The Crisis Within the Homeschooling Movement (mid 1990’s to the end of the 20th Century)

By the mid 1990’s the number of Catholic homeschoolers was in the tens of thousands, and the American bishops began to take notice. By 1995, the results of the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) Questionnaire had been made public. Most dioceses viewed Catholic homeschoolers as highly conservative pre-Vatican II Catholics and wanted the NCEA to develop an official statement on homeschooling. There was concern expressed by several diocesan superintendants that homeschooling would have an adverse affect on the Catholic schools, and several were concerned that homeschooling children were not attending diocesan CCD programs.

Several bishops began to insist that homeschooling children attend diocesan CCD classes in order to receive first sacraments such as First Holy Communion and Confirmation. On the one hand, there is an understandable desire on the part of the episcopacy to ensure that children are well-formed. Homeschooling parents, however, found these new guidelines troubling. Children who had received religious education at home tended to know the catechetical material better than the children in the CCD classes, and there were parents who objected to the doctrinal content of certain CCD textbooks in the same way that they objected to some religion texts used by the Catholic diocesan schools. It almost seemed that bishops were saying that parents were not free to homeschool their children when it came to religion, but only the other subjects, and this sentiment seemed directly opposed to statements coming from Rome encouraging homeschoolers.

At this point, there are two Catholic homeschooling organizations that became very important in the homeschooling movement. Traditions of Roman Catholic Homes (TORCH) was founded in 1989. The National Association of Catholic Home Educators (NACHE) was founded in 1991. These organizations have had very close bonds since their founding, sharing several board members. Mrs. Miki Hill and Mrs. Mary Hasson have been two of the most important leaders, but several other families were involved in founding and running these organizations. TORCH served primarily as a network of Catholic homeschooling support groups, and at its height probably had around 200 support groups that were officially TORCH groups. TORCH helped these groups host conferences all across the country. NACHE hosted conferences as well including one large annual conference in the Washington, D.C. area, but both groups functioned as homeschooling advocacy groups, and both had the mission to support homeschoolers and “closely tie them into the local and universal Catholic Church.”

NACHE and TORCH advocated for closer association with homeschoolers and their local ordinaries which generally included encouraging the guidelines bishops setup in their dioceses. The Catholic home study schools and groups of concerned parents generally thought that certain guidelines violated the rights of Catholic homeschoolers guaranteed by Rome. The Catholic Home School Network of America, founded in 1996, tried to mediate between the two sides, but published their own position paper in 1998 called the Responsibilities and Rights of Parents in Religious Education. This booklet does the remarkable job of setting forth an argument stating that in objecting to particular diocesan guidelines, homeschoolers are not rebelling against their bishops’ authority, only appealing to the higher authority of the Second Vatican Council, the New Code of Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and papal pronouncements. CHSNA claimed that these sources had emphasized parents’ right to determine the means by which a child receives religious education while maintaining the bishops’ right to ensure a child is properly prepared to receive the first sacraments.

In this period of the late 1990’s another homeschooling organization called Catholic Heritage Curricula (CHC) began to get noticed. Founded in 1993 by Mrs. Theresa Johnson, this company would eventually rival several of the home study programs by publishing not only Catholic textbooks, but also writing Catholic homeschool curriculum guides without the need to enroll in an actual school. Marketing itself as a gentle and flexible alternative to a rigorous curriculum, CHC has grown as many parents have been attracted to the promise of an easier experience. This period is also marked by the gradual introduction of different teaching methods into the Catholic Homeschooling Movement. Several of these, including the Charlotte Mason and Montessori methods are mentioned in the Methods section of this site.