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!

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