Fr. Joseph Fessio is editor-in-chief at Ignatius Press and founder of the Adoremus Society.
Fr. Fessio is a good friend of Pope Benedict XVI, an advocate of the Holy Father’s current movement in regards to the Liturgy, and graciously agreed to interview with Sober Inebriation Weblog- we thank him for his time.
Q: It’s evident that a passion of yours is education through your involvement with Ave Maria, the work you began and still do with Ignatius Press, and your involvement with NAPCIS. Share with our readers what you think the current state of Catholic education today is and why you feel so many parents are opting to home school their children?
A: Yes. Let me limit myself to the United States and certain features of the United States . For many years, I have received letters and phone calls from parents who are in tremendous grief because their children have lost their faith going to Catholic schools. The problem with the catechetics and academics was basically denied by those in authority and lay people were told that they were working on it- don’t worry things will get better. But when your kids are growing up, you don’t have time. You need to have a Catholic education now.
So, as a result of that, many Catholic parents began to home school. Primarily because they could no longer entrust their kids to the parochial schools. Once they started doing that however, many of them discovered that it’s a better form of education if you can do it. So, now I know many Catholic home school parents, who even if they had a great Catholic school right across the street, would still home school. Right here at Ave Maria, we have a wonderful grammar and prep school – Ave Maria Grammar and Prep- with some of the Dominican sisters from Ann Arbor who are teaching there, a wonderful headmaster, excellent faculty and great kids. But there are many families that live literally a block or two from the school, and who home school- it’s not that they think the school isn’t a good school, they just think home schooling is a better education for their kids.
Q: Would you agree with them?
A: I would agree that as a general principle that home schooling is superior to schooling in a more structured context of a classroom. But, that doesn’t mean it’s for everybody at all times and at all grades. I do think it’s better. Here at University, half of our students are home schooled. Through high school, about 25% are home schooled.
You find, in general, even though the other students are good too, a greater love of learning, willingness to study on their own, receptivity- and in addition, incredible talent. A number of our students can play the piano, or the violin, or can act, or sing, and do it well. It’s astounding to me. I’ve never seen such a concentration of talent, and a lot of it is because they have large families that home school and can learn these things. So no one can claim now that there’s no opportunity to educate their kids in a Catholic way. They can always home school.
Q: In terms of a classical education, there are those who would argue that the idea of a classical education would actually include the dynamic of having peers among you in the learning environment, simply in regards to the idea that the original idea of school being leisure among friends, and granted you can get that in the home element as well…
A: What’s classical about that? Do they have to be the same age? The idea of schools, is as they say in French a “pis aller” a second best type of thing. What were the best types of education in medieval and post-medieval times? It was with the nobility in the castles. How? With the tutors for the children of the noble families. They didn’t go to some school. And then, when you started with the cathedral schools and in the monastaries, you would go in with the monks. You would have young men join the monastery as clerics, lower clerics, when they were 7 or 8 years old.
I think schools have a value, but I think They are not as good as the kind of care and attention you can get in a home schooling environment. I’ve seen it happen- in a family of four kids, the oldest boy who was very analytical and very argumentative did a lot of reading and a lot of essays on different topics; but his brother, a couple of years younger, was very intuitive and artistic. So, he did more poetry, literature, art and that sort of thing. And by doing that he also learned the other skills he needed, but learned by doing the things that he loved.
There’s a fellow that helps do some work for us in our retreat house north of San Francisco. When he and his fiance were getting ready to get married, he had about a fourth or fifth grade reading level. But, he loved to hunt, so his fiancee’s mother got him three subscriptions to some hunting magazines and suddenly his reading level zoomed up because he finally found something he wanted to read. That’s how home schooling works.You take a look at your kid and say, “He’s interested in WWII” so there’s an entrée. You learn to read better and do research. Then you might want to go on to other things, like geography or weather. Who knows what it might be. I think home schooling is a great sign of hope in this country, and the small Catholic schools as well, and as a result of that, the parochial schools and Catholic schools are going through a renewal process. We also have younger bishops now who are more traditional and younger priests who are more traditional. I do see a lot of movement in the right direction.