Bishop David D. Kagan’s Latest Pastoral Letter
Bp. Kagan of the Bismarck Diocese has issued a Pastoral Letter on Catholic Education, which can be found on the diocesan website. (Click HERE for it.)
I was asked if I might offer my thoughts on his letter, which is divided into a Preface, Introduction, Parts 1,2, & 3, and a Conclusion. I will comment, but am limiting myself to Part 1, as this is the section most of you are interested in.
If you haven’t read the entire letter yet, it would be helpful to do so first.
Part One: Catholic ‘Home Schooling’
The first six paragraphs of Part One speak of the historicity of the homeschool movement in the Bismarck Diocese. There is nothing shocking here. In fact, he has some kind and truthful things to say about it all.
The last 4 paragraphs, however, get a little interesting, as Bp. Kagan details what he perceives as 4 weaknesses of homeschooling.
Bp. Kagan: 4 Weaknesses of Homeschooling
1. Bp. Kagan begins with, “First, given the excellence of our own Catholic schools the real necessity for Catholic families to home school in my judgment is not as necessary as it may have been years ago.”
In other words, he thinks that years ago, one may have had a good reason to homeschool, based on the condition of Catholic schools at that time, but now, however, Catholic schools are better. So, it’s not “as” necessary, in his opinion.
What’s really going here, in any case, is that some people truly don’t understand why one might choose to homeschool, and so sometimes it’s assumed that homeschoolers are against Catholic, diocesan schools. But all the homeschoolers I know are actually glad that these schools exist. For they do provide an important mission in the daily life of the Church. They are a good thing after all. We want them to succeed.
However, most of us have discerned as parents that homeschooling is the best option for our particular families, for a multitude of reasons. Maybe we have a child with a learning disorder. Maybe we enjoy traveling and the flexibility homeschooling provides. Maybe we think it is important for our families to be together.
Personally for our family, and among other reasons, it primarily comes down to our philosophy of education. We are attempting a traditional, classical approach to education, which is just not an option here in this diocese. And we have access to excellent curriculums and online classes.
For example, I’ve often spoken of Classical Academic Press, which we’ve found to exemplify this philosophy. If anyone is curious about what we’re attempting to do, click HERE for a short philosophy of classical education and how it differs from what is typically available in diocesan schools.
If you want more, I’d suggest reading Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education and Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education.
2. Bp. Kagan goes on with his weaknesses to say, “Second, there is a real advantage for children at an early age to see and learn from other Catholic adults and children their own age what they have already seen and learned from their parents.”
In this second point, he argues that it is necessary for children to be around other people’s children and parents in order to learn properly and be well-rounded.
There are two ways to look at this. One, Bp. Kagan could be promoting the whole “anti-social” argument that most homeschoolers face all the time, which says that because our children learn at home, we’re necessarily socially awkward.
This just isn’t true, however, and studies would prove otherwise. For statistics and a great article on homeschooling and socialization from the Washington Times, click HERE.
Secondly, and if you read his statement closely, most homeschoolers would actually agree with Bp. Kagan here. It’s just that he’s probably unaware of all the activities that many of us are involved in. For example, many families are in rosary groups, wherein entire families gather together to pray the rosary weekly and then have fellowship. Many of us are involved in PE programs. Many homeschool families gather together to do projects, sports, music, whatever.
The point is, most of us don’t sit at home with our doors locked, shaking in fear lest our children interact with other children or adults. Rather, we enjoy being around other Catholic families and in fact make it a priority.
3. His third weakness states, “…the more Catholic families desire that faithful and robust Catholic education for their children and make use of our Catholic schools, the stronger the Catholic culture of our schools and parishes become.”
In other words, Bp. Kagan wants our children in the Catholic schools because then the schools would be stronger. I’ve heard this argument many times, and maybe we ought to just consider it a compliment. He must think we’d have something positive to offer the schools after all.
I would point out, however, that our children would not be who they are without the formation they have had at home.
As far as parishes go, all the homeschool families I know are very active in varying parish ministries. In fact, I can’t think of a single homeschool family that isn’t involved in their parish life.
4. Bp. Kagan concludes his discussion of “home school weaknesses” with a note on other people’s perception of us. He says, “Often enough I have heard from other Catholic parents and even some priests that families who home school do so because they think our Catholic schools are not Catholic enough when it comes to the teaching of religion…I do not know how widespread this perception may be but it does not serve well those who have chosen homeschooling for their children.”
It would seem that he’s accusing us of being guilty of how other people perceive us. But I’m not sure we can help what others may or may not think of us, especially if they are unwilling to dialogue with us.
I can’t help it if people want to assume I’m a Catholic school detractor. I can only say, I’m not.
In the end, maybe we ought to invite Bp. Kagan to come have a look at our “schools?” This might help shed some light on the modern homeschool movement. In particular, it might be helpful if he understands that most of us are not rejecting Catholic, diocesan schools, but rather are choosing another form of an authentically Catholic education.
An Open Invitation to Bishop Kagan
Bp. Kagan, we first of all thank you for your dedication to our diocese. Please know that you are always in our prayers, and our family welcomes you to visit our home and our school any time.