A Case for Public School...Kind Of

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On my blog, YoungAndCatholic.net, I often get questions from mothers asking my opinion on how to keep their kids Catholic.  Hands down, the question I get most is about schooling.  Catholic school, public school, or homeschool?  While I can’t say what is right for everyone on the topic, I do have my own theories.  From the 21-year-old youngest of five faithful, practicing, and public-schooled Catholics, here is my case for public school…kind of.

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 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).

Copyright 2011 Mary Lane

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2 Comments

  1. Cynthia Ann Costello on

    Mary,
    Thanks for this article which is timely for me. I am a mom who has homeschooled only through 8th grade because my husband taught at the local public high school. My husband just became principal of that same school, and we have an 8th grader ( our 4th child). I am really trying to pray through this one because a lot in me wants to homeschool high school this time. Will you say a little prayer for us? Thanks, and thanks for your witness – it is so refreshing from someone young and happy to be Catholic!
    Cynthia Costello

  2. Thanks for this post; I think you are right on! We have 3 young children, the oldest having now been in public school, homeschool, AND Catholic School for one year each. Especially with being a military family frequently moving (currently in Guam), we have found there is just not a one-size-fits-all definitive answer to which is better. And so we’ve had to adjust for each child, for each situation, for each location we’ve lived and we’ll continue to re-evaluate whenever we must. So I like what you said about your parents “following God’s will to the best of their ability”: sometimes that’s all we can do! 🙂

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