Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The "Why" of Homeschooling

When the idea of homeschooling first came up, my daughter was still a baby. My husband seemed to think it would be a good idea, but I shot it down. When he asked why I wouldn't want to homeschool, I said with vim and verve, "Because when she's five, I want my life back!"

I've told this story before, and also the part about how my mom tried to tell me, "This is your life now," but it took a long time for that truth to sink in. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy being a mother. It was simply that I was 35 years old and used to a certain freedom, and this radical new path of motherhood took some getting used to.

By the time Beezy was three, my husband and I were definitely leaning toward homeschooling. I can't for the life of me remember what caused this change of heart, but surely it was a God thing. And books by John Holt and John Taylor Gatto were influential. Despite the belief that we were following the Divine Will, I was not Catholic at the time that my child's home education began in earnest, and religion wasn't at the top of the list of reasons for this choice.

Since then I have become profoundly aware of the Church's assurance that parents have received the responsibility and solemn authority to be the primary educators of their children. Parenthood is truly a divinely decreed vocation. That does not mean that Christian parents must homeschool. But the Church says that a true education must be a Christian one, with the purpose of all study being directed toward the supreme end of getting one's children to heaven. A Catholic school could certainly be a valid choice, if it faithfully adheres to the teachings of the Church on education. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. But even if one's parish school is excellent in the realms of both religion and academics, some of the same concerns that parents have about government schools also apply here.

The secular humanism that indoctrinates children in public schools has also crept into parochial ones. The Common Core standards of the federal government that have recently been adopted by most states in the U.S. bring with them a mediocre and morally questionable curriculum that requires increased hours spent in testing and preparation for the tests. Funding is withheld from schools that do not adopt Common Core. And while it is only the subjects of math and English that are currently being hijacked, the long-term plan is to infiltrate all subjects and to establish an invasive tracking program that follows people from the cradle to the grave. I fear that Catholic schools which have adopted Common Core put their traditional aims, purpose, and freedom at risk.

There are also those intangible but crucial considerations of the well-being of the family that come into play in the question of education. Sarah MacKenzie, in her book Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace, explains this perspective so eloquently:

"Our children are not projects. If, by the grace of God, we can manage to remember that our children are all made in his image--and more importantly, if we can treat them as such despite the mess and the chaos--then we will really be able to teach from rest. Therein lies the reason we've taken on this arduous task of home education at all--because a government school would not see our children as the image bearers that they are. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, there would be no Morning Offering, no Nicene Creed. They would miss countless opportunities to love on their siblings and form deep, meaningful encounters with each other, with us, and with material chosen specifically to nurture their souls. We want all else to pale in comparison to our quest toward honor, virtue, and wisdom."

Though I have not completely ruled out the possibility of a Catholic parochial school for my child, I have serious reservations. The school day and year have grown increasingly longer over the course of American history. In addition to the standard school day plus transportation time, homework and extracurricular activities leave little space for families to spend time--of either quantity or quality--together.

Since its advent, government schooling has sought to weaken the authority of parents. Teachers and the peer group exert undue influence. One benefit of the Catholic schools is that there may be lesser issues with negative socialization, and the prevalence of a religious atmosphere is surely preferable to the obliteration of anything to do with God in the public system. 

At a Catholic school there will, or at least should be, the due support given to parents as the primary educators of their children. Yet at any school, siblings are separated from one another for long hours every day, and family bonds in general may be strained (not to mention the pocketbook in the case of private schooling!). Cacophonous bells interrupt a child's concentration and short-circuit his ability to go deeply into any course of study. Children are shuffled from one room to another, and conformity is mandatory. Problems of bullying persist, and the personality of the child is encroached upon. I am not convinced, even in the best of circumstances, that giving so much of the care and education of one's children over to others is the wisest course or is in the best interest of families. Homeschooling may not be the best option for every family, but it is worthy of prayerful discernment and consideration.

In our fast-paced, busyness idolizing world, a homeschooling atmosphere can be a haven for the family. The fulfillment of God's design for the domestic church has a better chance for successfully coming to fruition. There is a control over one's time and a freedom that I would be hard-pressed to give up. If my daughter went to school, she would miss out on the benefits of a Charlotte Mason lifestyle of learning. Because of her unique learning style, she thrives best in a one-on-one teaching situation. We need not fear being "behind", though I know that such worries do intimidate many home educating parents. If we keep our eyes and hearts tuned to pleasing the Savior, faithfully and consistently tending to the work we have been given, then we will enjoy the true measure of our success.

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