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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Project, Simply Catholic Homeschooling (and the Latin Question)




Happy June! What glorious weather we are having!! I am now the mother of a teenager, and we are about to host a big birthday slumber party. Our public pool will open next week, and it will be time to just relax and sink into summer. I have even already delivered my homeschooling paperwork to the local school superintendent's office!

I'm happy to say that my decluttering project, which I focused upon during Lent, is still in action. My terrible bedroom annex is finally presentable. It isn't finished yet, but it's no longer embarrassing. My daughter's bedroom is also slowly but surely being relieved of its burdens of stuff.

In addition to that project, and in relation to it, I'm going to apply the concept of schole, learning as leisure, to myself. I'm going to solve the mystery of what Catholic home education actually is! Here's the thing. When I first started homeschooling, I often came across the assurance that parents know their children better than anyone and are the most qualified people to teach them. And this, regardless of educational background. We could teach our children well without any type of certificate, training, or degree. I rarely see these sentiments being expressed anymore.

Instead, it's all about which is the best method or curriculum program, and whether or not you can--or must--do this or that as a Catholic (or an unschooler, or a classical or Charlotte Mason homeschooler, etc...). There is a potent sense of insecurity in the atmosphere. There is also much argument over what increasingly seems to me to be much ado about nothing. We have forgotten that we are not teaching curriculum programs--we're teaching children. Our children. Who we know better than anyone else. Remember?!

It seems to me that Catholic homeschoolers are, by and large, putting teaching methods and gurus before the Faith. Perhaps I'm wrong, and I hope that I am. The most pertinent question on our minds should be this: What does the Church teach us about education? What do the Bible, the popes, and the saints have to tell us? What particular guidance is being given us by the Holy Spirit? Do we even have the eyes to see and the ears to hear? Or are we too caught up in philosophical anxiety?

I'll tell you what. Let's get the Latin thing out of the way right now, and at least one problem will be solved. Yes, Latin plays a substantial role in the tradition of the Catholic Church. Yes, a curriculum centered around the Latin and Greek languages, literature, and history might be the most authentically classical one. And yes, studying inflected languages does help better one's understanding of English grammar; and yes, by all accounts Latin helps to develop critical thinking skills. But no, you don't have to study Latin to be a Catholic homeschooler. You don't have to re-create the Jesuit system of classical education in your home to be an authentically Catholic educator.

French and Spanish are both inflected languages, and there are others. You aren't obligated, however, to teach any foreign language to your child. He will need a certain number of years of foreign language study in high school if he's college bound. Before then, it doesn't have to be an issue. It's entirely up to you!

As far as critical thinking skills go, Latin is not the only way to get them. For me personally, Shakespeare was the ticket! Reading the Bard, forming a thesis, and proving it with the text at hand and within the historical context was the process that developed my ability to think for myself, and to back up my opinion with substantial evidence. This is what honed my writing skills in college. At any rate, I dare say that Jesus Christ excelled at critical thinking and rhetorical skills, without the benefit of Latin.

But is Latin worthy of studying? Of course it is! It can be a wonderful way of passing on the cultural heritage of Western civilization, and I have a library book all ready to teach me over the summer. We are raising our children to be lifelong learners, yes? If we do not get to Latin while they are under our roofs, they will have the opportunity to pursue it on their own at a later time. 

I feel like my critical thinking skills have been enhanced simply by becoming Catholic. The very process of learning the Catholic Faith itself has formed new pathways in my brain, to be sure! Along the journey, it occurred to me that Catholicism is very logical. As I've mentioned, a key figure in Catholic theology, philosophy, and education is St. Thomas Aquinas and his Scholastic Method of the 13th century, by which he successfully united faith with reason. It's becoming ever more clear why the Faith is at once both extremely rational and deeply mystical.

I finished reading Guide to Thomas Aquinas by Joseph Pieper and have a couple of other books going on the scholastics of the Middle Ages, which in fact include not only Christians, but Jewish and Muslim thinkers as well! I've printed off Pope Pius XI's encyclical, Divini Illius Magistri (On the Christian Education of Youth), and I've started reading Catholic Home Schooling by Mary Kay Clark.

I want to know what Catholic education is, pure and simple. And I do think it is much simpler than the mountains of methods that we've been forcing ourselves to climb.

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