Thank God for homeschoolers. As America’s public school system continues to collapse, and even parochial schools grow more expensive as they become less faithful, many Catholics find they have no recourse but to take the burden of their children’s education upon themselves. It’s well worth their effort, of course – but it can be just that: a burden.
What’s more, the Church teaches very clearly that homeschooling, while sometimes necessary, is far from ideal. “Parents are the first educators, not the only educators, of their children,” according to the Compendium to the Social Doctrine of the Church. “It belongs to them, therefore, to exercise with responsibility their educational activity in close and vigilant cooperation with civil and ecclesial agencies.”
But what if you could take the virtues of homeschooling – the deep religious character, classical curriculum and strong parental involvement – with a traditional school environment? That’s where Regina Pacis Academy comes in.
Regina Pacis grew out of a homeschool co-op based around the cities of Stamford and Norwalk in Connecticut. Eventually, it grew large enough that they were able to rent a disused parochial school building and set up a traditional K–8 structure. Most of the dads work in New York City, while a few of the mums still teach at the school. Among them are the Kimballs. Roger is editor of The New Criterion, one of the country’s most distinguished conservative journals, while Alexandra teaches history to the 5th and 6th grades, and literature to the 7th and 8th.
“It’s a grim situation for any parent who regards contemporary culture, which includes the culture of the contemporary educational establishment, with a jaundiced eye, as we do,” says Roger.
But Regina Pacis is different. “Unlike so many students today,” he says of his daughter, “she knows who Winston Churchill, St Augustine, and Julius Caesar were. She taught me a thing or two about the Peloponnesian War and life in ancient Sparta. Regina Pacis is small, the teachers are dedicated, attentive, hard-working, and accessible. Intellectually, the school is as accomplished as any school in the area.”
Alexandra did her graduate studies at Columbia and taught at Providence College before moving to Regina Pacis. “It has been very interesting teaching younger students,” she says. “It’s extraordinary how many pencils drop during a class period. They’re definitely wigglier than college students.”
She says her favourite moment came during a 5th- and 6th-grade history lesson, “when the students paired off and wrote their own Socratic dialogues on the question, ‘What is courage?’ They considered non-physical courage, courage in animals, the differences between courage and recklessness. They were great. Socrates would have been proud.”
When I visit Alexandra’s history class, her students are learning about naval warfare in classical Greece. They form two parallel rows of desks, as in the galley of a trireme – complete with a coxswain to lead an authentic rowing chant. I think it went something like “brekity ech” on the forward stroke and “colax colax” on the backstroke, but my ancient Greek is rusty.
More important than academic rigour, however, is Regina Pacis’s emphasis on spiritual development. Greeting students and visitors at the front door is a homemade Tree of Virtue: a diagram originating in the Middle Ages showing the interconnectedness of the Christian virtues. The root of hope, nourished by the fear of God, flourishes into chastity, which bears the fruit of patience and magnanimity. Faith begets knowledge; knowledge begets obedience; obedience begets honesty and prayerfulness.
Across the hall there’s a poster board with photos of a Mass celebrated for the school by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, the outspoken traditionalist. A tremendous Crucifix hangs in the gymnasium, flanked by the Vatican flag on one side and the flag of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the other.
When he was installed in Bridgeport in 2013, Bishop Frank Caggiano immediately took an interest in Regina Pacis – then known as Anchor Academy. “The kids are just on fire with the Catholic faith,” he tells me. He says that Regina Pacis reminds him of his own days in Catholic school. “They do an excellent job, intentionally applying their efforts to what was just presumed when I was in grammar school,” namely, “teaching young people the patrimony of the faith”. He laments that “much of that patrimony has been lost”. But not here.
Like me, Bishop Caggiano is relatively new to the world of Catholic homeschooling. We’re both still getting used to those communities where our religion permeates every aspect of ordinary life, and children are still… well, children. “I find them to be very engaged, very articulate,” he says. “And yet, because they’re youngsters, they’re no different than their peers. On my last visit, they challenged me to a game of basketball. It struck me as such a wholesome thing to do.”
It’s a sorry reflection on our society that this should be so striking – and to a Catholic bishop, no less.
But what a relief that places still exist where intellectually curious, well-adjusted, Mass-going children are the norm. Restoring that standard ought to be the goal of all Catholic educators. If the old institutions won’t take the initiative, we can at least hope that determined parents like the founders of Regina Pacis will do it themselves. And thank God for them, too.
Michael Warren Davis is associate editor of the Catholic Herald. Find him at www.michaelwarrendavis.com