Which is the Best Catholic Homeschool Curriculum? (2021)
by William C. Michael
There are many sources of Catholic homeschool materials, but there is only one program that is actually a (1) Catholic, (2) homeschool, (3) curriculum. That’s the Classical Liberal Arts Academy.
Today is Friday, June 4. I’d like to take some time today to answer an important question for Catholic homeschool families. The question is, “Which is the best Catholic homeschool curriculum?”
I’m going to emphasize each of the words in that question — -Which is the best Catholic homeschool curriculum? The reason why I want to emphasize each word in the question is that if you type that question into Google, and look at the results, you won’t find an answer. You may find an answer to the question, “What curriculum do I like?”, “What curriculum do I use?”, “What are some curriculum programs Catholic homeschools use?” But you won’t find an answer to the question, “Which is the best Catholic homeschool curriculum?” And I’m going to answer that question for you with proof, in this talk today.
Some Background on Homeschooling
Homeschooling really became popular in the 1990s. It wasn’t popular at all. It was reserved for families who were conspiracy theorists and survivalists. Normal kids went to school, strange kids stayed home. And there are some reasons for this. One of the reasons is because the internet didn’t exist. And in order to get an education, one had to go somewhere. The quality of one’s education was based on where he went to school and who his teachers were. Parents, throughout most of history, labored to send their children to the best possible schools. Rarely ever, did anyone think it to be a good idea to teach your children at home.
Even if we look back two extraordinary, learned Christian men like St. Thomas More — he hired teachers, expert teachers, to teach his children. He didn’t “homeschool” them. Mommy and Daddy were not their teachers. He hired great teachers for them and gave them a classical education, of course. The point is that a child’s school often determined the quality of one’s education. We recognize that whoever attends the best school has the best education. But that’s because there was no internet. In order to get an education, it was necessary to go to a school or library.
Social issues also caused men to frown upon homeschooling. Men argued that if children were kept home, away from their peers, they wouldn’t develop socially. And so these two reasons made homeschooling seem very odd. Thirty years later, in 2021, and everything has changed, especially after COVID. COVID has made schooling seem strange and homeschooling sort of a necessity of the times.
Homeschool students gain admission to all the major universities. The stigma upon schooling is not completely gone, but it’s certainly going away. I argue that homeschooling is more modern and “high-tech” than going to school. Students go to school and access resources that are available to them at home.
The school no longer makes any sense.
A school is no longer a place of learning.
In 2021, the school is simply a daycare center or a study hall. All of the actual learning is online. Students have access to the best teachers in the world online, for specific subjects. For example, if someone wants to learn about rocket technology, he can watch videos by Elon Musk. If he wants to learn about marketing, he can watch a TED talk by Seth Godin. It makes no sense to go to school and have some school teacher explain how marketing works when all of the world’s experts are accessible directly on the internet. Makes no sense. So the main point here is that homeschooling is no longer stigmatized.
However, what many families do in 2021, in the name of homeschooling, has more to do with the homeschooling of the 1990s than the homeschooling that’s possible in 2021. When we look at this question, “Which is the best Catholic homeschool curriculum?”, what we normally find is a relatively ignorant homeschooling mother comparing the three or four or five homeschool programs that she happens to know about. Maybe she used Seton, maybe she used Mother of Divine Grace, maybe she bought some books from Kolbe Academy, and Catholic Heritage Curriculum, mixed them all together, used them as she felt best, and then she wrote a blog article and explains what she thinks the best Catholic homeschool curriculum is. And she has no ability to answer that question at all. She’s simply writing a review of the products that she has happened to use.
And the next wave of homeschool parents reads that article starts where she leaves off. And if we look a year later, two years later, we find they write almost the same articles and answer the question, “Which is the best Catholic homeschool curriculum?” and the reality is none of them actually answer the question. They’re simply writing product reviews as people do on Amazon.com. They’re simply reading as consumers talking about the products that the have purchased and used and the products that they have used are limited to what they happen to know about.
And as I said, many of them write the same article saying the same thing is just varying in minor details. This one likes this part of Seton. This one likes this part of Mother of Divine Grace. This one likes this book, this one likes that video. These are just product reviews. These don’t answer the question, “Which is the best Catholic homeschool curriculum?”.
So I’d like to provide homeschool parents with a clear answer to the actual question.
1. The Best Curriculum
Let’s start with the last word of the question — which is the best Catholic homeschool curriculum? Let’s start first with the word curriculum.
A curriculum is a course of study. It’s a system of learning. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We start with a goal. We ask, “What is the goal of the education of our children?”, and we stick a pin in the place on the wall as it were, where that goal stands. And then we stick a pin on the opposite side where we’re currently at, or where we’re starting. So we’ve got these two pins on the wall — one where we’re starting, and one where we’d like to finish. And most Catholic families have no idea where the pin goes, that shows where we should finish.
A curriculum is a course of studies, not a pile of books. Don’t get duped by book-sellers.
Catholic families never figure out the goals of education. It’s never made clear. If we ask what is the goal of the curriculum, what are you trying to accomplish? Most Catholic homeschool parents will have some vague, wishy-washy religious talk or they’ll just openly say, We want our children to get a high school diploma. We want our children to get admitted to college. And that’s where they stick the pin in the wall. Now, no matter where you stick that pin, no matter what your goal is. The question is, what is the best curriculum? What is the best course of studies that will lead a student from the beginning where he or she is to the fulfillment of that goal?
Now, we have to start by asking one simple question. If your goal for the education of your children is simply to get into college or to get a high school diploma, you have to realize that there is no need for you to call this a “Catholic education”. And there’s no need for you to provide a homeschool education to achieve that goal.
And this is the first dilemma that homeschool parents are in. They can’t even explain really, why they’re homeschooling. The reasons why they’re homeschooling are not very good reasons. Maybe they’re afraid of bad influences at a local public school. But public school isn’t the only option. Maybe they’re just lazy. I like the idea of keeping the kids home. Maybe they really don’t want to spend too much time on school but they’d like more time being active in the local homeschool community, and Mom is thinking about her own social life.
But if your goal is a high school diploma or college admission, you can’t even justify why you’re homeschooling in the first place. And you’re always going to have a hard time explaining to people what you’re doing homeschooling, when all you’re providing your children with is a course of studies, if it’s even a course of studies, that’s available at the local public school.
Most of the time, when you explain your homeschooling, all you’re going to be doing is complaining about the faults of the local school. You’re not actually creating something better or aiming higher. You’re simply criticizing the modern school, or the local school and doing something else. But it’s not necessarily better. The results even may not be better. After all, how many homeschool students get into better colleges or have more impressive high school diplomas than kids graduating from the local public school? Not very many. If you look at Seton advertising, the average SAT score of a Seton graduate is barely better than that of the American students.
And this is the first problem with this question is that the goal of the curriculum is not rightly set by Catholic families. And because the goal is not set rightly, the question of the curriculum — What course of study is best? — can’t be given a good answer, because there’s no clear goal, no worthy goal.
A curriculum, as I said, is a course of studies that has a beginning, middle, and end. It takes a student from where he is and leads him in some strategic way to the satisfaction of the goal of his education. And if the goal is not even clearly defined, or if the goal is not proper for Catholic homeschool, then the question of the curriculum really can’t be answered. And this is what we find in most home schools. They’re simply collecting books and resources that happened to be available. And calling what they have a “curriculum”.
And the publishers do this because they make money selling books. There is no actual curriculum. There’s simply bundling books into different groups to sell at some sort of homeschool supply system, but that’s not a curriculum. It’s just a book collection.
If you walk into a library and see a collection of books, no one would call a library, a curriculum. If you get a book catalog, no one would call the book catalog a curriculum but in homeschooling, because there are no clear goals. Near book collections or book catalogs, are called curriculum. And parents talk about which curriculum they liked the best. We’re all they’re really talking about is what collection of books. They liked the best for what book catalog. They liked it the best. And this has nothing to do with curriculum, or curriculum, as I said, is a course of studies that leads a student from where he is on day one, to the satisfaction of the goal for his education. curriculum needs to be more than a mere collection of books.
2. The Best Homeschool Curriculum
Secondly, which is the best Catholic homeschool curriculum?
When we look at all of these booksellers, all of these books catalogs — Seton, Mother of Divine Grace, Catholic Heritage Curriculum, Kolbe Academy, Angelicum Academy, all of the homeschool programs that are usually compared by people at homeschool conferences where you buy books, or buy these loggers for write product reviews of resources that they’ve used. All of them are designed to serve a K to 12 plan for schooling. So we’re going to assume that an eight-year-old child is a “second-grader”, and a 15-year-old child is a “10th grader”. And we’re going to pretend that there’s a different set of books for each child, based on his age, based primarily on his age, and loosely on his actual studies, and learning.
But all of these programs, all of them serve the same K to 12 curriculum — or not even curriculum, I don’t want to say curriculum, because these programs are not curriculum. They’re just book collections. They’re just book bundles. But they’re designed to serve a K to 12 model of education, every single one of them serves the K to 12. model.
Now we have to ask, is the K to 12 model, a homeschool model?
Who’s actually at home? We have two children, four children, eight children. My family has 10 children. We have 10 children, different genders, different ages, different abilities. The benefit of homeschooling, the primary benefit, is that parents can provide each of their children with the best possible education for his own unique personality, abilities, and interests, preparing them for what we know are going to be different vocations in the future. We don’t know what those vocations are, in their specific details.
We know what general education our children need (or we should know). And we know how we can provide them with general learning and experience as we learn about their personality and abilities and interests. And we can help them to know themselves as it were, and prepare more and more specifically as they get older, for what appears to be their future vocation or occupation. But these children are homeschooled, and we as their parents can customize their studies, the pace at which they study subjects that they focus on the goal for their education. We can customize this for each of these individual children.
This homeschool education is not served by a K to 12 grade system.
The K to 12 grade system was created to serve the public school system. The reason why it was created was that our society decided that it was going to be compulsory for children to attend school until the age of say 16, or 17. So, the designers of the public schools laid out this plan of education that would start with children who are five or six years old. And would lead them through a course of studies that they would finish ideally at age 18.
So it’s a 12 to 13 year system. All of the children in a certain geographical location, hundreds and hundreds or 1000s of them had to be put into this system in an orderly way. The system was designed in a time when Henry Ford had invented the assembly line. There was an idea of industrialization and efficiency in the public school system was modeled on this early 90s 19 hundred’s idea of order and efficiency in business and production.
And the K to 12 system was designed so that every year, a new batch of five year olds would come in, and then they would work through this program. The grade level served all subjects. So there was first grade English first grade Spelling, first grade Eriting, first grade Reading, first grade Arithmetic, first grade Social studies and so on, across the curriculum, or across the subjects.
Based on the age of the child, these people understood that you can’t serve everyone that there’s no way to create a one size fits all school system. So what they simply did was focus on the average student who represents the middle 70–75% of the students and they designed a school program that would work like an assembly line for large numbers of children sorted by their date of birth. If students excelled academically, they could be bumped up, which creates awkward situations because they’re bumped up into an older age group and surrounded by older students. And that’s not necessarily good.
It’s not good, for example, to have an 11 year old, surrounded by 14 year old peers who are in the midst of puberty and all sorts of other life issues and have an innocent, intelligent 11 year old thrown into that crowd with the average 14 year old. Students who are too slow or simply left behind and given an extra year to get through the grade level.
So there was a show of some kind of provision for the individual who fell outside the middle 70%. But neither of these provisions was good for those individuals. And most of us have experienced this in our own school experience. But the K to 12 system was designed first and foremost, for a large community of students that needed to be educated.
There had to be some system of classification, and the designers of this system chose to organize them by their age, which is completely irrational. Education is primarily concerned with the formation of the soul. And yet children are sorted based on the age of their body, not even the development of their body, or the maturity of their soul, and personality and intellect. They’re sorted based on the day that their bodies were born into the world. And while that’s fine for an artificial secular, public assembly line school system that order and system has absolutely nothing to do with a homeschool.
So I would argue that every program that is designed to sell books according to the K to 12 grade level system is not a homeschool curriculum. The K to 12 system has nothing to do with our individual children whom we’re educating privately at home. Any program that talks about first grade, second grade, fifth grade 11th grade is not providing a curriculum that’s appropriate for a homeschool and that’s why homeschool families are always discontent with the programs and the books that they’re using. Because they just don’t work. They’re not designed to provide the benefits that are available through homeschooling.
The publishers are simply bundling books or even publishing books for the modern public school grade level system. And they’re just targeting the homeschool families as a sort of niche audience. If you understand how marketing works, person who wants to sell something who can’t compete with the big guys can make money by focusing on a particular niche.
For example, you’re not going to be able to create a car and sell a car that competes with Ford and Chevy, and Honda. You’re not going to create an ordinary passenger vehicle and sell a car. But you might be able to create a car that’s of interest to a small number of people with a special set of needs. Let’s say a person who lives in a wheelchair and can drive a normal car Well, you might be able to invent a car that serves the handicapped market, as it were, and sell to that niche.
Homeschool publishers are selling public school materials that served the public school curriculum to a niche of people who are keeping their children home from school. And they’re looking for supplies of books. Protestants focus on the Protestant homeschool niche. Catholic publishers focus on the Catholic homeschool niche. You can find Amish and Mennonite publishers that focus on the Amish and Mennonite families. And all this is is niche marketing. The curriculum itself is not appropriate for homeschooling. There’s no explanation for why a homeschool parent would classify his children based on the grade level system of them of the public school. Makes no sense.
And therefore when we ask the question, “Which is the best Catholic homeschool curriculum?”, first of all, if we don’t set a clear goal that’s worthy of Christian education, we can’t talk about curriculum, because a curriculum needs a goal. And we have to judge a curriculum by whether or not it achieves that goal. If the goal is not clear, we can’t talk about a curriculum. We can’t evaluate a curriculum. And that’s one of the reasons why all of these homeschool publishers get away with what they do because they’re never held accountable for results.
Secondly, if we’re going to talk about homeschool curriculum, it should be a program that’s specifically designed to serve the interests of homeschool students. It should not be a public school model set of books bundled according to each different grade level, because that’s what the public school does.
In order for a program to be considered a homeschool curriculum, it has to serve the benefits and advantages of homeschooling. It should be completely customizable by child, and yet, it should fulfill the same general goals that shouldn’t be pursued by all Christian students.
So just because one student doesn’t have the academic gifts or interests of another, doesn’t mean that he should be tracked as a dum dum.