As I’ve mentioned before, many if not most of the families at St F homeschooled. There was an unspoken belief among the homeschooling families that home education was the only reliably “Catholic” form of education, since the public schools had always been “anti-Catholic” and the post-Vatican II Catholic school system was untrustworthy. Numerous threads on sites like “Fish Eater Forums” and “Catholic Answers Forum” back up this view that the parents should be the primary influence on the education of their children, whether in the secular or the religious realm.
This is a far cry from the pre-Vatican II view, in which education was believed to be an activity that was shared by the entire community. In particular, priests and religious were supposed to have a special role in the formation of youth, since they were considered deputized representatives of God’s church. With the collapse of the women’s teaching orders, the vocational crisis in the priesthood, and the generalized social changes that occurred in the twentieth century (e.g., secularization, suburbanization, feminism), there aren’t enough of these “representatives” to maintain the communal form of Catholicism that was once the rule.
However, even if the teaching orders and the priesthood numbers had remained stable, I wonder if it would have made a difference for the type of people who are attracted to the idea of religious homeschooling, individuals who generally disapprove of their children being under the authority of anyone who isn’t mom and dad. When I was at St. F, the most hardcore of the homeschooling families didn’t let their children attend CCD classes, aside from First Communion and Confirmation. They didn’t trust the teachers not to veer off into heresy (however that was defined), even though the people who were attracted to a parish like St. F were automatically of a more conservative or traditional bent than those attending the more “mainstream” parishes.
I also noticed, both at St F and in the Catholic blogosphere, that the Catholic homeschooling crowd borrowed a lot from their counterparts in the Protestant quiverfull movement: a belief in militant fecundity, virulently anti-abortion, an obsession with “modesty” and the “Theology of the Skirt,” economic libertarianism, gun fetishism, courtship, a dislike of democracy, and casual (albeit cloaked) racism. The convergence of the most conservative edges of Catholicism and Protestantism explains why the Duggar family, who are Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, felt comfortable endorsing Rick Santorum during the 2012 election cycle, something that would have been inconceivable even thirty years ago (remember, many Protestant fundamentalists don’t consider Catholics to be Christians). This suggests to me that despite the claims that conservotrad Catholicism is preserving the truths and traditions of the church, it is really mixing the worst aspects of American conservatism and fundamentalist Protestantism with the most reactionary aspects of the Catholic tradition.
I recall one boy from the Confirmation class I taught at St F who seemed to have some real problems with reading comprehension, writing, and concentration. He seemed to be a sweet kid, but could have really used some help from a tutor and possibly a diagnosis from a psychologist. His mother said that she herself had been a terrible student at school, which caused me to think, “If you were so bad at school, why are you homeschooling?” Yet, I have no doubt that this mother believed that she was a good teacher and that her pedagogy was teaching him how to be a “good Catholic.” The idea that parents should be responsible for teaching their children everything, from religion to advanced math, stems from the equally erroneous view that anyone can be a good teacher as long as they have the will to do so. Religious homeschooling simply takes the dismissive attitude that most Americans have towards the teaching profession and takes it to its most logical conclusion.
I am extremely skeptical that religious homeschooling does an adequate job in educating children to be productive members of twenty-first century society. The primary objective in religious homeschooling is to indoctrinate children in a total religious environment where they will never be exposed to a dissenting opinion, where academic achievement and critical thinking takes a backseat to cultivating piety. Religious homeschoolers have done a good job in removing much of the government oversight for home education, which is great for parents, and terrible for children who may be denied a proper education. I think that the assumption of many lawmakers is that white, religiously conservative, middle class people can be trusted to do what’s best for their children, that’s not true:
For the reader who is interesting in a more in-depth critique of religious homeschooling, I would direct them to the Love, Joy, Feminism blog, which is written by a survivor of quiverfull/evangelical homeschooling (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/). From what I’ve been able to tell, many of her points can be equally applied to Catholic homeschooling, as well.