saints. The plan from the beginning was to take it one year at a time (starting with preschool) and see how it went – and it’s probably been one of the best decisions, if not the best, we made as a family. I could write a book about how it has blessed our family.
You don’t have to spend a ton of money to do it well. In fact, it’s a great way to give your kids a fine education at a fraction of the cost of private school, while ensuring they’re not corrupted by the rotten public school system. But if you can afford private school, you can use some of that money to enrich your homeschool further. We pay for the kids to be enrolled in a solid classical curriculum that provides a ton of resources (Mother of Divine Grace). The purpose of the classical curriculum is to train the imagination in the art of learning – teaching the child how to think instead of memorizing and forgetting as can often be the case in brick-and-mortar schools; the child then can use his tools to master any subject that interests him. Some of the benefits of being enrolled in MODG include maintaining transcripts, offering a facilitator to help tailor the curriculum to the families’ needs, offering online classes for many classes such as Latin, private math tutors, and providing regular training classes for parents taught by the founder, Laura Berquist.
We’ve done other things to expand the homeschool experience for our kids and make it easier on my wife (although you don’t have to do any of this, and you can still have a phenomenal homeschool): weekly music lessons at home (piano and harp); fitness/sports/PE classes (currently, weekly tennis lessons and PE, but the kids have done other sports and martial arts as well); we are enrolled in a local homeschool co-op where the kids get together once a week for more learning and fun with other kids; we have a mother’s helper to help at home with the little kids and other errands; we also have extra help cleaning the home; and we invested in building a new school room – and it was a very smart investment. We joke and say that we didn’t like the options, so we built our own school. The truth is that all you need is love, time, and dedication, and you can homeschool your kids on the living room sofa or nook table. There are endless reasons to homeschool – especially these days. We started back when our first child was born.
There is a common misconception that homeschoolers don’t know how to socialize with others. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The opportunities for socializing are endless. Homeschoolers are not stuck in a classroom with children their same age; instead, they are surrounded by their siblings of all different ages and can learn how to take care of a baby or speak well to the grocery store clerk. Many communities have local homeschool groups. My wife joined the local homeschool group where we live, which offers monthly mom meetings for support, and a variety of activities for the kids, such as poetry recitation, sports leagues, science fairs, mission presentations, talent shows, Little Flowers and Blue Knights groups, feast day celebrations, dance class, chess clubs, summer beach days, works of mercy, summer camps, camping trips, retreats for mothers, and the list goes on. Parents are actively involved and can form any group or activity that they think would be helpful or fun for the community. The possibilities are endless, and these are just some examples.
Our kids have the best friends in our homeschool group – kids who inspire them and encourage them – and they see them often at homeschool and church events, and the friends my wife and I have made through homeschooling are the best people: so generous, loving, and joyful.
These are not normal times. Our youth are suffering from a serious and rapidly worsening mental health crisis. Times like these require thinking outside the box. We were convinced – and remain convinced – that homeschooling was the best option for our family given the limited options. Unless you really have no other choice, public schools are not a legitimate option for serious Christians and anyone that understands the government’s dark agenda (at least in places like California). And even the best private schools can’t offer the full range of possibilities and benefits of homeschooling. Of course, homeschooling is not the only way to raise good kids. Some of the best people I know attended public schools. And many of our friends are raising amazing children and sending them to Catholic schools. But they are the exceptions – and these are different times.
Homeschooling is not for everyone, and it certainly has its challenges and limitations. But I do think more people should prayerfully discern homeschooling – especially in places like California.
Some benefits we have experienced include:
- A better education. Yes, that is true and proven by standardized test scores. Lots of data supports this. Speaking of data, the stats show innumerable other benefits as well. As the kids get older, they often engage in more independent study. They can go at their own pace. We can spend more time with some kids on a subject that’s tough, and we can let a very advanced child go faster. We’ve noticed that our children have developed a love for learning – which is priceless.
- Closer family bonds. The siblings develop a unique and lasting bond. They still fight of course 😊, but they develop a special bond that can be largely lost when they attend school.
- Parents have more authority at home since they are not relying on teachers to educate their children. Many homeschool families report closer bonds between parents and children – something that is critical, especially during the teenage years.
- Children get to build a strong foundation when they are young. They are not “sheltered” as people sometimes claim; they are raised in a solid environment early on when they are most impressionable, so they can have the foundation they need to not only survive, but to thrive and be a light shining in a very dark and confused world (as opposed to being sucked into the darkness like we tragically see so often).
- Much more flexibility with field trips, daily Mass, vacations, family pilgrimages, meals, hobbies – the list goes on.
- No government mandates – vaccines, etc.
- Education without indoctrination. Tragically, even Catholic schools suffer from this. They get to be kids – explore, have fun, and not be force-fed a government agenda.
- The parents get to be around for some of the most profound and beautiful moments with their children – watching and helping them learn and grow – instead of shipping them off and wasting hours commuting.
Homeschooling is more than an education option. It’s a lifestyle – and one that can help you and your children grow not only in intelligence but also – and more importantly – in holiness. I know that it has made me a better person. And even though our kids are far from perfect, my wife and I are very proud of them and happy with the direction they’re heading (although we realize that we still have a lot of work to do with critical years ahead).
This path is one that I would have quickly brushed off as crazy – until I learned more about it and then gave it a try. I’m now convinced that some of our strongest leaders, in the Church and in society, will emerge from the homeschool movement. These kids are incredible, and I pray that this movement continues to grow exponentially.
Here is the homeschool Mission Statement my wife and I made way back when we started homeschooling:
Our Mission is to cultivate a love for God and a love for learning in a loving, supportive, and virtuous environment, and to thereby raise saints and scholars who can respond to God’s call with confidence, perseverance, and aptitude.
Some of the books that have helped my wife in this journey are Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist, A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot, and Real-Life Homeschooling by Rhonda Barfield. More about the classical curriculum can be found here.
Paul M. Jonna is a partner with LiMandri & Jonna LLP and special counsel to the Thomas More Society. His law practice focuses on complex civil litigation, including high-profile constitutional litigation and religious liberty cases. He is a three-term president of the San Diego Chapter of Legatus, and he also serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of Catholic Answers. Paul and his wife Rena are married with seven children and their eighth on the way.