Historical Antecedents

Michael Farris, J.D.

Possible historical antecedents of the Catholic Homeschooling Movement abound. Many would say that homeschooling pre-dated even the formal education of classical Greece and Rome. In the present investigation, however, only the period immediately preceding the birth of Catholic Homeschooling Movement as a modern historical phenomena is significant. In this regard, there are two important predecessors to Catholic homeschooling. The most obvious is the larger national homeschooling movement which was, and still is, overwhelmingly fundamentalist Protestant.

Not only has the Protestant movement helped to win acceptance in the public eye, the Protestant movement was responsible for winning the legal battles which made homeschooling possible for Catholics. Mr. Kenneth Clark, who is a lawyer and Vice-President of Seton Home Study School, recognizes particularly the work of Mr. Michael Farris and the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in this regard. 

The most important person in home schooling in the United States has been Michael Farris. The fact of the matter is that without HSLDA home schooling probably wouldn’t exist today in America like it currently does. Catholic home schooling would be an underground movement as would all home schooling, so in that case we have to thank Mike for making it possible. 

In 1982, the right to homeschool was only specifically recognized in three states. After its founding in 1983, HSLDA worked tirelessly to make homeschooling legal and easy for parents. If the Protestant homeschoolers were important in helping the Catholic movement to emerge, also of significance was the private Catholic school movement. Over a hundred parent-run private Catholic schools came into existence after the academic and doctrinal problems began in the school systems. This response pre-existed Catholic homeschooling, and in several important cases led directly to it. Dr. Mary Kay Clark was involved with this movement in Ohio, and Seton Home Study School was formed out of Seton School in Manassas, Virginia which was founded by Mrs. Anne Carroll. Dr. Clark describes this time period in her book Catholic Home Schooling: A Handbook for Parents

By 1971, we in the Catholic Parents of Columbus organization felt our energies were being wasted in trying to change the schools and/or the educators. So the organization changed its approach completely. We decided to form our own Catholic school, Mater Dei Academy, in Columbus, Ohio. 

Through the 1970’s, Mater Dei was a tremendous success. It is still in existence. Parents in other cities around the country began similar schools. Philosophy professor Dr. William Marra founded “Holy Innocents” schools. Wanderer columnist Frank Morris began a school in Denver. Anne Carroll, wife of Dr. Warren Carroll, the founder of Christendom College, started Seton School outside Washington, D.C. Similar schools sprang up in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Denver, New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles, and other areas around the country. Some are still going. 

Most of the respondents to the Warren Survey indicated that they thought Protestant homeschooling was more of a direct cause of the Catholic Homeschooling Movement than the private Catholic school movement. Thus, in this regard, it would seem that the experience of Seton Home Study School and Kolbe Academy, both of which started with a private Catholic school and grew into a home study program, is not representative of most homeschoolers. It seems that for most, the experience of Mrs. Deb Nelson, one of the founders of the Minnesota Catholic Home Education Conference, was more common, 

My own experience would be that it [Catholic homeschooling] evolved from the Protestant homeschool movement. We began homeschooling 17 years ago and at that point (in this area, anyway) almost all of the homeschoolers were Evangelical Christians. Our parish did not (and does not currently) have a school, so we established a vibrant homeschool group within the parish. We used the local Christian co-ops as a model, but we integrated our Catholic faith into our group’s activities. 

With these historical antecedents in mind, the very beginnings of the Catholic Homeschooling Movement can be better understood and appreciated.