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By Deacon Keith Fournier

3/9/2012 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

All parents are home school parents because they are the first teachers and family is the first school

At Baptism I exhort the parents "You are the first teachers of your children in the ways of faith. May you also be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what you say and do." At the heart of the  teaching of the Church on the Christian family is it's educating mission. 


By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (

3/9/2012 (3 years ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: Home School, parental choice, school choice, education, homeschooling, Deacon Keith Fournier

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - I was recently asked why Catholic Online does not have more articles about Home Schooling. The fact is we have written many - and we would welcome many more. The Home School movement is a great gift to the whole Church. However, with this article I want to consider an underlying truth about the fundamental role of parents in educating children. Because, understood properly, we come to see that all parents are homeschoolers. Let me explain.  

As a deacon of the Church I am an ordinary minister of Baptism. At each Baptism I exhort the parents during the Rite, "You are the first teachers of your children in the ways of faith. May you also be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what you say and do." At the heart of the  teaching of the Church on the Christian family as a domestic church is it's educating mission. The home is the first school.

It is because of this that I can say that all parents are "home school parents". Some choose to share that educational mission with others outside of the home as their children mature. When they do, those partners in the educational mission should look first to the parents, not to a bloated federal bureaucracy.

My wife and I raised five children. We now have six grandchildren, one of whom we are helping to raise in our home. We never officially "home schooled". Instead, we chose to extend our teaching mission by empowering others, both in parochial schools and public schools, to assist us in fulfilling our primary educational mission.

However, all parents are "home school parents". Some choose to share that educational mission with others outside of the home as their children mature. There is no conflict between supporting parochial schools and supporting home schooling.

Any controversy or competition between homeschooling parents and supporters of Catholic education is mistaken. It must be dealt with quickly before it undermines the vital teaching of the Church on the primary role of parents in the education of their children and confuses the faithful. We need every home school and every good parochial school, private academy and solid public school we can get! 
There was a widely accepted doctrine which was the polestar of educational law for many years that teachers act in loco parentis - a Latin phrase meaning on behalf of the parents. Sadly, we have lost our way and are increasingly usurping the vital role of parents.  The very origins of what became the "public" school system in our Nation began with families pooling resources in small community schools.  We need to reconsider our history to chart our future.  

Some who oppose "school choice" or, more properly "parental choice" in education are entrenched in the current federalized educational bureaucracy and the culture which fuels it. Increasingly people of every walk of life will admit the obvious, our educational system is broken. I write as an ardent supporter of "Parental Choice in Education."

I am not against government.Because I advocate for  limited government and the application of the principle of subsidiarity, it is too often assumed that I am "anti-government". That is not the case. I insist that we remember that government begins in the family. Any good governance beyond the family must defer to the first government of the family and follow the social ordering and good governance principle of subsidiarity.  That principle reminds us that good government is bottom up, not top down, deferring first to the smallest governing unit; not usurping but empowering and helping families.

The current overly federalized approach to education in the United States is failing. Statistics and experience confirm the obvious. It is time for a change and parental (school) choice is the change that is needed. It means affirming again, as a matter of public policy and legislation, that Parents are the ones who should be able to make the choice of how to best extend their own teaching mission outside of the home.

The proper role of Federal, State or Local Government is to support, NOT USURP, the first government in the home. Rather than focus on the word "School" - which is then used to arouse a "public" school vs. "private" school debate - we should use the phrase "Parental Choice".  After all, it is Parents who are the first teachers of their children and the family is the first school. This is where the policy debate should focus.

Those of us who support school choice should watch our language. We are not against government. We simply maintain that government begins in the family. Good governance recognizes the first government of the family and follows the social ordering and good governance principle of subsidiarity by deferring to the smallest governing unit; not usurping but empowering and helping families. The current overly federalized approach to education in the United States is failing.

The teaching of the Catholic Church on the primacy of parents in the educational mission is clear and helpful. If understood properly, and presented by actively involved Catholics, it can provide insights for a new National Educational policy.  After all, the primacy of marriage - and the family founded upon it - as the first cell of society, the first church, first government, first school, first hospital, first economy, and the first mediating institution of the broader society is at the heart of Catholic Social Thought. Reaffirming it is the path to social recovery.

A just and efficient philosophy of government should be founded upon the truth that the family is the first government and that all other government must first be at its service. This is not just a "religious" truth, it is the TRUTH. In his marvelous apostolic exhortation on the family entitled "The Role of the Christian family in the Modern World" (Familiaris Consortio) Blessed Pope John Paul II affirmed the social and political role of the family and called for the development of a "family politics". The teaching of the Catholic Church on the primacy of parents in the education of their children is fundamental and Catholics must lead the charge.

Catholics should embrace a "family politics". We desperately need it.  It is time to help people understand Parental Choice in education. It is about the recognition of the family as the first school and first vital cell of human society. This is not just our "religious" position, it is the truth. Parents are the first teachers of their children and all education begins in the home.  We need to acknowledge in our positive law the right of parents to choose for their own children where they go to school. That choice should include the full array of options, public, private, parochial, charter and home schools, no matter what their economic status.

Education outside of the home is an extension of the parental role and should recognize and defer to the parents primary role in the educational mission. These children are not, in the words of the US Supreme Courts' Wisconsin v Yoder decision "....mere creatures of the State."  The family is the first government and the first school house. We have forgotten that objective truth as a nation and we are reaping the consequences.

Here is an insight taken from the Apostolic Exhortation "Familiaris Consortio": "The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others..."

In his "Letter to Families" the late Pope wrote "Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area; they are educators because they are parents. They share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the Principle of Subsidiarity."

"This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit. For parents by themselves are not capable of satisfying every requirement of the whole process of raising children; especially in matters concerning their schooling and the entire gamut of socialization.

"Subsidiarity thus complements paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization."

Parental (School) Choice is an idea whose time has come. It is a matter of true social justice, not what is masquerading as social justice in some circles these days. The opposition of some in control of the teachers unions to such a just approach to educational policy and fundamental fairness shows how far some of these mediating associations have strayed from their primary role. They fail to defer to the first mediating institution of the family.  Parental choice in education is right for our children, right for our parents and right for our Nation.

In addition, we need to reaffirm the primacy of parents in the education of their children and the vital role of homeschooling. There is no conflict between support for good and faithful parochial schools and support for Catholic home schooling.


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