The Inside Story on Seton Homeschooling
By Bridget Green
Photos by: Jim Shanley
She may not look like a revolutionary, but make no mistake about it – Mary Kay Clark most definitely is. In 1980, she and Catholic educator Anne Carroll and Mary Kay Clark embarked on a shoestring start-up homeschooling adventure that has become an astonishing American success story. With the expansion of the internet’s capabilities and reach, today 14,000 students are enrolled and 30,000 families are using Seton materials in 44 countries.
But how does such an American dream get started? REGINA writer Bridget Green, a homeschooling mother of six, recently interviewed Mary Kay to learn more about this amazing story.
REGINA: What originally prompted you to begin homeschooling?
MARY KAY CLARK: Along with a group of Catholic parents, I started and was the principal of a private Catholic grade school in Columbus, Ohio, which my sons attended.
REGINA: So they had a good basic education, then.
MARY KAY CLARK: When my oldest son reached high school, I sent him to a Catholic boys’ high school. Long before the year was over, I realized that the curriculum was decidedly not Catholic, and my son would not even ride home in a car with any of the boys. I decided to home school him at home the following year along with my second son who was just starting high school. They did their home schooling mainly during the day while I worked, which I checked over in the evening and on weekends.
REGINA: How did you become involved with Seton?
MARY KAY CLARK: Anne Carroll had started Seton about the same time I started the school in Columbus, so we knew each other fairly well. Dr. Carroll and I had discussed the need for our materials to be made available for those who could not travel to our schools. She hired me to write a curriculum based on the school I had been running for ten years.
REGINA: And today you are still very much involved. Why is that?
MARY KAY CLARK: As the founder, I want to remain involved as long as possible to keep the Catholic philosophy in the curriculum. I do have confidence that my sons will continue it, so I have no worries. Nevertheless, I hire the writers as well as read, proof, and even edit the books and online courses, though I have others who help me.
REGINA: Seton’s study program is designed to adjust the program to fit the child. How does this work for the average student?
MARY KAY CLARK: Parents are free to adjust the lesson plans, subject by subject, especially the rate of learning the lessons, as they believe is best for their child. In a classroom, the slower are left behind struggling, the bright are bored. Nothing beats individualized instruction. I do think it is important for fathers to be involved also because often they have strengths in different areas than moms. We even encourage older brothers and sisters to help teach the younger children, which strengthens the older students as well.
REGINA: What is it that sets Seton apart from other programs?
MARY KAY CLARK: Honestly, I have not had the time to look at other programs. We just keep going and thinking about how to make Seton learning better and easier for students as well as moms and dads teaching. My sons and I as well as others who have been on our staff for many years have dedicated our lives to helping Catholic families. After more than thirty years, many of us who work here are related, so everyone is ready to help everyone else! Several of us here are working well past “retirement” age. We often talk about Seton being a “families to families” apostolate.
REGINA: Why did you seek out certification?
MARY KAY CLARK: Almost from the beginning of Seton, we have been certified by one organization or another because we want our students to be able to attend college without the problem of possible difficulty being accepted from a program without certification. We have never been pressured in any way about our curriculum. Never.
REGINA: What prompted you to start publishing your own books?
MARY KAY CLARK: When we started Seton, Catholic books were going out of print and Catholic publishers were going out of business because Catholic schools started using secular books provided by the states in the late sixties and early seventies. For the first couple of years, we had to rent books being thrown out by the Catholic schools. Almost immediately, however, we started writing Catholic textbooks. A printer had a printing press in his home and ran off the first books for us.
REGINA: What are the problems with publishing Catholic science books?
MARY KAY CLARK: Seton is continually pressured to publish Catholic books as fast as possible, yet we need to have writers who are specialists in the subject area. Many science writers know their material, but many have difficulty writing science books for children. We now have Catholic science books and two online science courses, and more are being produced, but it takes much longer to check for accuracy regarding all the scientific details.
REGINA: If you could give one piece of advice to families considering homeschooling, what would it be?
MARY KAY CLARK: If you want your children to practice the Catholic Faith and to reach eternal happiness in Heaven with Jesus and Mary and, hopefully, with you and your spouse, you need to take the responsibility to teach your children! In the current secular culture which is in the air we breathe and via the many different types of media, and is reflected in the schoolbooks, the teachers, and even the schoolchildren, Catholic parents really have no choice. If you believe it is too much of a struggle, ask the children’s grandparents or friends who are home schooling to help you during the first year.