Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Celebrate Not-Back-to-School!

Despite what the trendy commercials and smiley magazine articles tell you, school isn’t about your children’s education, learning or healthy development. School’s entire purpose is to separate your children from you, their families, friends, communities and from themselves in order to train them to take their place in the global marketplace, as both workers and consumers. “Back-To-School” should be appropriately renamed “Back-To-The-Conditioning-Cell”.

I encourage you to look past the grinning stock photos, bubbly commercial actors and flimsy, child-denying articles and realize that “Back-To-School” isn’t a holiday, a celebration or a fun time for children- It is a marketing goldmine for those who profit from the materialistic, academic and social anxieties it triggers.   --Laurie A. Couture

Today is the 36th anniversary of my Christian baptism. It is also the last day of July. In 21 days, only three weeks, the kids in my town will go back to school. Even some homeschooled children will soon go back to a certain daily grind.  Back-to-school didn't used to happen until after Labor Day. That's the first change I'm going to make in our natural learning paradigm shift. Let summer be summer until it is actually fall! I know, what a novel idea.

Where I live, the county fair and 4-H are big. Much formal learning is involved in 4-H projects, so until the fair is over, we will be focused on finishing Beezy's dog project. We are also now officially Humane Society volunteers. Beezy is really interested in working at a pet center. Maybe she will be a dog groomer or boarder or veterinarian some day. At the age of 9 she is already getting practical experience. She will most likely resume piano lessons when the kids go back to school, and religious education classes will begin late in August. Otherwise, formal studies do not need to happen until September, maybe when our homeschool co-op starts.

Summer gets such a short shift. Some of my very best childhood memories are of being at Little Long Lake when my grandparents owned a cottage there. The cottage had a toilet but no running water. We flushed it with a bucket of lake water, and we washed our hair in the lake. We went fishing and played "king of the mountain" on the raft in our swimming area. There were fireworks and sparklers. We even went to a church in the area sometimes. My teenage uncle and his friends would drive to church, willingly, even when they didn't have to go. I remember the automatic slamming sound of the screen door every time someone entered or left the cottage. Old magazines on the upstairs porch. Strange shapes in the wallpaper. A certain smell. My grandparents. Kids I knew only from the lake. Playing in the sand and canoeing. Swimming through seaweed. "Take a Chance on Me" and "Rock the Boat" on the radio. Life was never more fully lived than there at that lake, and the grown ups remember it wistfully too. I can still see that final bend in the dirt road that led to our cottage. I can still feel the anticipation. What if life were always like that?

I agree with Laurie Couture--"Back-to-School" is not a holiday. It's a corporate marketing scam. Soon the children will be gone from the neighborhood until late in the afternoon. They won't be riding their bikes, jumping on trampolines, or playing football in an empty grass lot. They won't be with their families. They won't be allowed to go to the bathroom when they need to, or to talk to their friends except for a few minutes at lunch and recess. They will sit quietly, face the front of the classroom, keep their heads down, and do work they have not chosen. They won't be climbing trees. Daydreaming will be considered a sin. They will be removed for long hours from the real world ostensibly to prepare to some day re-enter it. This is sad, and life doesn't have to be this way.

What if you didn't send your children back to school this year? It isn't too late to register as homeschoolers. Just consider it. Pray about it. Listen to your inner voice. You don't have to give your children away to the State. You don't need to be especially smart or buy fancy curriculum. You only need faith the size of a mustard seed. It's like the angel said, "With God all things are possible."

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday's Sorrowful Mysteries

After dropping off Beezy for her parks and recreation summer camp program this morning, I looked at the Facebook news feed. I don't do this often, but today someone had posted Friday's Sorrowful Mysteries from the blog, My Mother's Rosary ( The Rosary being said has accompanying pictures to aid in meditation. Very nice way to start the day!

I went to daily Mass on Wednesday morning, and I was blessed with healing. I do believe that if we continue to take Jesus, body, blood, soul, and divinity, into ourselves in the Holy Eucharist regularly, we will certainly be healed, in whatever way our Lord chooses to give it to us. "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed." This prayer is spoken at every Mass. As we pray, so do we believe.

I think I had to face those painful shards, to acknowledge their presence and pray for healing, and to write about it, so I could give it all a place to rest outside of myself and offer up my suffering. Maybe it will bless someone else. The day is cool and lovely, and I am feeling hopeful and at peace. Have a joyful weekend, everyone!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Facing an Unschooling Train Wreck, Part 2

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  
(Matt. 5: 9-11)

Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word: "Your own people who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, 'Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy!' Yet they will be put to shame."  (Isaiah 66:5)

To return to the issue of confidence in homeschooling and what drew me to the promise of empowerment in radical unschooling:  here I have to face some demons. A certain amount of the self-doubt that I have experienced was inflicted by others close to me who did not believe in me, who didn't think I was doing a great job of parenting and thought there was something wrong with my child. This has left deep scars. I had great confidence in the beginning of the journey, but I was criticized and attacked so many times that my joy in our lifestyle, and my ability to trust in others and myself, was eroded by people who I feel should have been supportive. Beezy's academic progress was judged as not good enough. Bringing these instances of injustice to light resulted in more of the same, in a widening circle. I try to understand that we are all wounded, and sometimes pain is manifest in the tearing down of others. Fear replaces faith. I must take responsibility for my own feelings and reactions in order to heal.

In June my family went to a Renaissance Faire, and a story teller/empathic healer looked into my eyes. She noted my dark-rimmed, blue-grey irises, what she called "sky eyes", which spoke of my strong core and the fact that I don't let anyone push me around. She also saw something else; that my soul had broken apart like the breaking up of a frozen lake. But the pieces were not the usual chunks of ice. They were like shards of glass. I knew it was true, because I started crying. The only thing I don't know for sure is exactly which pieces are still cutting me.

My hope that trust can be restored is consistently dashed each time I choose to believe again. In what universe is it okay to tell your sister that her beloved child will grow up to be a serial killer? People have chosen to think the worst of me and my family. Optimism is in my nature, but so is deep sensitivity. If I pull these shards out of my heart, will I bleed to death?

Maybe this is why I identify with the fallen guru, Dee. Something happened to shatter her too. Her problems are so much uglier than mine. My life is good, my husband and I are happy together, and our child is thriving. Yet in Dee's story I see magnified a darkness that I still have to face.

Perhaps women are especially vulnerable to doubting ourselves. We have been conditioned by society, family, and school to blend in. We should not be too loud or opinionated, should not call attention to ourselves or veer too far from the mainstream. We shouldn't make it too apparent how smart and talented we really are. We most especially should not have the audacity to think that we can educate our own children without certified experts. We are taught to feel guilty if we do not run with the other lemmings and drown in the sea. What's expected is a mass suicide of our spirits. And what's worse, it is often other women who cause us the most harm. We are conditioned to compete with one another and to soothe our jealousy by tearing each other down. Right and left we are silenced. I have so often been told that I am wrong in every way. Shit.

Radical unschooling was supposed to lift families out of the mire, but all they received instead was another oppressive, dictatorial dogma. Another cult of let's-all-think-the-same. A glossy cover with pseudo-intellectual twaddle inside. More insanity. I am so sensitive to beauty, and subsequently to ugliness. I didn't want to believe the RU train wreck I was seeing.

There is one, full-proof, saving grace. Karen DeBeus asserted in her ebook, Called Home, that if you are homeschooling, it is because you have been called to do it.  I was chosen, by God himself, for this vocation. I obediently have answered the call, and I have endured the persecution. I will not ignore my Lord. I will not stay on the sickening merry-go-round others invite me to play on. I will not continue to pound on closed doors, and I will not open my own to scorn and hate. God alone. God alone. God alone. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Facing an Unschooling Train Wreck, Part 1

"Sell crazy someplace else. We're all stocked up here." 
 --Jack Nicholson, As Good as It Gets

Montparnasse Station, 1895

This morning I listened to a podcast on Unplugged Mom Radio called, "Liberation from the Unschooling Gestapo," hosted by Laurette Lynn. This was not a talk against natural learning. In fact, these people are advocates of what unschooling originally meant--living life as if school did not exist; interest driven, child centered learning; treating children with respect and allowing them choices; customizing education to the individual's needs, learning styles, temperament, etc... 

The radical unschooling concept that later developed with the aid of "expert" gurus became what Laurette calls a tyrannical religion, a dogmatic cult. She brings up the same concerns I have about parents abdicating all authority and asserts that "the deliberate act of encouraging your children to learn is not force. Coercion is an act of violence. Lovingly teaching your child to read is not coercion."  Thank you, Laurette!

She talks about parents going to FB forums with questions on things like what to do when a child doesn't want to brush his teeth, and getting the answer that it isn't right to force the child to do this. She asks, why are parents so vulnerable to begin with? Why do they ignore their own intuition and ask strangers for advice in areas that should be obvious? The extreme case mentioned was a 10-year-old girl who wanted to have sex. She had seen pornography on the internet, as her parents did not believe in limiting her access, and the girl's 12-year-old boyfriend was pressuring her. The mother was actually considering, under RU philosophy, letting her daughter make the choice to have sex, and her only job was to help her daughter through the decision-making process. But surely, you may be thinking, this is just an isolated case, not the status quo. You would be wrong. I witnessed the bullying on RU forums myself, and the zombie-like adherence to this "freedom" dogma. Considerations of safety, morality, health, and developmental appropriateness are pushed aside. Otherwise, you are trying to "control" your children.

I found this podcast while I was looking for solace. I was asking myself, why did I fall for radical unschooling? I was never entirely sold on the idea, but a part of me wanted to be. Why was it so appealing? Let's go back to the RU guru, who I will call "Dee", that I mentioned being embroiled in a scandal a couple of posts ago. She has stopped writing about it on her blog, and I was disappointed. I wanted resolution. The truth is, I didn't want her crown to fall off. Maybe all of the sick things she did were a product of alcoholism, I rationalized, since she said she thought she might be a binge drinker. Maybe it was the disease, and not her real self, causing all the trouble. I wanted to ignore her admission of looking for love and sex outside her marriage. I didn't want the joyful picture of her beautiful family to be shattered. And since all of the people involved in this scandal seem to be highly dysfunctional, maybe they had exaggerated or misrepresented Dee's problems. But she admitted that much of it was true, and that she had destroyed her family.

How did I allow myself to get sucked into caring about all of this?

- First of all, unschooling appealed to me because of similarities in philosophy to Montessori and Charlotte Mason. I agreed with not forcing learning and allowing children to work at their own pace. I agreed that there is not one, universal body of knowledge that everyone must learn, and I agreed that the real world is not divided into subjects. I have never been a fan of boxed curriculum, though I'm not against it. I prefer to design my own curriculum. Unschooling seemed like a possible fit.

- Then there is my history of living with active alcoholism and the adverse effects of having friends and family members who are alcoholic, drug addicted, and/or mentally ill. This makes me susceptible to the crazy-making of others, and there is that care taking tendency of wanting to help in some way. Dee's distress was able to grab me over the cyber waves!

- When we are privy to the lives of celebrities, we can feel like we know them. Dee has appeared on reality TV and numerous talk shows and has many youtube videos, a blog, and a website. I liked her.

- I don't want to find out I've been duped. I want to think I am smarter than that. I suppose I am, considering that I had already distanced myself from RU before Dee's story of destructive, dishonest, unprofessional behavior became public. Still, I had ignored the signs that something wasn't quite right with her family. For example, her blog post showing a picture of her preschooler flipping off the camera (a.k.a. giving the bird with the middle finger).

- And perhaps I still need to work on my confidence as a homeschooling mother. The RU message seemed empowering. But what was at the root of my need to feel more empowered? Stay tuned for Part 2...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mary and Martha

The homily I heard at Mass yesterday brought tears to my eyes. Father just hit the nail on the head so many times. The gospel reading was the familiar story of Mary and Martha. Jesus is a guest in their home in Bethany. Martha is bustling around, preparing dinner and making things ready, while her sister is simply sitting at the feet of Jesus. It was this Mary that I was thinking of when I decided that I needed to take time to cease studying and preparing for homeschooling, and just pray. Martha wants Jesus to make Mary help her, and she is resentful of having to do all the work alone. Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part, and he will not take it from her.

This story seems like a simple admonition to get our priorities straight, to put Jesus first. Yet Father went deeper and said something I had never thought about. What this story also illustrates is a role revearsal; here we see that Jesus has become the host. Mary and Martha's house belonged to Jesus, and today my home belongs to Jesus. If I let him be the host, then I know what I need to be doing. I can sit at his feet first, and from there I will know better how to serve him.

Father talked about hospitality. Do our modern devices--television, cell phone, computer, etc... own us? Are we really just using them as helpful tools, or do they rule our lives? How many times has my own child wanted to talk to me, and she had to wait while I finished reading something, or typing a blog, or checking Facebook? Right now she is at a mini summer camp, so I can write without distraction. And before she went, I resisted turning on the computer right away and had my coffee with her while she ate breakfast. Now I need to work on praying first before I turn on the computer or do housework or anything else as well!

What I have been doing lately is observing our habits. How can I improve my own, and then how can I help my child (and my husband) develop better habits? If children are used to doing certain things as a matter of course, then I think there would be less resistance when it is time for bed, or to put toys away, or to take their dishes to the sink after a meal. Yes, it takes diligence on the part of a parent to provide the necessary repetition to instill good habits, but the positive results of less work later, and having self-disciplined children, seem to me to be well worth the trade off. But first we must be willing to role model the good habits we would like to see! Keeping in mind that just because a child sees us making our bed does not mean that eventually she will be inspired to make her own. Our job is to follow through with our children.

Father's message at church was one of hospitality--"mi casa es su casa"--my house is your house. We need to row the boat using both oars, the oar of work and the oar of prayer. We must find balance in our lives. I want my house to belong to Jesus. If I let him serve me, then I can serve him, and serving him means serving my family well. Balance also means not allowing crazy-making into my life. One person misinterprets something, and someone else reacts irrationally to it, and next thing I know I am thrown off course. The devil does his work too well. I need to do mine better. The only solution is to go to God in prayer and to his word. Over and over again until that is my habit.

When I look at my family today, I see people who are imperfect but who are happy, healthy, and thriving. I see solid relationships. I also see too much dog hair on the floor, but that's okay. Today I will sweep it up. No one has a right to come into your home and steal your joy or rob you of your precious time, whether that is literally or via the technology we too often idolize. And if my home is Jesus' home, how can I be served by him and serve him if I am worrying over the crazy-makers? How much am I willing to let into my home-haven? How much are you?

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."  (John 8: 31,32)

This past week, what message did I receive when I prayed over my homeschool? The message I got was peace in my heart. Even when I also got an unexpected shock. A high profile, radical unschooling advocate whom I have admired is involved in a tremendous scandal. I learned of something being amiss directly from her, because I subscribe to her blog. Her post was vague, and I was worried. Someone had made accusations of unprofessional and destructive behavior on another blog, and only God knows what is true. By her own admission, the unschooling guru had failed to practice what she preached, and her world was crumbling. The story has all the classic drama of a soap opera:  alcohol abuse, marital infidelity, lies, financial deception, emotional manipulation, domestic violence, a nervous breakdown, and devastated children.

Wow, my life is so normal! It was almost eerie, after what I wrote about the cultish elements of unschooling and its gurus, and I wasn't even thinking specifically of this person, though I was thinking of the FB group she moderates. What do these events mean to me? I think I was a bit starstruck by this woman, and though I didn't have her on a pedestal, the experience brings home the warning that we really need to avoid making anything, whether a person or a homeschooling method, or even homeschooling itself, an idol. Sure, we can be inspired by others, by our friends, or a beloved relative, or an author whose words resonate with us. But if we are not looking to God first, every single day, then when our hero falls, we will feel the earth tremble.

So much of what I have witnessed in the radical unschooling community is profoundly dysfunctional, and this episode takes the cake. But I don't know that unschoolers are any more dysfunctional than society in general. The fall from grace of one guru doesn't necessarily discredit unschooling itself. Yet if I had a dime for every unschooler, Christian or otherwise, who mentioned or quoted John Holt (and they definitely reference him over Jesus, the Church, or the saints), I would have a fat piggy bank. And John Holt is dead. The unschooling movement as it exists today was built on a secular guru, and when he was gone, others picked up his crown. But certain radical unschooling advocates actually made it a religion. Just consider that for a moment.

The question here is whether there is intrinsic to unschooling philosophy something that tends toward dysfunction and is antithetical to Christianity. And not only that. Is radical unschooling a cult complete with fear mongering, shaming, and the brainwashing of parents? If I had to boil radical unschooling down to one definition that seems true across the board, it would be this:  the insistence upon children to be primarily responsible for their own education and upbringing. Does this reflect the word of Jesus? You answer the truth for yourself.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Called Home

I finished both of Karen DeBeus' ebooks, and I give them a thumbs up! I am going to take her advice in Called Home and declare a moratorium for a few days on researching and planning our homeschooling. This is the time when many mothers are getting their curriculum materials together, or those new to homeschooling are frantically researching methods. We have so much information at our finger tips, with tons of books, websites, blogs, email and Facebook groups, that it is easy to look to outside sources for validation and guidance. We are blessed to have all of this support, but it can also be terribly distracting. Developing a solid philosophy and having a method that works for your family is important, but "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you."

I've actually had my planning done for months, but I still have been ordering additional books to use, and I've continued to dwell upon what Catholic Natural Learning will look like come fall. I have been praying rosaries for the intention of receiving the wisdom I need. It is dawning on me that there really are no limits to true freedom if I am always following the will of God. If my will is aligned with God's, then the boundaries of the Faith will be a garden of roses, and I need not fear the thorns. Our homeschool will be unique, like no one else's. So now I want to really focus on the word of God, prayer, and contemplation, and do nothing else. I will look to the Church for her writings on education soon and begin a deeper study of those teachings, but for now, it's just me and God (and Mary of course, who always leads to Divine Wisdom). It's time to go inward, be still, and listen. No FB groups, no reading of others' blogs, no planning in my journal. Just prayer and reflection, breathing, and sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Vintage Homeschool

Recently while traveling in upstate NY, I was browsing at a flea market when I thought of a new blog concept: the vintage homeschool. I have a lot of antique, vintage and second hand stuff in my home, plus Amish furniture, my own collage art creations, and shabby chic influences. I had picked up the vintage Catholic school book I mentioned earlier, and something clicked. I want to give my child an old-fashioned Catholic education, but at home and without the mean nuns. Actually, I have heard mostly of nice nuns. Anyway, I googled to see if anyone else had come up with this idea already and found Karen DeBeus' blog, "Simply Living...for Him". She has two ebooks which I have purchased, so once finished reading I will review those.

Karen's take on the vintage homeschool is different form mine, but in a way it's along the same lines. She and a friend coined the term while discussing simplifying their homeschooling. She refers to the pioneer homeschoolers of 25 years ago, who began educating their children at home with none of the modern conveniences, such as large curriculum fairs and the internet. They must have relied on libraries and garage sales mostly...and God. Mostly God. While I was obsessively studying unschooling, it occurred to me that I was losing focus on my Catholic faith, and that wasn't a good sign. When I put my focus back where it belongs, I started to see the negative aspects of radical unschooling, and I wrote about them. I witnessed some worst case scenarios and couldn't see how a "freedom without limits" philosophy could be Catholicized. At the core, I don't think it can. At the same time, the simplicity, joy, gentleness, and peace being portrayed by unschooling advocates like Dayna Martin really appealed to me--and still does.

It seems like being a Christian parent should lead to respecting children, but I have noticed by observing myself and others that it doesn't necessarily follow. I remember taking my parents to the counter-cultural art and music festival called ComFest (Community Festival) in Columbus when I lived there. It was begun in the 1960s as a Vietnam War protest, and to this day is put on entirely by volunteerism, with no corporate sponsorship. Free music concerts all weekend on five stages! My mom commented that people at ComFest were even nicer than people at church. When I think in terms of radical unschooling simply, without getting caught up in the secular, anti-teaching dogma, I parent better. I am kinder, and I feel so much more peaceful. And it's important to say, I can do this without abnegating my parental authority. Children and parents are equal persons in the eyes of God, but we are not the same. We have different roles and responsibilities. I had to separate the wheat from the chaff, and there is gold to be found in embracing the freedom that this life offers, but for me only in terms of putting God--and the teachings of Jesus' Church--first.

Those pioneer homeschoolers were unschoolers. They had to start from scratch and figure out how children naturally learn, and how to relate differently to their children, to find better ways to educate them and be with them. They had to shift the paradigm. I am beginning to see life/natural learning as part of the simplicity movement, and of getting back to a healthy family unit as the bedrock of society. Entrepreneurship, family businesses and farms of which children are a part, self-reliance, safe food and products, environmental sustainability, voluntary poverty, and thriving local communities do not have to be a thing of the past. We can live it, starting today, one holy day at a time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

What Is Natural?

Today many people, disillusioned with the American Dream and the frenetic pace of modern life, are making intentional efforts to live more simply and naturally. Some of these people are homeschoolers. So many people are unhappy, going through the motions of what "normal" people are supposed to do, how they were conditioned to think they should live and what they were told they should want from life. If they finally reach a particular goal, or find the right career or the right mate, they will be happy. And then they still aren't. So they set their sights on acquiring the next possession, pair of shoes, degree, or wife that will be the right fit, the missing piece. And they get it, and their life is still devoid of meaning. The restlessness never goes away.

Maybe my own restlessness led me to study unschooling. Maybe I was thinking that there should be more, somehow, to our days. Sometimes Beezy would ask to do school, impatient to get started. Sometimes she wanted to do more than I had planned. But sometimes she wanted to do something different, something that didn't seem to me to be as high a priority; so I would say we had to focus so we could get school over with (now that's telling, isn't it?), and then she could do what she wanted. I came to feel that our lives revolved around our school time, even though it was a comparatively short time during the day.

Then last Valentine's Day, I let making valentines and baking shortcake be the priority. We had so much fun, and that day is still a shiny one in my mind. Why couldn't every day be so joyful? Of course, not every day is a holiday. Or is it? Holiday. The combining of two original words: "holy" and "day". Holy Day. 

Yesterday Beezy had a "true or false" quiz in her 4-H project book. She caught on to the idea, but I could tell that while she knew the information, the phrasing of the statements was confusing. It didn't immediately occur to me that she had never taken a test, so this was a new experience. Then I had a distant recollection of feeling confused myself as a child taking such tests. Remember multiple choice questions? You might have known the answer if you hadn't been confused by sorting through all the choices. I don't think tests really show what a child knows, how well she knows it, or how well she thinks through a question. In college, I always preferred essay tests. I could usually be sure of having something to write. I could show what I knew, rather than be exposed for what I didn't know. A true or false test shows relatively nothing about what Beezy knows about dogs.

I really hope that homeschool curriculum tests aren't like this. If they are, I can understand why unschoolers are reviled by school-at-home methods. That being said, there are 100 ways to skin a cat, right? (Isn't that the weirdest saying?) Homeschooling, no matter the method or curriculum used (or not used), is a lifestyle. It gives families greater freedom to be who they naturally are, to become the people God created them to be. If we don't get bogged down by arbitrary requirements and someone else's schedule, or even by our own. What if every day could be a holy day?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rules vs. Principles

Radical unschoolers make much ado over living by principles rather than rules. This sounds fine in theory, but then it occurred to me that principles might lead to certain rules, just as a matter of logical flow. What's the problem with rules? It seems that some fear that establishing specific rules would lead to punishment if those rules were broken, and punishment is not allowed. Instead, natural consequences should be permitted to occur so that the child will learn on his own to make better choices. I don't believe that rules necessarily lead to punishment. I do agree that natural consequences are superior to punishment, but as usual we need to define the terms.

At the Montessori schools where I worked, the teachers also believed in natural consequences, but in a different way from unschoolers. The natural consequence of, say, stabbing someone with a pencil might be to have the privilege of using the pencil taken away for a certain amount of time. The RU philosophy, on the other hand, would dictate that the parents do not provide the consequences at all. The freedom to use the pencil would not be taken away. The hope would be that when the other kid got upset about being stabbed, or hit the stabber on the head with a block in retaliation or whatever, the one wielding the pencil violently would realize that was something he should not do. This is only an illustration and is not to say that RU parents would allow their children to seriously hurt one another.

If the children were able to work the problem out on their own, Montessori teachers would do their best not to interfere. Especially if no one was physically harmed, we would often send the child who was telling on another back to her friend, reminding her of how to use her words to express her feelings. An RU parent would also likely use such guidance, so there are similarities, but the distinction is important.

In Montessori, the only consequence of many conflicts might be the requirement of an apology, a reminder of how to treat one another respectfully and with empathy, and/or a suggestion to draw your friend a nice picture if you had hurt his feelings. A time out might be used to help a child have some time to calm down before coming back to resolve the conflict. Natural consequences as understood in the RU way, with no direct parental interference concerning the outcome, sometimes work but often do not achieve balanced results. A child may not stop drinking too much soda just because his body has become unhealthy from it, or stop shoplifting because she got caught, for example. Therefore, I would have to argue against the idea that children will always "self-regulate" effectively. (I would instead champion positive habit formation and authoritative parental action when needed.) This leads to the next analysis of terms.

Another RU reason for not establishing rules is that this would be coercion. "Coercion" and "force" are often used by radical unschoolers in the same sentence. In reality, these words are synonyms. Why say the same thing twice? I think it is a subtle form of emotional manipulation, to make you feel bad for being "forceful" (in other words, somehow violent) with your child. I agree that using intimidation, bullying, or physical punishment to get a child to conform to an adult's will is a bad thing. But just as with the false idea that teaching usually means coercion, the villainization of rules goes too far. And here's the irony: one definition of "rule" is a regulating principle. Rules and principles are both codes of conduct. We typically think of a principle as a generalized, rather than a specific, rule, but these words are also synonyms on some level. The sharp line that unschoolers draw between rules and principles is imaginary. This hair-splitting doesn't help anyone, and it leaves the radical unschooling philosophy feeling flimsy and shallow.

It's as if parents don't trust themselves to be fair and discerning, and kind and gentle with their children, unless they follow a strict dogma of what they can and cannot do. They insist that their children must be trusted to make their own decisions regarding education and everything else, and so they must avoid any semblance of "teaching" or "rules" or "coercion" at all costs, or they will destroy their child's freedom. Do we free our children by chaining ourselves this way?

I agree that arbitrary rules set only for the convenience of parental control are not ideal and can harm our relationship with our children. Rules that naturally flow from religious and personal values, however, make good sense. They create peaceful boundaries. In this way, I also agree that living by certain principles can mean that not as many specific rules will be necessary. And self-discipline can be taught to a child without shaming or physical violence. One Golden Rule comes to my mind: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. This is a brilliant guiding principle to follow!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Vintage Catholic Homeschooling & Teaching vs. Facilitation

My family has been traveling in upstate New York this week, and today we went out for a drive in the countryside seeking antiques and flea marketing. I found a Catholic school book for the lower grades called America's Founders and Leaders, a biographical history of the United States. Published first in 1928, the year both of my grandmothers were born, this is a living book featuring the discoverers, explorers, soldiers, missionaries, martyrs, inventors, and statesmen "who have helped to make our country great." The editors write, "We want you to know the glorious part which Catholics have taken in the founding, freeing, establishing, and developing of our country."

Norse explorer, Leif Erikson

I have gotten the impression that many Catholics are choosing homeschooling over Catholic schools, not only because of cost issues, but because the Catholic schools in some parishes are no longer providing a truly Catholic education. I have also read lamenting words over watered down religious education classes for children and the complaint that they have become "too Protestant," so some families are also foregoing those classes offered weekly by churches. There is in addition the broader discontent with how Vatican II has been interpreted and the changes in the Mass and other outcomes deemed negative by those who wish a return to tradition.

A common theme seems to run between these concerns and those Catholics drawn to a Charlotte Mason type education. An alarming modernism turns these families toward using traditional Catholic curriculum companies (some of whom reprint out-of-print resources) or designing their own curriculum with a decidedly classical, vintage orientation. There is an intense longing to reclaim traditional Catholic practices, such as the Latin Mass, Marian devotion, and a deeply encompassing faith formation for children.

Incidentally, these particularly Catholic issues raise questions regarding the growing trend of Catholic unschooling. So allow me to take a closer look at a couple of the unschooling buzzwords, as I promised in the last post to do. Unschoolers separate themselves from public schooling and school-at-home methods by drawing a sharp line between "teaching" and "facilitation." Here is a quote from author Sarah McGrath in Unschooling: a Lifestyle of Learning:  "The act of teaching includes an offer of information, at best, and pressure or threat to learn, at worst." Obviously we would wish to avoid that worst case scenario which is, in some cases, admittedly associated with teaching. But is teaching, at best, the offering of information?

First of all, this anti-teaching rhetoric supposes that the offering of information is of little to no value, a point with which I disagree. And when I consider my vocation as a belly dance instructor, so much more comes to mind. When I teach belly dancing, I share my passion (another unschooling buzzword). I pass on the knowledge, experience and wisdom of those who taught me, as well as my own personal take on the dance. I give feedback and instruct my students in how to move their bodies without injury, and I also provide an emotionally safe place for self-expression. I offer encouragement. Students follow my movements (role modeling) and verbal instructions to learn correct posture and excellent technique. I tell them about the culture of the Near and Middle East, share history of the dance in its varying forms, explain musical differences, show costuming that I own, pass pictures around, etc... The modes of teaching are endless, and my classes are often described as fun and inspiring.

Contrast this with "faciliation," the preferred method of unschoolers. Facilitate merely means, "to make easier." So, unschooling parents make learning easier for their children. That's it? I understand, of course, that methods such as "strewing" interesting and educational materials in the child's path, answering questions, having conversations, providing resources to help a child explore interests, and creating an enriching home environment are all ways of facilitating a child's education, and there is nothing wrong with any of these. They are, indeed, all good things. There is, however, a definition of the root word, facile, which means, "readily manifested and often lacking sincerity or depth." I know of unschoolers who go deeply into their interests, and I know of those whose resources are limited, shallow, and potentially harmful. My concern here is an approach to education that replaces teaching with making things easier.

Easier doesn't necessarily mean more joyful (unschooling buzzword) or substantial. Why is facilitation glorified and teaching villainized in the radical unschooling community; or at best, reserved only if asked for directly by the child? To be fair, RU parents are "allowed" to offer information and guide their children, but children are still given unlimited choice according to the prevailing dogma, and any requirement of receiving formal instruction is deemed coercion (a buzzword for another day!)

I am here to argue that teaching and facilitation can go hand in hand, and as I understand the teaching of the Church on education, facilitation alone doesn't fit the bill. Teaching is not unnatural. Rather, it has been honored from the dawn of time, and certainly from the dawn of Christianity. Jesus is the Master Teacher, the Rabboni, and there is no higher honor. Don't we Catholic parents want this for our families?

Organic Mothering is now the home of not only "the art of natural family living" but also of "the vintage catholic homeschool." Welcome to the future of Catholic education, a truly natural learning experience!