catholic humanities homeschool students

The Humanities and Catholic Homeschooling

Interview: The Humanities with Sam and Eleanor Nicholson

Today, I am blessed to be talking with instructors and Homeschool Connections‘ power couple Sam and Eleanor Nicholson about a subject near and dear to the hearts of Catholic homeschoolers—the Humanities!

Let’s start with the basics. How exactly do you define the Humanities?

Sam: I would define the Humanities as those disciplines that help us to perfect our unique and distinctive capacities as human beings. We are rational animals created in the image of God, and this endowment enables us to appreciate goodness, truth, and beauty and to manifest these transcendentals in our art, our writing, and our culture. The core Humanistic disciplines—literature, languages, history, philosophy, and the arts—preserve for us a body of learning and wisdom that has been accumulated over millennia, and this inherited wisdom makes possible the blessings of an advanced civilization that so many of us take for granted.

There’s a lot of interest in “integrating the Humanities” within the homeschool curriculum—making sure it doesn’t get muscled out by STEM courses, for example. What do you think about “integrating the Humanities”?

Eleanor: “Do you want fries with that degree?” That’s the most unamusing joke you’ll likely hear from family and friends if you pursue a degree in the Humanities! The division of education into Humanities vs. STEM is a modern construct, really. We consider the “Humanities” an enduring source of joy in our family life and in our homeschooling — primarily in addressing subjects that fall into the Humanities category, but in the way we approach STEM as well.

Why are the Humanities so strongly pushed in classical Catholic curricula? How do the Humanities and Catholicism overlap?

Sam: The legacy of Western Civilization and the life of the Church are so organically united that there is no way to fully appreciate the riches and depths of the Catholic faith without a working knowledge of the traditional Humanities. To give just one example, there are many nuances of Catholic moral and spiritual teaching that draw upon notions from Ancient and Medieval philosophy. While we can certainly learn and apply these teachings without any background in philosophy, our understanding of them will be, to a certain degree, limited without it. One of the beauties of the Faith is that, at one level, it is simple enough to be understood by anyone, yet it is of such great depth that one can study it for a lifetime without ever exhausting it. The Humanities give us much of the background we need to begin plumbing those depths.

Eleanor: In addition, studying the Humanities helps us see education beyond a “tool.” As Sam noted, the Humanities are the arena where we ask those questions of what it means to be fully human. What is being? Who is God? What will tend toward our happiness? What won’t? What encompasses the whole range of human feeling and human experience? Your students will become more effective, articulate, and interesting human beings through the study of the Humanities! Spare them becoming boring, narcissistic post-post-modernists!

What if we, as homeschooling parents, aren’t very familiar with the Humanities? Are there ways we can still expose our kids to them or incorporate them into our household—and fill in the gaps in our own education?

Eleanor: Read and discuss, read and discuss. Listen to audiobooks together, discuss every possible topic throughout the day, and encourage questions. If your child asks a question outside your knowledge, seek out the answer together. This is actually one of the many things I love about homeschooling. Homeschooling gives parents the opportunity to continue their own studies—continue and go deeper in subjects they might not have explored during the years of formal education! (For instance, I’m married to a philosopher/logician, and though I’m reasonably well-versed in Philosophy, I have never been formally trained in Logic. No problem! I can learn vicariously alongside our children.) There are so many lists, books, audiobooks, and lectures to help you. Are you an Unlimited Access family? Log in and explore some of the Recorded Course offerings at Homeschool Connections! Let one resource guide you to the next! Start the Aquinas 101 series from the Thomistic Institute! Pick up a “Great Books” list and start at the beginning. Seeing you learn, your students can be inspired to become lifelong learners, too.

As Eleanor noted, jokes about unemployed Humanities majors are legion. Are the Humanities really a viable option for collegiate study?

Sam: Given the intellectual climate on most campuses and the hard economic realities of the present, I would not necessarily recommend that anyone take on a burden of debt to get a Humanities degree unless they have very specific plans for how to use it later in life. Fortunately, it is not necessary to be a Humanities major to develop an appreciation for what the Humanities have to offer. If one lays a good foundation in high school and learns how to discern what is of lasting value, it is entirely possible to become a learned and literate adult whether one pursues a Humanities degree or not. With a little bit of discipline and dedication, one can make up for a lack of formal instruction.

Eleanor: We should add that we each pursued advanced degrees in the Humanities—and at secular universities. It was a challenging path, though it brought its own rewards. (If you want to hear my opinion of English Departments, you can read what I wrote when I completed my Masters and shook the dust from my feet.) There are many admirable Humanities opportunities for Catholic students today. For our own children, whatever their lives have in store, we want to pass on to them knowledge of the wisdom and beauty of Western Civilization with well-honed powers of reason. The Humanities are a critical part of it. The ‘skillset’ of the Humanities is helpful in developing intelligent, well-rounded, ethical scientists and mathematicians. Do you want a scientist or a mathematician with a reductivist notion of the human person? Someone who sees reality only in a mechanistic light, who doesn’t care about things such as who is man, who is God, what is right, what is wrong? Of course not. St. Albert the Great, one of the greatest medieval scientists, was also a theologian!


A solid liberal arts education is important for all students, including those pursuing STEM fields. At Homeschool Connections, we work to foster learning that aligns with our Catholic intellectual tradition. We encourage students to explore a diverse range of subjects to promote critical thinking, effective communication, and ethical reasoning. For Catholics, this type of broad-based education offers opportunities to integrate faith with various disciplines to cultivate a well-rounded understanding of the world and our place in it.

The Humanities will not only enhance the depth of your knowledge but will also enable you to appreciate the ethical implications of your future work. For STEM students, it helps us to consider the broader societal impact of scientific and technological advancements. Ultimately, a good liberal arts education for Catholic students ensures a balance between specialized technical skills and a broader worldview rooted in the principles of faith.

If you’d like to “meet” the Nicholsons, please see their instructor video below:


Resources to help you in your Catholic homeschool…

Catholic Homeschool Classes Online

Homeschooling Saints Podcast

Good Counsel Careers

The Catholic Homeschool Conference

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