A Catholic Education for Every Catholic Kid: Educational Choices

This is the second in a series of columns on the importance of giving all Catholic kids a Catholic education.  In the first column I established the foundational presumption that all Catholic kids deserve an authentic and thorough Catholic education and that parents are primarily in charge of making sure this happens.  There is a smorgasbord of school systems and approaches out there to help parents educate their children; parochial, public, private, preparatory, homeschool, charter, non-Catholic Christian, and Montessori, just to name a few.  But, which one is right for your family?  Here are four practical steps to take in making this decision.

The first step in choosing the right educational situation is to commit the decision to prayer.  Any parent with a child already in school can testify to the life-altering influence exerted over a child and therefore the entire family by school schedules, homework, co-curricular activities, and classmates.  If we open our hearts and minds to the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer, we will have much more peace during the process and about the final decision, and that decision may very well be a better one.

The second step is to make a list of our educational desires.  What do we really want for and from our children's education?  At a minimum we need to consider the opportunities for Catholic spiritual and intellectual formation, opportunities for physical and social development, intellectual rigor, tuition cost, our own child's special needs, distance from home, prospects for musical, artistic, and dramatic experiences, and whether our child will be safe.  Once our list is drawn up, we need to prioritize it, because no single school system will be capable of meeting all our desires.

The third step is to take stock of our family's assets.  These assets include time, energy, expertise, money, personal knowledge of the Catholic faith, friend and family support networks, and space in our home.  Which of these are we willing and able to invest in our child's education?

The fourth and last step is to gather information about the schools in the region by talking with families who have children in them and by visiting the schools.

 Once we have completed the first three steps, we are ready to rank each school system we visit according to our list of educational priorities.  It's completely normal to be unsure of what we want for our children's educational experiences, especially if they are just reaching kindergarten age.  In this case, it might be best to start visiting schools and talking to other families to get a sense of what is available before we make our list of educational desires.  Once we've done our research and have selected our top school, we can determine if we have and are willing to spend the time, energy, expertise, money, etc., needed to enroll our child in our top choice or if we are going to need some help.  It is important to say at this point that there is no "one-size-fits-all" educational system for every child at every grade level, and that it is okay to change systems, if need be.

Over the past twelve years five of our children (our sixth child is still developing in my womb) have been involved in seven different school systems in three different states.  These have included small Christian schools, a Catholic grade school, a public school, homeschool, and a Catholic high school.  I, myself, attended public school from kindergarten to college.  Because of this I can tell you in all honesty that there is no single perfect school system, classroom, or teacher.  It really is a smorgasbord, and parents really do have choices.  As Catholic parents our one, common factor is the responsibility to make sure the essential areas of Catholicism — heart, hand, and head knowledge of the Faith — are somehow incorporated into our children's learning.  Pairing these three types of knowledge with the developmental stages of childhood, heart and hand knowledge are the primary consideration for elementary school and head knowledge becomes increasingly important as they advance to junior high and high school.

Over the next four columns, on the basis of our family's experience, I'll try to present practical ideas for families with kids in, respectively, Catholic schools, non-Catholic grammar and middle schools, home school, and non-Catholic junior high and high schools

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  • Guest

    It would be a great benefit to your readers if you were to be able to comment on the value of "distance learning" to helping parents obtain a Catholic Education for their children.  Will Ave Maria University extend its impact by launching a distance learning program in Catholic theology, or Christian philosophy?  Will Jesuit high schools expand the reach and increase the grasp of their students by preparing them to use "distance learning " technology?  Will Catholic colleges admit change to their residency rules, sponsor and advocate change in accreditation rules, so as to make "distance learning" opportunities available to all who wish to obtain a "Catholic Education" ?

  • Guest

    I agree with you on the need for parents to make decisions to manage the education of each child.  Some Catholic schools provide very little in development of the faith.  Some parish religious education programs are truly lacking.  Ultimately my wife and I have seen is as our responsibility to make sure that our sons learn the faith.


    I think too many Catholics conveniently believe that once a child has completed high school they have been properly formed and are equipped to take responsibility for their faith.  The numbers just don’t support this belief.  Too many young Catholic adults lose their faith in college.  College is the time students start to test their independence.  I believe a sound Catholic College is an awesome way to protect your child’s salvation and to help make them champions of the faith. 


    The education choices K – 12 must be well managed by the parents.  The education choice upon graduation from high school may be the most important of all.

    Truth Is Eucharist

  • Guest

    Regarding this statement: 

     head knowledge becomes increasingly important as they advance to junior high and high school.

    I agree. Although my first two children did attend public and Catholic schools and then were homeschooled, for the past 11 years my goal has been to homeschool most of the kids through 8th grade. 

    Currently I have a child in public K-5 because we determined this was the best place for her educational and emotional development.  She'll come home next year; and we've been well satisfied thus far.  I'm homeschooling 4 other children up through 8th grade now.  (preborn and toddlers not included)

    I have two kids in public high school and one in college.  I have homeschooled 9th grade also, because that child had special needs (rigorous swimmming and piano training). However, my philosophy regarding high school kids is that they need the outside stressors and expectations of teachers other than their parents.  They need the structure and long school day provided by an institutional setting.  They need to see other kids working hard or not working hard.  They need a diverse student body.  They need to feel overwhelmed, scared, and stressed out.  They need the comraderie of team mates, group projects, and lunch room breaks.  They need the satisfaction of bringing home a stellar report card and the responsibility of getting it signed.  My husband and I believe they need to do these things within the context of family life so that we can share the experiences with them and help them process becoming an adult with all its warts and sparkles.  We don't want them overwhelmed by the college experience and not have their parents nearby for counsel.  This is the approach we're taking at this moment in time for these particular children.

    If I consider that a child should be homeschool during high school, I would  make sure to use an accredited program that kept records.  My experience has shown that a curriculum such as that will be accepted as valid, whereas a homegrown course of studies with Mom giving the  grades won't.  I do believe kids can get an excellent high school education at home, but it takes a lot of planning.  It also begs the question:  "Why are you homeschooling your high schooler."  Rectitude of intention, as with all decisions, must be properly ordered.

    Heidi, thanks for helping us keep in focus that we are integrated human beings and that our Catholic faith informs and guides our intellectual education.

  • Guest

    From where I sit — as far as the education and development of the child's Catholic faith, the schooling choice is of no consequence if the Catholic faith is not properly in the home of the child. All schools teach 2+2=4, but if mom and dad teach 2+2=5, the child will believe 2+2=5. BOTH parents must me a true witness for their child.

  • Guest

    I would agree with the above, but maybe not as extreme.  I'd say "schooling of choice is of little consequence if the Catholic faith is not properly conveyed in the home".  But since our faith is an invitation, each child will eventually decide for himself/herself reguardless of how grounded they are.  There are some great families whose children go astray.  On the other hand, the sanctity of some who come from families with little religious support is suprising.  But without a doubt, schooling is secondary.

  • Guest

    BOTH parents must be a true witness for their child.

    I wonder what St Augustine would say to that?

    Remember, the Sun is always shining!

  • Guest

    St. Augustine would say "Thank you" to the parents who give their children the gift of faith.   Yes, there can be great champions of the faith that rise from strange places… but my counsel to parents is that they are first in line when it comes to making sure their children know the faith.

    Truth Is Eucharist