When you talk homeschooling, the first question usually asked is “What curriculum are you using?”
Seton Home Study School is probably the most popular programs in the United States amongst Catholic homeschoolers. My mother used it for my entire education growing up, so when someone asks me the curriculum question now they are surprised I don’t use Seton. Here is why we chose Mother of Divine Grace for our family.
MOGD is a classical education based curriculum. If the term “Classical Education” is new to you, I highly recommend reading this article here.
Classical Education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness and beauty, so that, in Christ, the student is better able to know, glorify and enjoy God.”Laura Berquist
Classical education emphasizes being able to think and reason well over the rote memorization of a lot of facts. (This is not to say that in a classical curriculum like MODG there is not memorization or learning facts, because there is.) This philosophy recognizes that the study of art, music, and poetry is just as important as math and science.
In our utilitarian society, the arts are considered “less than” by many. Math and science are where the money is at, right?! But my kids are more than cogs in an economic wheel. Of course we will educate them to be able to step in to a college or trade school if that is what God wills for them. Math and science are really important! However, their education is not simply a program to teach my kids what they need for college or a job one day. This is forming their minds and souls for the rest of their lives!
Thus, I cannot neglect instilling in them the values of the true, the good, and the beautiful because there is no time after the “important” subjects are done. I want them to be able to be ever drawn to their Creator and order their lives rightly towards Him. I think that the classical model of education really fosters a discerning and rightly ordered mastery of thought through such an intense focus (especially in the younger years), on beautiful poems, appreciation of artwork, rich stories, classical music, and more.
“It is the ability to think that is our goal in a classical curriculum; we want our children to acquire the art of learning. It is not the number of facts they are acquainted with that measure the educational success, but what they are able to do with the facts: whether they are able to make distinctions, to follow an argument, to make reasonable deductions from the facts, and finally, to have the right judgment about the way things are.”Laura Berquist
The disastrous effects of a lack of appreciation for the good, the true, and the beautiful are incredibly evident in society today. Most of what passes as “music” today, what is put up in galleries as “art” are embarrassments to a well-formed culture. There is no more truth – everything is fluid and whatever you want it to be. What does it profit us if we have a technologically advanced workforce that can solve every engineering conundrum and cyber security flaw, yet these same workers can not judge what is a moral good or evil?
Both the sciences and the arts need to be considered of great importance, and I think a classical education does this very well.
I have a lot of favorite aspects of Mother of Divine Grace. Here are some of them:
- A solidly Catholic curriculum
- The founder recognizes play, prayer, and family life being integral to the learning experience, thus the workload for the younger grades is very gentle and manageable
- A 32 week school year that allows for extra time for field trips and other educational experiences to be easily incorporated into the year
- Beautiful, simple books and more emphasis on actual literature with less emphasis on text books
- Simple, affordable lesson plans without needing to pay for enrollment
- Attention to the Liturgical Year
- Flexibility in the lesson plans – it makes clear that if you memorized the poem to move on to the next, or spend more time if you’re not there yet. Mastery is the goal, not ploughing through at a break-neck speed
- Intense testing not being an integral part of the curriculum
- Ease of switching out what you don’t want – I don’t use their math or phonics and am subbing in something else instead. It is very easy to do this
- Affordability – it is very accessible for our family
What About Seton?
I get asked a lot about why I didn’t continue on with Seton for my own children, and in answering that I want to make something clear:
I am not criticizing other families who love using Seton. I am incredibly grateful for my Seton education. My mother invested decades of her life using this incredibly rigorous program and I know so much of who I am today, including my love of Christ and His Church was strongly influenced by it.
That being said, I believe different families benefit from different learning styles. Seton and MODG are like comparing apple and oranges – they’re simply completely different approaches to education.
Recreating the Parochial School Experience
In many ways, I feel like Seton recreates the parochial school experience at home. If you enroll and use their materials and testing packets in their entirety, you will find in depth lesson plans, lots of text books, weekly quizzes, and “finals weeks” with in depth testing at the end of every quarter. My husband was a Catholic school teacher at a small private school for over a decade, and I was surprised at how many of the same materials I used growing up from Seton were being used there.
This model really has quizzes and testing at it’s core – after all – in a classroom full of children you need testing to gauge where everyone is at, and a fully enrolled Seton student is really getting a lot of the parochial school experience at home.
However, as Bonnie Landry discusses in this great workshop Homeschooling with Joy, it is simply not necessary for every family to use brick and mortar school testing practices at home. If I am working right alongside my kids, especially young children, I don’t need to constantly see a grade written in red ink to tell me if they understand what we are learning about… Just talking to them and doing lessons with them can show me what level of mastery they have.
The intense testing of Seton during my educational years led to me cramming for exams – memorizing tons of dates, names, and entire paragraphs of really dry textbook answers to pass, and then promptly letting them fly out of my head once I got through the test. While this may not be the case for everyone, the incessant testing actually did not lend towards true mastery of material for me, but a panicked memorizing of what it took to pass.
This sucked a lot of the joy of learning out of the experience for me as a kid. I will still give my kids some tests, especially in the older grades on math, but the constant quizzing of Seton is not something that I find really important right now for our family.
Not Everyone Likes Apples (or Oranges)
Clearly there are different educational models, each with pros and cons. The whole point of homeschooling is the freedom to do what works for your family, your kids’ learning styles, your schedules etc. If there was only one curriculum that was deemed acceptable… we would be right back to the same situation in a formal classroom – everyone being forced to do the same curriculum, whether or not it is a good fit for them.
I am not alone in Seton not being the be-all, end-all curriculum – many of the Seton grads I know who are second generation homeschoolers are choosing other curriculums for their own families, or a hybrid of Seton with more classical touches added in. Yet I still know a few Seton grads who loved it and are using it for their own families. We don’t all have to like or use the same curriculum in order for kids to have a well rounded Catholic education. It does not need to be a competition between different methods.
It is a blessing there are so many different solid Catholic curriculums out there for families to use in educating at home! If you’re looking for a classical approach, I heartily recommend looking into Mother of Divine Grace for yourself. God bless you!