Seton Homeschool vs. the Classical Liberal Arts Academy (2021)
by William C. Michael
Seton Homeschool does not serve the traditional Catholic curriculum, illustrated in this medieval monastery painting. It’s time for us to restore classical Catholic education.
The most popular homeschool program among modern Catholic families is, by far, Seton Homeschool or Seton Home Study School. Seton was the first Catholic homeschool program, started in the 1980s, and it serves thousands of Catholic families. That does not, of course mean that this is the best Catholic homeschool program, only that it is the most popular.
Part I. Thinking about Seton Home Study
I. Seton Homeschool Curriculum
Let’s be honest. Seton homeschool isn’t a program for anyone looking for a Catholic education like that enjoyed by the saints. Very little attention is given to classical Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Mathematics or Philosophy — the focus of the Catholic curriculum throughout history. Seton homeschool allows parents to “check the boxes” of modern education and is, more or less, a K-12 public school program with Catholic pictures added. Seton makes no attempt to offer a traditional Catholic program of studies, but very few Catholic homeschool families know what to look for. Parents come into homeschooling from modern schools and are looking for something “easy” that checks the boxes. They are the target audience for the Seton Homeschool curriculum — and that hasn’t changed for over 40 years.
II. Seton Homeschool Method
Seton Homeschool serves the modern “big-school” model. The K-12 school model has no place in homeschooling. No one can explain why Catholic children, studying independently at home, are using a program divided into 13 years of study. This is the source of the failures of modern schools and the dumbing down of education in general. Catholic students, especially homeschool students, should not be doing what public school students are doing. This model of education has destroyed Catholic schools in America, and no one seems to be able to imagine an alternative. Catholic leaders simply close the schools when they find the K-12 model impossible to sustain, and it’s no surprise to find many homeschool parents doing the same. It is impossible for a parent to manage multiple children in multitple grade levels across a dozen subjects and no homeschool parent should attempt to do so.
III. Cost for Homeschool Families
Because Seton Homeschool serves the K-12 school model, it is very expensive. This is especially true when we consider the low quality of academic work being provided and how little there is of it. Seton Homeschool supplies study materials for the public school academic calendar, which only serves half of the calendar year (180 days). As with modern Catholic schools, there’s just no reason to spend thousands of dollars for public school level education — that’s one of the main reasons parents choose to homeschool in the first place. The average SAT score of Seton students is almost the same as the average public school student. Seton Home Study School tries to justify costs by advertising that it is accredited, but accreditation is not necessary for a homeschool program. Again, this is the cost of a Catholic homeschool program that produces public school level results — with parents doing all of the work.
A modern public school curriculum, big school methods, and high costs make Seton homeschool undesirable for any Catholic homeschool family that does not (literally) judge a book by its cover. Seton has been popular because it was the first Catholic homeschool program, but Catholic families can do much better if they are willing to give their children more.
Seton Homeschool vs. the CLAA
The Classical Liberal Arts Academy provides Catholic homeschool families with much better options.
First of all, we teach the true classical Catholic curriculum enjoyed by the saints and wise men of history, not a modern public school curriculum. Rather than putting pictures of saints on books they never studied, we restore the actual curriculum studied and taught by the saints we are teaching our children to admire and imitate. In the book Understanding Classical Catholic Education, we provide a complete history of the development of the classical liberal arts curriculum, which is recommended reading.
Second, we do not follow the failed big school model, but restore the traditional model of education that existed before the public schools were invented. We allow individual students, with their own unique abilities and interests, to work for mastery at their own pace, which is how homeschooling should work. Parents do not need to order boxes of books every year because the children “change grades”. Children can study year-round, making steady progress within their own family schedule, and simply continue moving forward.
Recommended: How to Select Courses in the CLAAHow to Complete a High School Diploma in the CLAA
Lastly, our program is far more affordable for families than Seton Home Study. Catholic families are welcome to study our online courses for free. Paid enrollment is only necessary if parents want students to be able to submit written assignment for grading and receive live tutorial support. Individual courses, which are self-paced and often last more than one academic year, cost only $125 and can be paid for over 10 months. Our Student Plan allows a student to enjoy access to all of our courses for a flat fee of $25 per month ($300 per year). Our Family Plan sets a cap on costs at $100 per month, providing the same benefits for the whole family. Therefore, no family will ever need to budget more than $1200 per year for homeschool costs — and that provides for a complete classical Catholic education. If that’s still too expensive, we offer merit-based and need-based scholarships for Catholic students.
Seton Home Study School has done well to make a Catholic option available for modern homeschool families, but it is not an acceptable long-term plan for Catholic education. Catholic families must make use of the homeschool opportunity to restore the studies recommended to us by the Saints and doctors of the Church. If you’re interested in more than checking boxes and would like to not only give your children a better education but also reduce the costs of homeschooling, we invite you to join us in the Classical Liberal Arts Academy.
Part II. Digging Deeper into the Seton Home Study Curriculum
If you’ve read what was shared above and would like to dig deeper into the problems and solutions, this part’s for you.
With Seton Home Study School, there are some important weaknesses to consider as a Catholic homeschool family. These weaknesses can affect a student’s preparation for religious vocations, for example. They can also limit the student’s ability to gain admission to selective universities. Worst of all, they can leave a student poorly equipped for the challenges that await in adult Catholic life.
Let’s take a look at the Seton homeschool curriculum:
The Seton homeschool curriculum is modeled on the modern public school curriculum, focusing on secular modern subjects, which leaves some real gaps in Catholic learning. Fortunately, this curriculum can be enriched — or replaced — with classical studies.
Seton Homeschool Curriculum Shortcomings
Seton homeschool users should be concerned with the following shortcomings:
A. The Seton Homeschool Curriculum Neglects Religious Discipline
First, Seton homeschool religion courses tend to teach children about the Catholic faith, as an academic subject. Catholic students need to develop the habits of prayer and meditation that are necessary for Catholic living. For example, the high school course titled “Biblical Exegesis” consists of the study of a textbook with the students study “the purposes, origins, and versions of the Bible…the books of the Bible…the doctrine and spiritual message of each book… the historical and social context of the Bible.” Students learn about the Bible, but they may not actually develop the habits of daily Scripture reading. If students don’t cultivate the discipline of reading and meditating on the Scriptures daily, that’s a problem.
B. The Seton Homeschool Curriculum Neglects the Classical Languages
Second, when it comes to foreign languages, most selective universities recommend “four years of one foreign language”. However, in the Seton Home Study School curriculum, only three years of Latin are available. Worse, if we look at the Latin lesson plans, we find that students in Latin III are studying a “Second Year Latin” textbook, which is a bad look. That’s not sufficient for a Catholic student preparing for selective college admission. It’s also not sufficient for a Catholic student who wishes to gain fluency in classical languages — which are very useful for Catholics!
C. The Seton Homeschool Curriculum Neglects Scholastic Philosophy
Third, in the Seton homschool curriculum, we find seven modern subjects, with Theology tacked on. This is not sufficient for Catholic students preparing for life in an anti-Catholic world. For, Catholic parents cannot allow their children to enter adulthood in a secular society with no philosophical training. Introducing students to modern natural sciences without classical natural philosophy can lead to an unbalanced, materialistic worldview.
D. The Seton Homeschool Curriculum Neglects the Arts of Learning
Fourth, almost 200 years ago, St. John Henry Newman warned that “It is common in an age where books abound to think that the gratification of the love of reading is real study.” Today, this temptation is infinitely greater, with not only printed books but digital books, images, music and videos at our fingertips. The great pedagogical error of modern education is the emphasis on information-gathering rather than thecultivation of the arts of learning. Throughout Catholic history, wise men and saints rightly focused students on the classical liberal arts. By these arts we mean the formal study of Grammar, Reasoning, Rhetoric, (Classical) Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. Saints and wise men taught these arts because if a student mastered these, he could gather information for himself. Seton homeschool errs in its emphasis on modern “subjects” and neglects the classical liberal arts.
How to Enrich the Seton Homeschool Curriculum
Fortunately, the problems described above can be remedied in an affordable way. Catholic parents can simply enrich the Seton homeschool program they are already using. Since the courses we offer are self-paced, there are no deadlines or expiration dates to worry about. Plus, our courses include tutorial videos to help students move forward condidently and conveniently. Seton students can add these courses to their light course load, or study them during the summer months.
Here are some specific recommendations:
A. Use CLAA Courses to Cultivate Religious Discipline
As I said above, it’s not wise to gather information in school because this information is easily accessible whenever it’s needed. Parents, therefore, must help students cultivate the disciplines of daily prayer, daily Scripture reading, and scheduled theological studies. This is one the greatest benefits of homeschooling! In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy we offer several helpful courses for this:
- Daily Scripture Reading
- Summa Theologica I
B. Use CLAA Courses for Fluency in Classical Languages
Second, one advantage in our Latin and Greek courses is that we introduce students immediately to real reading in the languages. Our Reading and Vocabulary courses are, therefore, recommended:
- Latin Vocabulary
- Latin Reading I
- Greek Reading I
C. Use CLAA Courses to Learn Scholastic Philosophy
Third, in the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas defended Aristotlean philosophy, but modern society is doing all it can (with great success!) to remove it from schools completely. Popes Leo XIII and Pius X urged Catholics to fight against this effort. Making sure our children have the opportunity to learn how to read philosophy is very important. Fortunately, the following courses can help.
- Aesop’s Fables
- Thephrastus’ Characters
- Classical Ethics
- Classical Reasoning
- Summa Theologica
D. Use CLAA Courses to Introduce the Arts of Learning
Lastly, the classical liberal arts are our focus, and any time spent becoming familiar with them is time well spent.
- Classical Arithmetic
- Classical Grammar
- Classical Reasoning
- Classical Rhetoric
Should You Enrich or Replace the Seton Homeschool Curriculum?
It is obvious that experience with real classical Catholic studies is rare today. I can understand why Catholic homeschool parents show an unwillingness to move away from what they are familiar with. But, aren’t you home-schooling children to try and give them a better education than you’re familiar with?
I encourage Catholic parents to learn about the educational program that was studied and taught by the saints. This is the only true Catholic study program and it’s neglected today. Like many of our politicians, Seton has been around for over 40 years and hasn’t addressed the problems in Catholic education in that time. The bottom line is that in 2021, we can enjoy real classical Catholic studies — the curriculum enjoyed by the saints — at a fraction of the cost of Seton Home Study School. It’s time for Catholic families to move on.
If you have any questions, please contact me directly. I’m very happy to help, and am available by email or live chat.
God bless your families,William C. Michael, HeadmasterClassical Liberal Arts Academy
P.S. For helpful video content, visit the Academy YouTube channel.