Thursday, February 28, 2013

Homeschooling: Keeping It Catholic

To my dismay, Marianna Bartold, of the blog "Keeping it Catholic" (, and author of the Keeping It Catholic Series home education guides, has written a great deal regarding the philosophical reasons why Catholic homeschoolers cannot, in good conscience, employ the methods of either Maria Montessori or Charlotte Mason! There is also the website. Since I do want to keep my homeschooling Catholic, I ordered her Volume I book from Amazon so I can read in depth about why she has red flagged these two educators, especially considering that Montessori was Catholic. In regard to Charlotte Mason, so far I have gathered that Bartold believes that because Mason's philosophy was heretical, and because her methods would naturally lead back to her heretical worldview, then no good can come of using anything in her method. I don't know that Charlotte Mason was indeed heretical, but at any rate, does Bartold draw a logical conclusion?

Let's first consider that the Catholic Church teaches that while Catholicism contains the fullness of the Truth of the Christian faith, other Christian branches and other religions contain portions of spiritual Truth, and that all Truth comes from the Holy Spirit. While we don't want to fall into religious indifferentism and conclude that all traditions are equal, we can still learn something from the beliefs and practices of others. I can see no way in which the CM practices of using living books and narration or keeping a nature journal, for example, would be inherently heretical. I can't imagine agreeing completely with any one educator, no matter how brilliant, except for the One Great Master, Jesus. (And because of her complete unity with the Holy Spirit, Mary would also qualify as a source of perfect Truth.)

Today I also found a website called Mater Amabilis: a Charlotte Mason style curriculum for Catholics (  Their discussion forum says, "Mater Amabilis and this group are 100% faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church."  Bartold argues that the Charlotte Mason method cannot be morally "Catholicized".  Who is right?  I'll have to read Keeping It Catholic before I weigh in on this.  But I can't see how implementing the educational style of Miss Mason could be immoral as long as one holds fast to the Tradition of the Catholic Church.  Even if as an Anglican Christian some of her religious beliefs were in error, it does not hold for me that all of her educational ideas and practices would therefore need to be avoided at all costs.  If a theory and practice are sound and work for your child, shouldn't you feel confident in using them? More on this to come...

Unschooling Red Flag

I'd rather have dentures than horrible memories of a parent forcing me to brush my teeth. 

I found this quote in an online article, "Beginning Unschooling: Some Ideas"(  I think if I spent any time directly commenting on this, it would be giving the sentiment a certain validation, so I will not.  It stands on its own to illustrate my concerns about adopting the term unschooling. I realize that not all forms of unschooling are so radical, but the unfortunate truth is that people who think such things are out there, and this is the impression many people have of what unschooling is all about. That Sandra Dodd, a leading name in unschooling, allowed this idea onto her page says "red flag" to me.

An underlying part of the unschooling philosophy is that children know what they need. Sometimes they do. We have all heard a child say, "I need to go to the potty." We have also all known a child so tired she could barely stand, who would not admit needing to go to bed. As an adult there have been more times than I want to remember when I didn't know what I needed or how to find what I needed. It would be inexcusable neglect not to directly guide a child toward what he needs, in fact, to insist upon it  (like taking him to the bathroom sink to brush his teeth!--ok, I couldn't resist after all...).

Which brings me to the whole teaching question. I have a book by John Holt called Teach Your Own. Clearly Holt was not against teaching if he used the word "teach" in the title of his book in this way. I may be going out on a limb here, but from the three books by Holt I have read, I do not believe that he would discourage any parent from showing a child how to brush his teeth properly and then following through to make sure it became a good habit, two to three times a day. My husband pointed out that radical unschooling is the flip side of the one-size-fits-all, authoritarian school model. In the case of radical unschooling, all children are still treated exactly the same, as if they were not individuals with varying needs.

What Holt advocated was that adults closely observe children to know them extremely well and therefore be able to determine how best to help them thrive. He emphasized guidance and facilitation as the chief methods of teaching, setting a good example for children to follow, and allowing as much self-directed learning as is reasonably possible. He was not even entirely against using some traditional schooling methods in those cases where they worked well for the child. He did not, however, establish a clear, systematic method of education. He used homeschooling and unschooling interchangeably and did not advocate any particular method, aside from teaching children in a way that corresponds with how they naturally learn. I think we can see the potential problem here. Unlike Montessori and Charlotte Mason, with their clearly formulated philosophies and practices, unschooling based on John Holt can easily result in muddied water.

So if I add the foundation of the Catholic faith to my unschooling, would the water then be clear? Maybe. After reading Suzie Andres' books, I think the water is certainly much less grainy. Still, after getting through the thirteen essays in A Little Way of Homeschooling, I was left with an unsatisfyingly vague impression of how this works. I enjoyed reading the stories of these unschooling families, and perhaps I should read the book again and see if it sinks in a little better. All of these parents were very active in the education of their children and did not strike me as "radical".  Interestingly, the essays of those who employed other methods in tandem with their unschooling did not seem much different in substance from those who were supposedly "pure" unschoolers, leading me to believe that what we really have here in some cases is a form of relaxed homeschooling, which overlaps in some places with unschooling.

What disturbs me is that there are those Catholics who call themselves radical unschoolers, which in my opinion is a contradiction in terms. Radical unschooling is diametrically opposed to the Church's teachings on the education of children, and I certainly do not want to be identified with such parents. I imagine this is Holly Pierlot's concern with Catholics using the label of unschooling as well. For those who like this term and have clearly delineated what it does and does not mean for themselves, it is certainly not my place to say that they should not use it. I think that the purest definition of unschooling, the one that Holt intended, is simply learning in an open source manner, without the traditional school building and the methods employed therein which do not reflect how children naturally learn. Many forms of homeschooling could rightly be called unschooling!

Unfortunately, though, some took unschooling for a ride on a runaway train, and their children are the derailed victims. Because of the seriousness of the implications of the "radical" approach, I have deep misgivings about adopting the word, even with putting Catholic in front of it, and even if I know without confusion what I mean by it. The jury is still out, but it would be irresponsible of me not to seriously consider these red flags. I do believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding me in a new direction, and that some of the tenets attributed to unschooling are useful and inspiring; but perhaps in the end I will be the fish that notices the nice bait, but also the hook, and swims on by to find more enriching fare.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Homeschooling's Little Way of Love

On St. Therese of Lisieux, from Wikipedia:

In her quest for sanctity, she believed that it was not necessary to accomplish heroic acts, or great deeds, in order to attain holiness and to express her love of God. She wrote,
Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers, and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love. 

 Therese in July, 1896

St. Therese's "little way" was the pursuit of sainthood through simplicity in an everyday life of love and in doing the will of God in the smallest of tasks.  Hers was a way of gentleness and the belief in the prevalence of the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. How can the homeschooling mother emulate the saint's little way? First of all, by grace, by centering one's life on the love of God and the practice of the Catholic faith. We are models for our children of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, practicing patience and virtue in all things; and when we make mistakes, we make amends. We allow our children to be imperfectly themselves as well, and forgive them, bless them, and comfort them. We have self-discipline, and we model this virtue to our children. We correct them gently, being firm but never harsh, not allowing our anger and frustration to turn into severe and humiliating punishment. 

There was a Montessori teacher by the name of Pen, and when you walked into her classroom, it seemed as though a magic spell had come over the children. Pen's eyes were everywhere, but you would not hear her voice, so soft spoken was she, whispering into the ears of children who worked quietly and with intense concentration. They were not sitting at desks, listening to her droning attempts to cram their minds with facts and figures. She gave lessons to individual children and small groups, while the rest pursued activities of their own choosing, whether on a floor space designated by a rug, at an easel, or sitting at tables in chairs. How did this petite Asian woman exercise such control of her classroom without speaking above a whisper? Her authority was in her demeanor, the look in her eyes, the tone of her low voice. Her quiet grace was contagious. 

Pen is an example of a true artist at work. Are we mothers required to be any less?

A Mother's Rule of Life

I am currently reading Holly Pierlot's A Mother's Rule of Life.  The premise of the book is taking the concept of a religious rule, such as nuns practice, and applying it to the vocation of a woman as wife and mother.  I love the idea of what I do as a vocation, which I have written about before.  Holly writes about being a Catholic homeschooling mother of five and how she brought order, and therefore peace, to her daily round.  She goes beyond developing a schedule to live by and extends the structure of her days into a deeper spiritual purpose.  Though she is not a fan of unschooling, I think that since I am on my own path to bringing greater meaning to the life of myself and my family, Holly's ideas will be a blessing.  I am already inspired to begin spring cleaning (including my email inbox)! The groundhog did promise an early spring, after all.

I want my days to flow within the framework of a flexible schedule.  Since I only have one child, I don't feel that I need every block of time sectioned out like Holly's. Once housework is caught up on and a system is in place to keep things in order, I can begin the bigger tasks of cleaning out closets and working on home projects. I know, we have visited this territory before, have we not? Yes, and we will need to come back to it twice a year, every spring and fall. We need to regularly re-evaluate what is working well, what isn't, and how to create the change we desire.

I spoke at length to my husband about unschooling, and he finally watched Astra Taylor's youtube video. We are on the same page about not wanting to be "radical" unschoolers. He pointed out that I have basically already been unschooling to a certain extent and thinks I should continue with Montessori and Charlotte Mason as a basis for the more formal lesson times. Because of some of the unschooling practices that we don't want to be associated with, such as letting children make all their own decisions, not only about what they will learn and when, but in every other area of life, he is hesitant to say that what we do is unschooling. I certainly agree that many people, especially in the homeschooling community, have very negative impressions about unschooling, and I don't want to misrepresent what we do. But I think that putting a qualifier in front of it, such as the word Catholic, would help correct any misapprehension.

By definition, Catholic unschooling requires that parents are actively involved in the faith formation of their children and in instilling good habits, morals, self-discipline, and responsibility. Children cannot be left to "self-regulate" or be allowed limitless access to TV, the computer, video games, technology, etc... I suppose there may be some Catholic unschoolers who give their children too much freedom in this way, but in that case they are not fulfilling the duties of their parental vocation and so are really practicing a secular version of unschooling.

On the other side of the coin, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, and John Holt all, in their own way, agree that the teacher/parent should not overly interfere in the learning of children, that much learning should be auto-educative, and that children should have a great deal of freedom in choosing those activities which most interest them. The adult can do some direct teaching but focuses mainly on facilitating the child's learning, whether that means answering questions, having conversations, locating the necessary resources, going places in the community, setting up lessons, or teaching specific skills when asked.

The Catholic Church's Mass schedule and the liturgical year provide a seasonal framework for ordering one's days, so Catholic unschooling will have a basic, intrinsic structure in this regard. Especially once Beezy and I are both taking Holy Communion, I want to add Wednesday morning Mass in addition to the usual Sunday morning (or Saturday evening). Praying the Rosary together and reading the associated Bible mysteries (stories) will be part of our curriculum. Doing copy work of Rosary and other prayers, as well as hymns and songs from Mass, and memorization of daily liturgical Bible readings will provide some of the practice of copy work and recitation. Right now Beezy has piano lessons on Mondays and religious education classes at church on Wednesday evenings, as well as regular play dates, so those activities also provide structure.

In general, I will apply the Montessori method to our Catholic unschooling by way of following the child and giving choices; role modeling desired behaviors and attitudes; encouraging practical life skills; a carefully prepared home environment that facilitates self-teaching and exploration of ideas; and close observation of the child to see who she is as a person, how best she learns, and what she is most interested in doing. From Charlotte Mason we will continue with living books and narration, keeping a nature journal, hand crafts, and spending time in the natural world and gardening. Since workbooks for math and phonics work well for us, we'll continue to use them, and we will take full advantage of library and online resources. I think this will all come together organically in a balanced system of learning and living in natural ways.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Unschooling: All Kinds of Cool Crafts

I asked my daughter what she would really like to do for "school", and her answer was, "all kinds of cool crafts." What qualifies as a cool craft, you might ask? Making Monster High doll clothes, it turns out. Now, crafts are really low on my own, personal list of things I want to try to teach. That is why I love our Parks and Recreation department; they offer phenomenal opportunities for craft making guided by adults who are not me. Crafts often involve a kit with instructions that are difficult to follow, even if labeled at the 6- or 7-year-old level. Do not be fooled by the supposed simplicity of the package!

But I decided to try unschooling, focusing on my child's interests, letting her direct her own education at least partially. Yesterday Beezy read to me from her Ginn reader, which she enjoyed, and determined for herself how many pages she wanted to read. I gave her a math worksheet to do which required writing number words. She then told me she wanted to do more writing, so in the spirit of following the child, I gave her a Starfall reading and writing journal page in which she had to complete sentences using adjectives to fill in the blanks. As she has done before, rather than using only the words given in the word bank, she chose her own describing words and asked for help in spelling them. Next she practiced piano for 12 minutes (her decision when to be finished).

We had a flat tire and had to get it replaced, so part of our field trip in going to the next town to the car shop was to search for the necessary materials to make the doll clothes using toilet paper and duct tape. I found tutorials on youtube, which better works with my own learning style than written instructions with two-dimensional diagrams. The brand Duck Tape, found at Wal-Mart, had awesome patterned choices. You can find similar tape at Dollar General. In the evening Beezy's dad and I both read to her. And Beezy wrote out instructions for how we were going to do our craft projects after breakfast the next day.

So today we worked more on the toilet paper dress started a couple of days ago, which we will shortly finish, and we made a skirt and top with the duct tape. Only a little stressful for a craft-averse mother, and mostly a fun activity for us both! This is the type of thing that creates warm memories between parent and child, and it is an organic way of learning and practicing many skills (measurement, cutting, painting, using glue, folding, designing, following directions, etc...) that is simply living, doing what needs to be done to achieve the desired result, and being lost in the present moment.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Easing into the Little Way of Unschooling

I am currently reading Homeschooling with Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling by Suzie Andres. I am mostly convinced that Catholics can, in good conscience, unschool. But doing this is harder said than done. Our lesson time started out well today. Beezy finished a chapter in her Ginn reader and enjoyed the story. Then she completed her Hail Mary copy work just fine. I read the end of a novel to her, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which by the way was quite good. I took a shower and got myself together while Beezy worked on her room, straightening up her things throughout the house, and putting stuff where it belongs.

Beezy did a math workbook page. Then came her piano theory homework, and I started to get impatient trying to keep her on task. Her teacher recommends only 15 minutes of practice a day, and I didn't want to run over, so I felt pressured (by myself, really) to hurry her along. We ended up spending 20 minutes on it. Is this really an issue? Why not just do the work until it seems that she is ready to be done, whether that takes 10 minutes or half an hour? I forgot to follow the child. Sorry, Maria Montessori!

While we were doing the piano homework, my husband came along and said a library book could not be renewed, so then I felt pressured to get the book read and narrated, even though what I said to him is that we did not have to rush to get it back. We have teacher library cards, which means that we don't accumulate fines on overdue books. Surely the person requesting, Don't Ride the Bus on Monday could wait a day or two? But against my own wisdom, I read this wonderful Rosa Parks story and enjoyed it less than I might have if I had picked it up when I felt more relaxed. Beezy would most likely have enjoyed it better too. She was noticeably fidgety at this time, so I sent her out to walk the dog in the middle of the book. When it was finished, she gave a creative narration that reminded me of a "spoken word" poem. She got a little carried away at the end, but I resisted my urge to tell her not to be so silly during her narration. I also did not use my plan book or check anything off. So plus points given for Mommio, and other points taken away! I know, progress, not perfection.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Collage Style Catholic Unschooling

We did get to lesson time today, after Beezy's homeschool friend left. She read three pages aloud to me from her Ginn reader, On Cherry Street. I usually have her read at least two pages, and this evening she wanted to read a third. I read a chapter to her from Little Town on the Prairie, which she narrated Charlotte Mason style. Then she did copy work from the Hail Mary prayer. Her dad came home in the midst of this bearing a new Monster High doll, so lesson time ended, and we had dinner.

Considering again Holly Pierlot's objections to Catholic homeschoolers adopting the use of the term unschooling, I think her point about John Holt's educational theories being secular and perhaps opposed to the Catholic parental vocation are valid. However, I will need to revisit his writings in more depth, because I'm not certain that what he advocated was anti-teaching. Certainly he was against a coercive, one size fits all, institutionalized schooling situation. But from what I have read from Catholic unschoolers, they are able to take the ideas of John Holt and apply them from within the domestic church.

The open source style of learning can incorporate faith formation; lessons of the child's choosing, such as piano or dance; apprenticeships; any curriculum that is useful and fits the child's needs; chores and family responsibilities; varying degrees of structure, etc... The direct teaching of skills such as reading is not frowned upon if children do not pick them up naturally, nor is formal work required by the parents forbidden. A common theme is that there is no timetable for when to learn any particular thing, and there is no rigid establishment of what is important for all children to learn. Learning is individualized, largely driven by a child's interests and each family's values.

In addition to John Holt, the names that most commonly come up on the path to unschooling are Maria Montessori and Charlotte Mason. Classical Catholic education is also often utilized in an unschooling approach. The key seems to be that parents and children are not slaves to a commercial curriculum and the daily checking off of items completed. Segue style learning, which I have written about before, is an approach of following an organic process of making connections between ideas, experiences and subject matter--the science of relations about which Charlotte Mason wrote. Learning is not compartmentalized from the rest of life. By "collage style" I mean that you take what you like from any number of sources and use whatever fits your family best, producing a customized education for each child that promotes faith, self-discipline, useful life skills, and an authentic human character.

In future posts I will flesh this collage style of Catholic unschooling out, giving ideas for a basic format and implementation of such a prospect. I will also incorporate the teachings of Therese of Lisieux and John Bosco, who are called upon as patron saints for Catholic unschoolers, as well as the writings of other notables of the faith such as Pope John Paul II.

St. Therese

On Synchronicity and Unschooling

"There are no coincidences." This is what a homeschooling friend of mine said when I was trying to figure out how I suddenly became interested in unschooling and how I randomly came across Astra Taylor's youtube video. Today that friend's daughter showed up unexpectedly at my house. I might have expected her, since Tuesdays are our set day to have her come over in the afternoons, and my intention has been to teach her and Beezy belly dancing. We have indeed done a couple of lessons. But last week this friend was sick, and I have been in pain from throwing my back out and did not plan to teach the girls belly dance today.

I did plan to get back to Beezy's homeschooling studies, but once again some other plan seems to be at work, a certain heavenly Providence. I do think that she thrives on a certain degree of structure. A common refrain from her is, "Now what?" Sometimes I will suggest things for her to do, while other times I tell her to figure it out for herself. It seems that when our formal "school" time is done, she is just killing time until the public schooled kids get home and she can find someone to play with. This is one of the reasons unschooling appeals to me. While a certain amount of structure is beneficial, I want lesson times to be less compartmentalized from the rest of life. Some days there will not be anyone available to play with. At times I have to do things such as prepare meals, so I can't play with her. If her dad is at work or otherwise unavailable and there are no playmates on hand, Beezy needs to alleviate her own boredom. She needs to learn to be content in solitude, or to have some days that are just for our family to be together. We don't always have to be going somewhere or doing something. Even for a home educated child who does not have the distraction of television or homework to do and a limited number video games to play, our modern society still somehow delivers the message that we cannot, under any circumstances,  just be.

Yesterday school was closed for President's Day, and Beezy was invited to play at the home of a family friend. Today, as I mentioned, her homeschooling friend came over without my actively planning it, so once again we are not doing school, though we certainly could later on. My back injury has mysteriously coincided with the children having several days in a row off school and a bounty of time to spend with friends and cousins. I have been able to read and reflect about unschooling, to write and to dream. It seems to be a clear case of synchronicity, of God nudging me in a certain direction seemingly out of the blue and then giving me all of this time to sort it out. Divine Wisdom is allowing me to be physically unable to do much else but to pray, read, meditate, and journal. What a gift! I dare not ignore the message. Things are exactly as they are meant to be, in this moment, in this time. How different life would be to always live in God's time, seeking and following his will. I feel like I'm on the verge of the freedom and authenticity I have sought for years. But I know I can't make it all happen in one day, one week, one month, or one year. I have definitely turned a corner though, and I must trust that the Promised Land awaits!

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt. 6:33)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Home (Un?) Schooling, Relaxed Catholic Charlotte Mason Style

"Relaxed Catholic Charlotte Mason" is a rather wordy way to explain my homeschooling style, but it will have to do right now, while I am in a phase of re-evaluating, re-defining, and setting a new course. I know what Romeo (or was it Juliet?) said about a rose by any other name smelling as sweet, but in the end it really did matter that he was a Montague and she a Capulet.

Charlotte Mason was Christian, but I don't know if she was specifically Catholic. At any rate, it is clear that she and Maria Montessori, who was Catholic, have influenced my philosophy and practices of education heavily, and for me, the Catholic part of Beezy's education must come first. Faith was at the heart of helping children to learn and grow in every area of life for these two lovely ladies. So whether or not I will definitely use the term "unschooling", I will most certainly be teaching my child in the way she should go.

"Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni! which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."  
( John 20:15-17 )

Mary Magdalene calls Jesus "Rabonni", the Jewish word meaning My Great Teacher or Master, the title of highest honor. Jesus was (and still is) the greatest teacher of all time, and all Christians are to emulate him. The Bible is full of exhortations to parents to teach their children well, not to allow them to "self-regulate" willy-nilly.  That being said, Jesus did not proscribe to the practices of the traditional teachers of his day. The man was radical. He danced to the beat of God's drum, and God's drum alone. He wanted the children to come to him and said that we must be like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Children full of awe, wonder, humility, curiosity, innocence, exuberance, and faith. The public schools by and large crush these qualities in children. I fear that in the effort to disassociate from the traditional schools and their methods (which actually aren't the truly traditional ways of America), some homeschoolers have rejected teaching as well as schooling. They have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

If I decide to be an unschooler, I will mean it in the sense of de-institutionalizing my homeschooling. In fact, the word "homeschooling" doesn't really make sense at all, as the home is a domestic church, not a school by way of the most common definitions. Unschooling better reflects the reality of home-based education, or at least it should.  I will continue to explore and define what unschooling means to me. But one thing is for sure: if I do declare that Catholic unschooling is my style of home education, teacher will not be a dirty word. If it's good enough for my Lord, it's good enough for me.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Catholicism in Regard to Unschooling

John Holt's books, such as How Children Fail and How Children Learn, were among the first books I read in consideration of the idea of homeschooling, and these writings were certainly inspiring. It did, however, cross my mind that because he was never a parent, Holt's qualifications in regard to speaking on home education were limited by virtue of that fact. Parents' responsibilities to their children were not something he could really know on a personal level. Also, I don't remember any indication that he was a man of faith or that he considered that religious parents would have a responsibility to raise children in their faith; that is, to teach children in the realm of religion.

The Catholic Church makes it clear that failing to actively teach children is not an option, and I am Catholic, so there are certain things that I am obligated to teach my child. I imagine that other Christians and people of faith believe the same way. This is the problem with Catholics using the term unschooling that Holly Pierlot brings up in her blog, "A Mother's Rule of Life". She acknowledges that what Catholic "unschoolers" usually mean by unschooling is de-institutionalizing home education, but that what John Holt really means is anti-teaching. (See the initial question and comments at  Holly explains,

"There is a distinction between John Holt's unschooling and what Catholic families are doing to de-institutionalize their homeschools. I fear that if the term 'unschooling' is used throughout the Catholic books, and given what I know unschooling 'really is', I'd have to fight my strong reactions again...

To me, the Catholic home educator's use of Holt's term is really unfortunate, because the bottom line is Holt means anti-teaching, not anti-schools, and I really really wish Catholics would not use the term... but I guess that is wishful thinking now that it's becoming 'popular'.

Let's put it this way - if any family sets out to 'teach' via books, or instruction or stories or witness or words or lived experiences etc etc (meaning, that the 'method' one uses is geared to the unique needs and talents of the parents and the children and is not tied to traditional text/instruction methods), then this has its benefits. I imagine this is the way 'unschooling' - meaning de-institutionalized methods - is being intended by Catholic families.

However, if one decides to adopt 'unschooling' in the sense Holt uses it- that the parent really doesn't interfere with the child's process- then it's really totally unacceptable to the mission of Catholic parental education. In fact, it contradicts the parental vocation.

Keep this distinction in mind, and it might help clarify which resources to read. But watch out when reading secular unschooling resources, because they probably mean the latter, not the former, definition."

That throws another wrench into the whole thing, now doesn't it?  At the same time, I am so grateful to the Church, as usual, that she clarifies the Truth for me, that there is a higher authority than my own thoughts, opinions, inclinations, etc... There is the authority given by Jesus to his Church, which is guided by the Holy Spirit, and I can rely on that as my touchstone for everything else in life, for every decision of every single day. Perhaps "relaxed Catholic home-based learning" or "Charlotte Mason Catholic home education" would better serve my purposes than using the secular term, unschooling. How we name things is important, because concepts, methods, and belief systems lie behind the name, but in practice it is also pivotal to create a particular atmosphere and attitude toward education that does not separate learning from the rest of life. Life is learning and learning is life, regardless of exactly what style I choose to call my homeschooling. Style without substance is shallow, and every child deserves a deep, meaningful education for life.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Charlotte Mason Unschooling

*Note to readers: As this is a very popular post, I feel compelled to tell you that I no longer advocate blending Charlotte Mason with unschooling. I believe that at its root, and especially in its "radical" form, unschooling is contradictory to the Christian parental vocation. I am now a strong advocate of a Catholic adaptation of the philosophy and methodology of Charlotte Mason in an uncompromised, yet still contemporary, form. All of the goodness advertised in unschooling can be found by going further up and deeper into CM, without any of unschooling's baggage. However, I think that the content of this article remains of edifying value, so if you find it helpful on your homeschooling journey, then it has served its purpose. Thank you kindly for reading!

Before anyone screams at me, I realize that the title of this post is a contradiction in terms--which is exactly why it works for me. I have always been the eclectic type, in decorating, personal style, education, interests, etc... My personality is composed of diametrical opposites, which used to make it hard for me to understand myself. Now I'm perfectly comfortable with my seeming contradictions. You know, the whole "introverted extrovert" or "extroverted introvert" thing. I am a walking oxymoron. Will I stick with this label of my homeschooling style, Charlotte Mason unschooling? Hard to tell, since I am still waiting for the unschoolers to describe their lifestyle and what it is that they do (and don't do). But in the end I'll do my own thing anyway, so onward we go!

Lest you think that the CM method and unschooling go together like liver and strawberries, read Kathy Ward's online article, "Why I Like Charlotte Mason" ( She gives several quotes from Charlotte Mason and John Holt to show their philosophical similarity. I was so impressed with this that I don't think I could possibly express the idea any better than she has, so thanks, Kathy!

I was feeling like I needed to do something different with our homeschooling, though it was actually flowing along quite nicely. That seems ironic when I think about it. Shouldn't we leave well enough alone and not go looking for trouble? Maybe that was what got me thinking about unschooling. Since our system has been working so well, and I am happy with Beezy's academic progress, it seems to me to be time to branch out. Beezy is endlessly creative, so that isn't an issue. But we could get back to needlepoint projects, for example. We could go on day trips and travel around the country. We have access to the woods in Michigan that we could visit more often. She wants to be a singer, which may or may not work out, but she has from a very young age shown a talent for song writing. She is taking piano lessons, and her homework book already has her making up tunes. It pleased her that she has homework "like the other kids" now, but hers is "easier because it's piano and it's fun."

Today we handmade tons of valentines and baked a strawberry shortcake together. Beezy listened to Taylor Swift and had a friend over to play who lives nearby. Her cousin is spending the night, since she has no school tomorrow. This has been a good week to set school work aside and ruminate on how best to proceed. The Astra Taylor youtube video really got my wheels turning! I want to provide more opportunities for independent learning experiences for my child. I was inspired by the valentine creations to become a collage artist, and when looking for library books, I learned a new term--altered art. We looked at collage art images online. I have made "illustrated discovery journals" via the idea by Sarah Ban Breathnach in Simple Abundance for years. From my experience, children absolutely love collage art. So I am planning to create a new art area for Beezy for scrap booking and creating collages or whatever she wants to do with it. She makes stuff out of our paper recycling bin all the time. I want to create a similar artist workshop for myself!

I have encountered the writing of several other homeschooling mothers who have a Montessori background and also found themselves drawn to Charlotte Mason. I have pointed out the  similarities of these educators at various points in this blog. One notable difference between them is that the CM method is predominantly teacher-led (albeit only in the mornings), while Montessori's is child-centered for the most part (though the role of the teacher is crucial). Charlotte did not establish a highly scientific, prepared indoor environment like Maria's, because she was much more nature and literature oriented. Both gave their students plenty of free time and put a high premium on respect for children as people and their innate capacity to learn without a great deal of interference from adults. Both believed in the spiritual nurturing of a child as a foundational principle of education. Both approaches contain elements similar to unschooling's basic philosophy. I am leaning more toward the CM method now, as Montessori materials are very pricey and take up a lot of space, and a full application of the Montessori method would be very difficult to duplicate in a home setting. And I don't want my home to resemble a classroom!

For your further edification in the CM method, below are the 20 principles of Charlotte's educational method, followed by a sampling of attainments suitable for a six-year-old. Enjoy!


Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles form a synopsis of her Educational Method:

1. Children are born persons.

2. They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.

3. The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental; but––

4. These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.

5. Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments––the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas. The P.N.E.U. Motto is: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."

6. When we say that "education is an atmosphere," we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a 'child-environment' especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child's' level.

7. By "education is a discipline," we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e., to our habits. 8. In saying that "education is a life," the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.

9. We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.

10. Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher's axiom is,' what a child learns matters less than how he learns it."

11. But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. Out of this conception comes our principle that,––

12. "Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of–– "Those first-born affinities That fit our new existence to existing things."

13. In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered: (a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body. (b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity) (c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.

14. As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should 'tell back' after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.

15. A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising. and the like. Acting upon these and some other points in the behaviour of mind, we find that the educability of children is enormously greater than has hitherto been supposed, and is but little dependent on such circumstances as heredity and environment. Nor is the accuracy of this statement limited to clever children or to children of the educated classes: thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behaviour of mind.

16. There are two guides to moral and intellectual self-management to offer to children, which we may call 'the way of the will' and 'the way of the reason.'

17. The way of the will: Children should be taught, (a) to distinguish between 'I want' and 'I will.' (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will. (c) That the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour. (This adjunct of the will is familiar to us as diversion, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may 'will' again with added power. The use of suggestion as an aid to the will is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character, It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.)

18. The way of reason: We teach children, too, not to 'lean (too confidently) to their own understanding'; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.

19. Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.

20. We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.

Volume 6: A Philosophy of Education Charlotte Mason 1922

"A Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six":

(A reprint of a curriculum outline from a CM school in the 1890s, from Summer 93 Parents Review published by Karen Andreola)

1. To recite, beautifully, 6 easy poems and hymns
2. to recite, perfectly and beautifully, a parable and a psalm
3. to add and subtract numbers up to 10, with dominoes or counters
4. to read--what and how much, will depend on what we are told of the child
5. to copy in print-hand from a book
6. to know the points of the compass with relation to their own home, where the sun rises and sets, and the way the wind blows
7. to describe the boundries of their own home
8. to describe any lake, river, pond, island etc. within easy reach
9. to tell quite accurately (however shortly) 3 stories from Bible history, 3 from early English, and 3 from early Roman history (to note, we may want to substitute early American for early English!)
10. to be able to describe 3 walks and 3 views
11. to mount in a scrap book a dozen common wildflowers, with leaves (one every week); to name these, describe them in their own words, and say where they found them.
12. to do the same with leaves and flowers of 6 forest trees
13. to know 6 birds by song, colour and shape
14. to send in certain Kindergarten or other handiwork, as directed
15. to tell three stories about their own "pets"--rabbit, dog or cat.
16. to name 20 common objects in French, and say a dozen little sentences
17. to sing one hymn, one French song, and one English song
18. to keep a caterpillar and tell the life-story of a butterfly from his own observations.

Deconstructing Education #3

Beezy understands that learning happens all of the time, not just when we are "doing school".  But she is also conscious of the lesson plan book I keep, of checking things off and being aware of how many separate items we accomplish.  I feel compelled to deconstruct these lesson times a bit.  For instance, last night Beezy was having trouble falling asleep, so she read a chapter in her Ginn reader and then told me that she read an interesting story about a pancake. She gave me a narration of the story without my prompting her in an obvious way while we were lying in the dark.  I had originally put the idea into her head to read if she can't fall asleep, and on her own she sometimes chooses to do this using a book light, which adds an element of fun.

I am torn. I like the Charlotte Mason idea of doing formal lessons in the mornings, being finished by 1:00 and having the rest of the day free. Is that like unschooling "part time"? I think it's fair to say that those unschoolers who believe that, from a philosophical standpoint, you can't unschool part time have a valid point. The consensus seems to be that unschooling is not doing school at home, so it is quite a different animal from homeschooling methods which duplicate the public schooling experience within the home environment. Yet allow me to argue that any method of homeschooling is indeed a radical expression of liberty. I know, now I am co-opting the term "radical" from the radical unschoolers!

I agree with Astra Taylor that it is important how we name things, and that unschooling, while a form of homeschooling, is something different from the styles which use a set curriculum and are adult led, etc... I also agree with the homeschooling mother in the audience that there is too much division between the two camps, and that it is a very brave decision to homeschool one's children in any shape or form. I also agree with that mother that homeschooling does not equal "helicopter" parenting.

The other night Beezy asked if she could have some gum. Since unschooling had suddenly come into my radar, I told her that she didn't have to ask for gum; she could have gum whenever she wants. She was surprised at this, but I told her that I thought she was responsible enough to make her own choice. I reminded her that brushing one's teeth is especially important if one chews a lot of gum. The thing is, we have always had candy in plain sight, available whenever Beezy might want to have some, yet she has always asked first. She doesn't feel a need to sneak it, and she typically doesn't eat too much of it. She loves sweets but doesn't over-indulge. Since allowing her to choose gum without asking, I have noticed no increase in her consumption of it.

I have also been allowing our days to flow organically this week. Yesterday I pulled my back out right before my RCIA director came to catch me up on classes I had missed. Beezy helped clean the house before the director came, and she ran errands with her dad during our meeting. Since I was in too much pain and couldn't move around well at all, we didn't do school. Beezy decided to visit her grandma. Then her cousin came over to play, and the three of us went to the Ash Wednesday Mass. Her dad and I both read to her yesterday, and she read to herself. No doubt plenty of learning took place despite not having "school time".

I still want to keep track of the books and materials we are using, but I think maybe I will put the lesson plan book aside and not write each activity into a subject box. Sometimes I feel stressed in the effort to get a certain amount of things done. It is nice to have school out of the way early in the day on the one hand, but on the other that gives the message that the most important learning happens during that specific time frame. There is an advantage, I think, in not having sharp lines between school and the rest of life. I also think it is nonsense to say that in the unschooling method one must use absolutely no curriculum. Charlotte Mason advocated a broad curriculum focusing on living books and exploration of the natural world. The whole world and everything in it qualifies as educational curricula! In the Montessori Method, role modeling is the best practice to teach children in the way they should go.

What I want to work on is better preparing the home environment to be interesting and stimulating. This will require more organization and closet cleaning, and Beezy can be a part of that. I want to let the day unfold organically but with a purpose toward creativity, spiritual growth, and learning that is both teacher-directed and self-directed, and I want to extend such open source learning more into the community, traveling and going to intriguing places. Now it is time to make Valentine cards, according to Beezy, and she isn't hungry yet for breakfast. So begins our day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Deconstructing Education #2

This link will take you to the blog, "I'm Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write." This is written by a 21-year-old who was unschooled and is a very good writer, in my opinion. She distinguishes in this post between unschooling and relaxed homeschooling. I appreciate that there is a distinction and that unschoolers are concerned about the co-opting of the term by homeschoolers who do not actually unschool. Yet there is also a definite difference between "radical unschoolers" and plain old unschoolers, so obviously this is a term with a subjective and relative definition. Just as there are many styles and variations of homeschooling, it stands to reason that unschooling will mean something a little different to each person.

For example, I met a homeschooling mother who asked me something like, "Do you homeschool or do you do a co-op?" She seemed to be under the impression that this was an either/or type of thing. We belonged to a co-op which met for only a few hours on Mondays at the time. This did not mean that was all we did as homeschoolers. I considered the co-op to be supplemental, with my child's core education coming from home. People outside the homeschooling community seemed often to be under the impression that the co-op was the primary teaching tool, the "real school" if you will, and were confused about why it met only once a week and for only two, 10-week semesters a year. Clearly this is because it fit into their conception of what school should be better than the idea of a home-based education. To me, the co-op was mostly for socializing purposes for my only child, to do things with other children in a group and to have teachers other than me. It wasn't necessary for her education.

Today we do not belong to a co-op. We are involved in other community activities that fulfill the needs that we previously got from participating in one. Many of the classes there were excellent in quality, while others were perhaps not the best use of time. Belonging to the co-op took time away from myself, since I had to be a teacher there and spend a lot of time outside the co-op to prepare my lessons, and it took away from time I thought would be more beneficially spent focusing on other things with Beezy. At any rate, co-ops can certainly be a viable part of a homeschooling experience; it is not an either one homeschools or one belongs to a co-op type of proposition. This is to point out that even among homeschoolers there are varying beliefs about what homeschooling means, about what it should or should not be.

As far as unschooling goes, I think that term is sometimes used in very "radical" situations when unparenting or uneducating would better apply. But barring those extreme situations in which parents simply fail to parent and the learning of children is seriously stunted, unschooling seems to be a viable option of enriching education which encompasses an entire way of life. In my opinion, unschooling means that one does not generally apply the tactics and methods used for education in the public schools to one's approach to the education of one's children. Open Source Learning, a term I believe John Taylor Gatto coined, may be more accurate to what unschooling actually is.

I think it would be true to say that the Montessori Method is a style of unschooling, even if it is implemented in a classroom setting, although spending long hours away from one's family and segregated from the larger community is still problematic. Montessori's method is based on educating a child for life, on giving children a high level of, but not absolute, freedom of choice, and on being auto-educative and child-centered. Children have freedom of movement and are not shackled to desks. They are also not sequestered with children solely their own age, but have multi-age groupings. Teachers facilitate rather than dictate what a child learns. These are all tenets of unschooling. But unlike some forms of unschooling, there are rules, and the three Rs of respect for oneself, respect for others, and respect for one's environment are intrinsic to this method.

Efforts to instill good habits in children are important. Children are, after all, less mature and less experienced in life than adults (although there are surely exceptions to the rule!). They do not automatically know right from wrong, or how to resolve all of their own conflicts, and they couldn't possibly know what they might be interested in learning more about unless they have first had some exposure to a topic. With unschooling, I understand that this exposure happens more organically rather than by the direct intervention of adults. At the same time, I don't think unschooling necessitates that a parent never initiates a learning experience or that an adult never directly teaches her kids anything. Children thrive best with healthy boundaries and gentle guidance, gradually being given increasing levels of responsibility for themselves. In my opinion, unschooling does not mean that you can't read a book about rainforests to your child unless she has expressed a clear interest in the subject!

So can relaxed homeschooling be understood as a type of unschooling? At this point in time, I would say yes. If you disagree, I want to know why! I did not go to Wikipedia for a definition of unschooling to see if I am understanding the concept. It is clear that some unschoolers themselves misunderstand what it means to de-program oneself and one's children from the spirit-killing effects of government schooling. After all, when John Holt coined the term unschooling in the 60s, it was synonymous with homeschooling. I think some unschoolers have found only an alternate way to kill their children's spirits, well-intentioned as they may be. Yet it is also apparent that many unschoolers have found a way of living that works very well, producing well-rounded individuals who think for themselves and express themselves with extreme proficiency. Furthermore, these kids grow up to be happy people!

As with homeschooling, I will suggest that there is no single, right way to do unschooling. I am unschooling myself by not going to an online dictionary to have someone else's opinion thrust upon me about what this is and whether or not I can call myself an unschooler. I'm not saying that I am an unschooler. I'm saying that I'm thinking for myself about what such a term truly implies. I do not think, for example, that it implies allowing a child of 5 years old to eat junk food all day, and then try to tell people that it is because I trust my child that I allow him to do this. To me, that is simply ludicrous. Such "radical" unschooling really has nothing at all to do with education or authentic spirituality. Right now I have begun to experiment with unschooling. I will continue to log my thoughts, results, questions, successes, failures, and conclusions, and I welcome your imput on the journey!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Deconstructing Education #1

Yesterday I began reading John Taylor Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction, and as usual Gatto's writing has the potential to strike terror into the heart of anyone with children. From being fearful for today's public school children, the next logical step is to call to mind my own experiences in public schooling and realize with horror that yes, I was brainwashed in many ways. It isn't the fault of teachers. The system is simply set up that way. And today it is much worse than when I was growing up, thanks to George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" policies and the current "Race to the Top" schemes. The methods used to dumb us all down are subtle and perhaps all the more insidious for that reason.

I was talking to a friend recently who has been a teacher for a long time, and I told her the strongest impression I have of my high school memories is being physically uncomfortable. I was always cold, and there were no windows in the classrooms to let in fresh air and sunshine. I was hungry all the time. I ate breakfast when I got up at 5:45 a.m., was starving by lunch time, and then ate a school lunch that was usually unappetizing. By the time I got off the school bus at 3:00 p.m., I was ravenous. Luckily we always had healthy food to eat at home.

Aside from gym, the long lunch line, and changing classes, I remember only three occasions of being out of a chair while in high school. Otherwise we were always sitting in rows, facing front toward the teacher's desk and the blackboard. Mrs. Campbell was an excellent English teacher, and one day we moved our desks all out of the way to do some play acting with Shakespeare.  (We would also stand to read our book reports.)  In Spanish, Miss Baird, another good teacher, led us through the halls one day to sing Christmas carols in Spanish (likely this would no longer be allowed). In Oral Interpretation and Debate class, we stood for our debates and duet acting. I'll be writing more on why the standard set up is problematic in later posts.

For now I want to simply begin a journey toward deconstructing the school experience, starting with intense analysis of my own time in public school and the experiences of my classmates. My task is to unlearn everything I think I know, all of those ingrained notions of what education is and how it should be accomplished. When people object to homeschooling, they are by and large reacting to their own school brainwashing and the current idea that only a certified, specialized person can know or teach anything. The idea that school is not only unnecessary but damaging to the human spirit is intensely threatening. There is a vested interest in insisting that school is good. Also, past generations did not have it as bad as kids do today, and they don't realize how slippery the slope of American government schools has actually become. Mostly I will be writing stream of consciousness style, letting memory and thought flow organically as it will.

What can we do, beginning today in our homes, to free our children to truly learn and grow at their own pace, in their own way and time? How can we create a self-educating environment? How can we give them opportunities to make their own choices and discoveries? How can we avoid the pitfalls of duplicating school in the home? How can we unschool without falling into irresponsible, neglectful "unparenting", as happens sometimes at the radical end of the spectrum? Can we be respectful friends of our children as well as figures of authority? These questions and more must be addressed, and no doubt looking so closely at our histories will be uncomfortable, probably even painful. But how can I set my child free until I have broken my own chains? Let's do it one day at a time and have the courage to unwrap the truth. I welcome your comments! Am I alone here in my efforts? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Unschooled Life--A Call for Guest Authors

Here is a link to the youtube video, "Astra Taylor on the Unschooled Life".  Astra is a filmmaker who was unschooled until the age of 13. She has advanced degrees and even attended Brown University, but she never studied cinematography. She reflects on her unschooled life, her experiences in the public school system, and her time in college. She gives a balanced view of both the pros and cons of unschooling and distinguishes this mode of education from homeschooling.

 Astra Taylor

One thing Astra wishes she had more of as an unschooler was an intellectual community where she could be creative with other kids, having fun and doing projects. This was an unmet need even though she had siblings. She found such a community among her public school friends, who she said were trying to give themselves the unschooling experience she had though they went to a public school. They sought to be self-directed learners.

Self-education is the cornerstone of unschooling. Adults facilitate the learning process rather than teach their children according to a schedule and curriculum. Astra emphasized her enriching home environment and the natural world outside as being sufficient motivation for spiking her curiosity and providing the materials to find out what she was interested in learning. This reminds me of my Montessori experience. The prepared classroom environment was key to this method. Children were free to choose any materials from the shelves, as long as they had been shown the proper handling and use of the material, and they were free to come up with their own variations.

The lessons teachers gave were predominantly individual and small group, and children had the right to not have the lesson if they were not interested or were busy working on something else. We did our best not to interrupt their concentration. But being a school situation, there were lunch times, group circle lessons, and outdoor play times. We tried to make transitions smooth and not hurry the children, and to allow a child who really did not want to break away from his work to finish it whenever possible. It wasn't an ideal situation, and for some children, the school day was excessively long. They could come as early as 7:30 a.m. and stay until 6:00 p.m. The spirit of following the child, a child-centered rather than teacher-centered approach, was intrinsic to this method.

But what about the unschooled child who does not have an enriching home environment or adequate exposure to the community and the arts? Who doesn't have books at home or access to a library? The idea of "radical unschooling" disturbs me, by which I refer to the practice of giving children no rules, no formation of good habits, no regular routines of sleep or meal times, letting them do whatever they want, whenever they want, trusting them to somehow "self-regulate". If they are not exposed to certain things, how will they know what interests they would like to pursue?

So to further my understanding of unschooling and the different types that may exist, I am inviting unschooling parents, and even the kids themselves, to be guest authors on this blog. We could do a Q&A session, or you can write your own article. Please contact me via Facebook or on the blog comments site if you are interested! I look forward to learning more about the unschooling process.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Are Public Schools Constitutional?

Recently a homeschooling friend of mine told me that the establishment of compulsory public schooling by the federal government was unconstitutional. Being that she is more politically savvy than me, I suspected that she could be right. I have a lot more research to do on this. I'm sure it is covered in The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto. This is a huge tome which will require much time to wade through, but you can begin with his youtube videos. I found this link to the issue of constitutionality that makes for another good start: The author cites the violation of religious liberty as the basis of the unconstitutionality of public schools. This is interesting, since government schools claim to protect religious freedom by eliminating any references to God.

Yet it can be argued that government schools actively teach secular humanism:
Humanism, with regard in particular to the belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God.

Is secular humanism a religion? Religion does not only refer to one's beliefs in God but relates also to beliefs about God. The origin of the universe, questions of morality, and the meaning and purpose of life are tied up in religion, whether or not one believes in God or feels that God is necessary.  Atheism is a religion. Humanism is defined as a belief in relation to morals, self-fulfillment, and the existence of God. Sounds like a religion to me, and one of its primary tenets is the philosophy of moral relativism, which you can read more about here: The basic idea is that morality is based upon no absolute truth, but is always relative to personal opinion, the particular situation, popular culture, historical time period, and the like. This is the religion taught in government schools.

"The anthropologist Clifford Geertz defined religion as a 'system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.' " (Wikipedia)
Darwin's theory of evolution is also a tenet of secular humanism. Is creationism even taught as a scientific theory anymore in the public schools?

Secular humanism, moral relativism, and Darwin's evolutionary theory fit Geertz's religious criteria. As the HHS mandate attempts to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of the people of the United States, we need to be especially vigilant to guard against further violations of religious liberty in the public schools and in relation to homeschooling laws. Give the dragon an inch, and he'll take the whole highway.

Christian Homeschooling

When I was in high school, a group of students including myself would call out to the others while passing in the hallway, "Attitude check!"  The response given to this was, "Praise the Lord!"  How well would this go over today in the public schools?  Would such students be hushed, sent to the principal's office, put in detention, even suspended?  In the last couple of years a student was suspended for wearing a Rosary in honor of his sick grandma, on the pretense that it could be interpreted as a gang symbol.  This was a good student with a clean record and no history of violence.  Would bowing one's head in prayer even be tolerated in the classrooms of today?  Some schools no longer include the Pledge of Allegiance because of the phrase "under God".  God has been kicked out of school.

I did not choose homeschooling for religious reasons.  God calls me to homeschool, which I understood from the beginning.  However, I didn't use a Christian curriculum.  If Beezy wanted to hear the Bible, I would read it.  We have always prayed together as a family at the dinner table, and bedtime prayers are a nightly routine.  But our studies did not revolve around Christian material.  I wouldn't have called myself a "Christian homeschooler" until recently, when being Catholic became the focus of my life as a wife and mother.  I did notice early on, though, that I was hearing a lot about God's being expelled from the public schools, and it bothered me.  The logic goes that by not allowing religion of any form to be part of the school day in any way, no one's religious or atheist sensibilities would be offended.  Do school children not have First Amendment rights?  Their parents pay taxes, don't they?  I pay taxes, even though my child is not in the public school system.  I have the right to object.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children, regardless of the schooling method.  I think that most Christian homeschoolers give precedence to getting their children into Heaven over getting them into Harvard.  The character of the child and his or her spiritual formation is the top priority.  There is little use in book learning without a firm religious foundation.

What I don't think gets enough press is the spiritual warfare being waged between the forces of good and evil as it concerns us homeschoolers.  It only occurred to me recently that attacks against my homeschooling efforts have their origin in Satan.  My new motto is, stop feeding the dragon.  The devil wants us distracted from our sacred purpose.  He wants all parents distracted, but I think the ones who are making a point of focusing on religious instruction get his special attention.  Those keeping their children out of harm's way, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, are going to more acutely experience his wrath.  Enmity has been placed between the dragon and the seed of the Woman, and since the serpent couldn't conquer the child born of Mary, he is going after the rest of her offspring.  This is taught in the Book of Revelation.

I think we need to grow thicker skins.  God has given us a great task, and the devil will do anything to make us doubt ourselves and to thwart our efforts, and to turn others against us.  The best way to defeat the dragon is to stop feeding him ammunition.  He eats anger, low self-esteem, depression, self-doubt, fear, guilt, malice, hopelessness, and despair.  He is repelled by Faith, Hope, and Love.  Shove those in his mouth, and he will be silenced.