Sunday, May 3, 2015

If You're Going to Do a Job Half-Assed...

Allow me to explain the title. When I was in high school, my dad asked me to clean the kitchen, so I did. Except that after I had finished, he came into the kitchen and reminded me that he had told me to clean it. Confused about what he meant, he pointed out the specific things I had missed in my duty. Dad asked, "If you are going to do a job half-assed, why bother to do it at all?" 

Far from feeling criticized, this "philosophy of the half-assed" was forever emblazoned into my psyche. The image of the half-assed stirs the imagination! And it challenges one to take action, to make a decision, to commit and to persevere.

I have been thoroughly committed to homeschooling, and even more so since becoming Catholic. As a convert, I had to learn what it means to be a Catholic mother and home educator. Catholicism has radically changed my worldview, and it is the ribbon woven through every area of life. The Faith supplies a depth of meaning and a focus that was seriously lacking before, and when I allow it to be, it is a balm for my perennially restless spirit.

I'm not surprised, then, that I also experienced a sort of crisis in my homeschooling as a result of my conversion. I had been using a relaxed Charlotte Mason method prior to being Catholic, and though that seemed to work well, I was always on the lookout for new inspiration. As I have written about extensively, I was seduced by unschooling and its promises of joyful, "natural" learning, while feeling simultaneous revulsion to the dogma of radical unschooling.

Blogs, Facebook groups, and other online resources bear testament to the eclectic approach to homeschooling that seems to be increasingly prevalent. It's eerily similar to the "cafeteria Catholic" phenomenon. When you start picking and choosing which tenets of the Faith you will and will not subscribe to, the domino effect will obviously come into play. Unfortunately this is not apparent to many, and the very center of Catholic belief, the doctrine of the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, comes into question for some of these folks. 

I am not saying that being an eclectic homeschooler is anything so very dire as falling prey to the temptation of self-will that leads to cafeteria Catholicism, or that there is even anything inherently wrong with choosing an eclectic approach to teaching one's children. One of the things we relish as homeschoolers is the very freedom to be who we are as individuals and families, and to prioritize that which we most fervently value in life. The great challenge is to find what philosophies, methods, and resources will best help us to reach our goals. Wading through the enormous possibilities can be positively overwhelming, and the result can be something hodge-podge, unfocused, and, well...half-assed. 

Let me illustrate what I mean. Out of curiosity, I once belonged to a FB group of Christian Pagans, or Pagan Christians, as the emphasis would vary. That will make absolutely no sense to some of you, as you will recognize in this wording an oxymoron. Yet there is a compelling urge for many to design their own religion, to take what they like from various sources and be "free" to worship as they choose. Never mind that the elements in question simply don't go together and result in religious multiple personality disorder, if you will. On a side note, one of the moderators for the Christian Pagan group was staunchly anti-Catholic, though she wouldn't admit to having a bias, and she kicked me out of the group! I was evidently too Catholic. So much for "freedom" of religion, eh?

In a similar vein, I occasionally come across self-proclaimed pagans and other non-Christians wishing to learn how to do a secular Charlotte Mason method. Good people, there is no such animal! Clearly, Charlotte Mason's overriding philosophy is that Education is the handmaid of Religion, as she wrote in Volume 6 of her home education series. And just as clear is the fact that by religion she meant Christianity.

Now, this begs a question for Catholics, as Charlotte was Anglican. Should we even be attempting to "Catholicize" CM, or is it intrinsically heretical, as Mariana Bartold of Keeping It Catholic suggests? As I have written before on this topic, I have found none of the heresies, such as naturalism, modernism, and pantheism, that Bartold brings out in her arguments. Her real issue seems to be that  Charlotte Mason was Protestant. In adopting CM's philosophy and method, we must recognize the "Bible-only" nature of Charlotte's faith and make sure that Catholicism permeates our curriculum. We must be certain, regardless of the methods we use, that our Catholic Faith is the foundation upon which we build our homeschooling. I have found no compelling reason that the Christianity that Jesus himself established cannot be the cornerstone of a CM education. I see no way, on the other hand, that one could rightly establish a secular CM homeschool.

Certainly anyone can employ the tools of narration, copy work, and nature studies, for instance, regardless of religious affiliation or the lack thereof. But using those tools in and of themselves does not a CM education make. For that, one must read Charlotte's own words, critically evaluate and understand them, and realize what the aim is in its entirety. By all means, you can be inspired by Charlotte Mason without necessarily adopting the whole kit-and-caboodle, but... And now we come full circle.

If you are baking a cake, and you wish it to turn out as anticipated, you must precisely measure the ingredients and follow the recipe. If you are a reasonably accomplished baker, you may make substitutions to those ingredients that work quite nicely. You may even be able to improve upon the original recipe. We have resources today, and increasing awareness of child development, that Charlotte Mason couldn't even imagine. I think it would be extremely difficult to do CM in a completely "pure" way.  Because I have a Montessori teaching background, I have used what works for my child from that method along with CM. At one of the Montessori schools where I taught, unit studies and whole language methods were integrated. Similarly, because they are effective and my child likes them, we use some workbooks, which are not part of either method.

I have done my homework in both areas, and I continue to do it. I have a firmly established vision for my child's education and our family life, and everything I do works toward that. Charlotte Mason and unschooling, despite some perceived common ground, are like oil and water if you really understand the purpose of each. I've come to be certain that it's important to narrow the possibilities and to commit your homeschooling efforts in a particular direction. Harsh as this may sound, it isn't okay to just "wing it", regardless of what mothers in other groups may tell you. Do you imagine that the Blessed Mother was secretly thinking to herself, "I'll just wing it?"

I only speak of these things at all because I have been there. I have been confused, and mislead by well-meaning people, and I've been terribly scattered at times. I had a belly dance instructor once who said, "Know what you are doing, and then you can do whatever you want." Another teacher said that you can't create dance fusion until you have mastered those forms that you desire to fuse.

So what I am saying is, be careful what you put together. Make sure you know what the ingredients are before you go about creating your own recipe. Have a firm vision and purpose in mind, and choose your methods wisely. Realize that method flows from philosophy, just as Sacred Scripture flows from the Church's Tradition, and not the other way around. Make an actual plan. Do not homeschool willy-nilly. Make sure, above all else, that your choices are Catholic, and keep yourself and your children out of that half-assed cafeteria line!

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