Because I did not grow up in a traditional parish system, complete with schools connected to the parish you attend, I don’t naturally have affection for parochial schools.  I am well aware of the good that they did and continue to do, especially in providing halfway decent education to inner-city children in a few places.  I also know, however, that today they are (perhaps more often than we admit) college prep schools bent on the ruthless philosophies of global economics and secular ends.  Drained of Catholic fervor and identity, they are prestige bought at all sorts of high costs, just without the highest cost of the cross.

Researcher Christian Smith has shown that Catholic schooling has only a slight effect on whether or not one stays Catholic through college.  His book shows, as Thomas Baker put it, that it seems as if even if you do everything “right”, there’s a 50/50 chance that your kids will stay Catholic.

As a father, I bet the salvation, happiness, wisdom, and economic security of your children are important (not equally of course).  If that’s so, doing the same old thing just isn’t going to cut it when it comes to education.  Rethinking school is a big part of that.  What, then, should we do?

The homeschool movement was and is an obvious answer.  It is not the only one and not for everyone, but we have found tremendous value in it.

The first and greatest problem, however, is that families don’t realize that they are an “imperfect society”, even though the family is the foundation of society as a whole.  A perfect society can reach the ends it is made for.  The Church, for example is a society that has the full means to reach the ends of salvation.  The state, as a society, also has the means to reach its ends of political order (believe it or not…).  The family, on the other hand, is incomplete without community.  If your daughter is called for marriage, she cannot marry in the family.  There is a requirement for other imperfect families to offer sons so that, collectively, they reach the greater perfection of society as a whole through fruitful marriage. This problem means that homeschooling can tend inward toward isolation without the needed input from community.  Please do not confuse this with the cliche charge of homeschool kids needing “socialization,” which is a charge I consistently find flat and false.  What I mean is that the literal (and good) isolation of the home needs appropriate influence and input from outside of itself in an experience of the corporality – bodily-ness – of Christianity and society.

The other biggest problem with homeschooling is the absence of fathers.  I recently received a catalogue for curriculums that presumed the absence of a father, because all of the articles, commentary, and marketing were explicitly directed to mothers.  For boys especially, this can become a disaster.  As boys grow into early, mid, and late adolescence, they have a greater and greater need for the guided adventure into wisdom and experience that is possible only under the eye of fathers.  It is not that mothers don’t give what they can; it’s just that they cannot give masculinity.  We fathers often forget that true education is for the whole person, which means it is not optional that the father be a part of education – he is whether he knows it or not.  The question is, do you realize it?

Mothers give countless lessons and are indispensable for the formation of healthy men, but they cannot give what they do not have, so they cannot give the gift of masculinity.  This comes from men as a gift to sons.  You need mothers to give gentleness; you need fathers to give manliness; and this comes together to form the complete gentleman.

If this is so, we fathers need to be involved with teaching.  But given the economic reality of the home, it is probably unreasonable for him to “teach” since he is gone during the hours of schooling, and often very burdened with that work because homeschool families are often single income families.  And, really, do men and boys need to be inside another minute these days?  But this is a failure to understand what education is and what a father has to offer naturally (i.e. without grinding through worksheets).  Here are three very important things fathers can do:

I. Read to your young children and play with them.

Schools today are a huge barrier to true education, because they have reduced wisdom to the retention of facts     to get employed and make money.  This very idea is the antithesis of wisdom.  Fathers often believe it, however, and think that to “educate” they need to upload some sort of data to their children.  What is more important is that fathers help to form, especially in the early years, the imagination of their children.  From the experience of the imagination through play and stories children extrapolate universal truths that they learn to recognize as part of the very order of the cosmos – the dragon slayer teaches us there is evil to conquer; the game of cops and robbers shows that justice shall be rendered; restrained wrestling shows that strength is directed and tempered.

I united play and reading here because these two things can feed each other.  Read to the children at night, and when you get a moment “engage” the narrative in game form as an experience – “Look John!  A dragon!  Let us pursue him lest he eat mama!”  It is amazing how quickly kids will kick into gear for such a game.  Let the stories and experience sync in, don’t try to beat a “moral” out of every story.  The word “school” is related to both “leisure” and “play”, so reading and playing in your free time is a form of school, and you don’t need flash cards or worksheets for it to be worthwhile. Your child has a mind and he will ruminate on the truths in a story without someone mining “useful” morals from them.  Read them, discuss them if it comes up, and let them color the atmosphere of your homeschool – don’t force-feed “lessons” using stories as the utility that gets the “job” done.

II. Work with your son.

Your son needs the wisdom you have gained over the years.  But you can’t just tell it to him.  You probably couldn’t formulate it into words.  What you can do, however, is to model it by doing it, inviting your son alongside you.  Wrestling with and engaging the physical world is how we receive lessons in relating to the people and things that surround us.  This gains importance as your sons get older – the wisdom gained in play and narrative is seen in the practical realities of life.

III. Do things with other fathers and sons.

Working and playing alongside other men gives the added benefit of concretizing the universal lessons of the father by showing in a diversity of ways the way to apply those universals.   Again, the father is the most important model in a boy’s life, but he can’t be the only one.  A variety of mentors and experience with other dads is critical as sons move from play in younger years, to work in older, and on into being initiated fully into the world and work of men.

If you thought “getting involved” with the homeschool meant “teaching a class”, you probably overvalue the value of curriculums and undervalue your own influence.  As a man – complete with your successes and failures – you have wisdom that your children cannot possibly have, because they lack experience.  And these 3 simple things literally upset the greatest threat to the homeschool idea. Until children begin to grow in wisdom through the interplay of their thinking and experience, they have to “borrow” yours.  But, really, it’s not borrowing.  It’s the gift you have to give.  Don’t leave them to feed on the manufactured un-reality of the world’s online “experiences.”  These three things are tangible and real ways you can give yourself in love as only a father can.  It is how you help guide them into the world of danger and beauty.  Your role in education is bigger than you know, and you can be confident that no textbook, program, or worldly nonsense could ever take your place.  Unless you let it.

  • Michael Radigan

    I have to agree with Chad Sweeney, this is first article of yours I fundamentally disagree with in terms of your characterization of Catholic education – you are incorrect in your unsubstantiated analysis of the 5 million plus kids (or more) who benefit just from BEING in a Catholic school. You want dads and sons together? Everything from Troops of St George to what’s left of the Boy Scouts to sports and academic teams to sacraments to service activities to real literature, male role models and the Crucifix. I have been a teacher – principal at some of those “elitist” (definition being?) who provide 95% tuition coverage to poorer students yet give them opportunities no home schooler has access to…normally. I’ll take a mediocre Catholic school over a mediocre home school over a “good” (whatever that means) public?private school. Read the bishop’s, John Paul’s remarks to Catholic teachers, and the Coleman reports, to start with..the major difference, the prize?? Catholic community – as the gospels preach. Yes, every other suggestion is good which you made, on target – even better within a Catholic school setting. The best Catholic home schools, by the paucity of info available, are the co-ops…especially where no catholic school is available. Don’t trade the brilliance of your insights for a foolish bias. HEY MEN; DADS: get involved at your Catholic school and Church – take kids to work, be a mentor, read to a class AND your own kids…Or were St. Don Bosco, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Francis Regis crazy (fortunately, yes) My nephew is now attending an “elite” (wait, isn’t our faith handed down from Christ through St. Peter elite/) co-divisional Jesuit High School in Aurora CO, an impossibility his Haitian parents never would have dreamed of…at a 95% tuition reduction. “All for God: men and women in service to God and others” is the motto – and men, you could join the prayer warriors (BATTLE READY, as Doug Barry would say) for the sports teams, among countless other things you will be asked to build strong Catholic young men. You could go to daily mass with the SCHOOL LEARNING COMMUNITY.,not just a couple kids.Question – how is home school curricula – albeit some excellent – better than well educated Catholic men and women teaching similar but tried and true curricula? Ever met a salesman at a Catholic home school fair, even if he’s from the St. Pius X group? My point is that Dads were everywhere in my schools and at my nephew’s – some by compulsion, but they were surprised by success – and they should have multiple options to witness to the faith. By the way, 4 years at Notre Dame, or EWTN’s Steubenville favorite (mostly kids from Catholic High Schools) statistically, those kids will practice the faith and raise their kids in the faith. Why? Catholic community and family involvement. Oh, read the Grimm’s fairy tales to your kids – the real ones, along with the saints and Narnia, they’re thinly veiled bible stories,especially if they get bible stories too – at home and at school. Dr. Michael Radigan, Notre Dame ’81; St. Mary’s High School ’77…Holy Rosary kindergarten ’66

  • JMC

    My father had a habit of making a running commentary about whatever he was doing, whether it was measuring lumber or nailing up wallboard (he was a carpenter by trade and built the house we eventually lived in), mowing the lawn, or going for a drive (that commentary included remarks on what we saw around us, why he did certain things when driving, or why certain things we saw other drivers do were or were not good things to do behind the wheel). At the time, we thought he was just venting his thoughts. But later, after we were grown up and doing these things ourselves, we would suddenly realize how much he taught us by his words alone. You really can learn by osmosis!

  • Aldo Elmnight

    90% of Catholic Schools are not Catholic. The percentage is higher when we look at universities.

  • Aldo Elmnight

    Some additional advice can be found in Fr. Ripperger’s video “How to Raise a Man”:

  • Jason Craig

    Chad. Thanks for the comment. In many places fathers are forced by the de-Catholicizing of Catholic schools to seek alternatives if their Catholicism is, in fact, of the highest importance. I am glad that you seem to be in a good situation and if that is so it solves the “problems” with homeschooling I mentioned. However, the research shows that by and large they play little role in keeping kids Catholic, can be impossible for larger families due to cost, and basically not worth it. BUT, there are entire diocese where schools are orthodox, affordable, and an obvious choice for serious Catholics. Articles tend to have sweeping generalizations due to limitations, and we can’t avoid offending any and all (nor should we try), so I hope you can glean what you can and toss what is not applicable away.

    In Christ,
    Jason Craig

    • Cameron M

      Entire dioceses that offer that orthodoxical and orthopraxical education? I wonder where those are. I’m interested in the Catholic liberal arts schools that seem to be slowly popping up.
      My wife are actually considering homeschooling for many reasons, but primarily to protect our children from the filth that is public education. We straight up can’t afford Catholic schooling, but I know some schools offer various types of assistance. We’ll need to look into it.
      Catholic schools today simply aren’t what they were 50 years ago, and it’s sad that they’re not keeping children Catholic.. so what is the point?

    • th3rdsurfer

      Jason – Thank you for the critique of Catholic schools. I am a Catholic school administrator, and I notice the tendency you mentioned of some schools to be preparatory academies rather than institutions devoted to the Truth, beauty, and goodness of our Catholic faith. Could it be that our Catholic schools do not have enough holy men? Our school is a great and holy place (or at least we constantly strive to be)–but we are so blessed to have multiple holy priests, numerous faithful male teachers, and great parish ministry programs to form and nurture the development of our students into young men and women for God.

      • subo

        All three of our children were educated in Catholic schools. The class that was typically taught by the coach of a team was Religion. There was never a degree holding theologian instructing them which disappointed us since it is a critical time of development when questioning typically emerges. Fortunately they all attend mass regularly as adults and only one questions the faith at times.

      • Catholic Dad

        Friend in the heart of the battle, where I am from, which is [not] considered to be an overly liberal diocese, Catholic student’s are given the “option” for daily mass or in some cases have no daily Mass. Children are instructed [not] to kneel or even genuflect throughout the School Mass. There are plenty of divorced and civilly remarried teachers and some teachers whom the students know are in active same sex relationships. Sports uniforms are scandalous and the list goes on…

        Sadly, for these reason’s I can not even consider the Diocesan Catholic schools for my children…. The state I live in would even pay for my large family to attend cost free through a voucher program, but we still wouldn’t risk our kids exposure. It’s a sad state of affairs… I hope things are better at the Catholic school you administer.

  • Catholic Dad

    Good Article. I agree with Al below. Here are some more thoughts on keeping kids Catholic:
    I. Homeschool or Faithful Catholic School/Academy (very rare)
    II. *Reverent* Daily Mass, Enthronement, Home Altar, Family Rosary, Feast Day’s, etc.
    III. A humble, reverent, and non effeminate dad (not perfect mind you…)
    IV. Your Priest should emulate a walking Saint. If he’s not, drive until you find one who is… What are your wife and kids souls worth? For most of us an extra 30-45 minute drive?
    Saintly Priest = Holy people
    Holy Priest = Good people
    Good Priest = :- /

    • I’m starting to learn that the greatest threat to our society and the church is the increase in effeminacy. I really had no idea how much we’ve lost and what true masculinity looked like until I started listening to some talks by Fr. Ripperger on YouTube. We men need to learn how to demonstrate sacrifice and virtue.

      • Catholic Dad

        Andrew, a few years ago a friend introduced me to Fr. Rippergers sermon on effeminacy and I have been hooked ever since. If we can each get ten other Catholic men to listen to the sermon, the world will be a better place!

  • I would add, pray with them and bring them to mass daily (if possible). The family rosary is key.