The Vatican Comes Out in Support of Homeschooling

As homeschooling grows the pushback from educationists (professional educators who feel mandatory education is necessary for everyone’s salvation) is getting stronger. There is concern that children learning at home won’t find their place in our modern economy because their parents aren’t teaching them math properly, or that homeschoolers are creating an “I got mine, you get yours” tribal culture that undermines democracy, and so on. Of course, such handwringing by educationists neglects the vast numbers of homeschoolers who have been active for decades in our economy and democracy, as well as the large numbers of children in school who do not learn math, or families who send their children to exclusive private schools and colleges so they will be with “their peers,” and not the general public.

It is fascinating, therefore, to read an affirmation from the leaders of the Catholic Church for institutional and governmental respect for people to choose when, where, how, and from whom they will learn. A Statement by the Holy See Delegation of the United Nations (April 24, 2012) claims the

delegation has noticed a disconcerting trend, namely, the desire on the part of some to downplay the role of parents in the upbringing of their children, as if to suggest somehow that it is not the role of parents, but that of the State. In this regard it is important that the natural and thus essential relationship between parents and their children be affirmed and supported, not undermined.

 The Statement largely reaffirms Catholic Church teachings, so it is quite specific about defining the family as an “indissoluble union between man and woman,” supporting greater investments in education to enroll more children in school, and ensuring obedience: “Parents must cooperate closely with teachers, who, on their part, must collaborate with parents.” What’s the difference between “must cooperate closely” and “must collaborate?” There seems to be an unequal footing that keeps teachers firmly in the driver’s seat in this formulation, but we’ll only know how this works out in practice over time.

However, for Catholics and non-Catholics, this section caught my attention not just because of the questions it begs, but also because of its support for homeschooling:

As affirmed in international law, States are called to have respect for the freedom of parents to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions which equally applies to their right to make judgments on moral issues regarding their children (cf., e.g., UDHR, Article 26, 3, ICESCR, Article 13, 3, and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Article 12, 4). There are about 250,000 Catholic schools around the world. The Catholic school assists parents who have the right and duty to choose schools inclusive of homeschooling, and they must possess the freedom to do so, which in turn, must be respected and facilitated by the State. Parents must cooperate closely with teachers, who, on their part, must collaborate with parents.

By linking homeschools to private schools, the Vatican affirms the importance of choice in education as being more than just choosing how to learn to read, write, and calculate. The Vatican ends this statement with a paragraph that I find echoes the unschooling ethos in particular, namely that the learner should be at the center of all “development concerns” (“development,” as Illich so often notes, is an incredibly loaded term, but I’ll save that for another day) and that young people should be recognized for their contributions to society.

An authentic rights based approach to development places the human person, bearing within him or her infinite and divine inspirations, at the center of all development concerns, and thus respects the nature of the family, the role of parents, including their religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds, and affirms the contribution that young people can and do make to their community and society (cf., ICPD Programme of Action, Chapter II). The more the countries recognize this, the more they will be able to put into place policies and programmes that advance the overall wellbeing of all persons.

It is good for homeschooling to have a powerful, international ally that supports diverse religious, ethical, and cultural backgrounds as a model to strengthen society, rather than the economy-driven, one-size-fits-all (unless you can afford a better one), educationist model. Homeschooling, as this Statement shows, creates mixed alliances that we should build and nurture as best we can, because the juggernaut of mandatory continuing education as a requirement for participating in society shows no signs of stopping anywhere in the world.

To read the Statement in its entirety, click on this link.