Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Homeschooling, Catholic Schools, and a Whole Lot of Grief

Boy, did Our Sunday Visitor stir up a hornet's nest!

The website recently published an article by Michelle Martin titled "Homeschoolers sometimes at odds with diocese". The article tries to examine the sometimes tenuous relationship between Catholic homeschoolers and their local parishes or diocese. The article raised many questions, but provided inadequate answers. There are so many issues that crop up, it is hard to know where to begin addressing them.

Let me start off by saying, that I am a mother of four, a homeschooling mom of 8 years, a religious education instructor, a writer of religious ed lesson plans, a former Coordinator of Religious Education, and a writer on all of the above. In other words,  I have a lot to say. So much, that I think I will divide this into three separate blogs.

Let us proceed with part one, shall we?

When ____ Freezes Over. Love, The Diocese of Austin, Texas.

First - The article explained how Bishop Vasquez of Austin, TX recently responded to a homeschool group who requested the Bishop attend a mass, blessing the new school year for homeschooling families. The Bishop chose to reply through his Catholic school superintendent, Ned Vanders:

“Bishop Vásquez received your invitation to celebrate a Eucharistic liturgy for the fall home-schooling blessing Mass.Bishop Vásquez believes Catholic education, and in particular Catholic school education, is an essential part of the life of the Diocese of Austin. As you know, Catholic schools are at the heart of the mission of the Church.“Bishop’s presence at the home-schooling Mass would convey a contradictory message equating the importance of Catholic school education with Catholic home schooling; therefore, Bishop Vásquez must respectfully decline the invitation.Sincerely in Christ,Ned F. Vanders, Ed.D.” 

This reply was a tragedy, in many respects.

The Diocese of Austin could not have said it any more clearly. They do not like homeschoolers. A shame, really, because reports are that homeschool life is jumpin' down there!

The problem occurred when the Bishop:
 a) Let someone else make a statement for him. Regardless of the fact it is out of Vanders mouth, we must take it for the Bishop's position. Almost all shepherds in the Church, from the Pope on down to the local pastor, must rely on a group of trusted advisers to help fill in the blanks on issues they may not be well-versed in.
No biggie there.
Perhaps the superintendent of diocesan schools was not adviser in this matter. It is a shame that the Bishop could not have crafted a reply -simply declining the invitation - himself, or through his secretary.

b) Chose a side. For, through Vanders, Bishop Vasquez pretty much said that the Austin area homeschoolers are a lower Catholic lifeform, and wanted to make that statement in print....on file...for the record! My guess is that Bishop Vasquez really does not know anything about homeschooling, or homeschoolers. (Apparently, he is not even aware that homeschools in Texas are considered private schools. Therefore, Catholic homeschools are mini Catholic schools.)
He missed an opportunity to meet with this group - to get to know this part of his flock, and perhaps to come away with a better idea if homeschooling is a cult (his fear?), an enemy of the modern Church anxious to whisk us back to pre-Vatican II (a bigger fear), or if this is a legitimate form of education that will support and strengthen his diocese, the local parishes, vocations (surely not!) and (gasp!)the Catholic schools.

Bishop Vasquez's reply was very short-sighted and close-minded. And, folks, that is a huge insult for a city who prides itself on hipness and progress. Why make yourself an enemy of homeschoolers? Why draw lines in the sand?

Is the Bishop of Austin the first to chose to short-change Catholic homeschoolers? No. Will he be the last? No. I was told by one Catholic educator (who had the ear of a pastor), "Homeschoolers should stay home, where they belong - that's a part of their name, after all". Homeschoolers face this kind of opposition fairly often.

The best defense? Education (imagine that!)
Bishop Vasquez was ill-advised, and not discerning enough in how the situation was handled. The best way homeschoolers can handle this kind of response - whether from a diocese or a parish - is to remain open and honest, inviting pastors to come and see homeschooling groups, to drop in on coop classes, to say blessings. Perhaps local homeschool associations can form outreach boards, that offer to meet with parishes or the diocese to explain who they are and what they stand for.
And for heaven's sake - stay involved in the parishes! Many think "Catholic homeschoolers", and you load in your head an image of a nice, plain woman in a denim jumper (rosary in pocket), opening the door to her 15-seater van, while children of seemingly every age tumble out like clowns in a circus. The children all speak fluent Latin ("Would you like me to help you translate that, Fr. Smith?"), and they grow (almost) all their own food. The family is polite to a fault, the children have never held a Nintendo DS, and the tv cabinet is only opened for religious programming.

Please let me say that I know families like this! And I love them! All of that is great. But to many people, this is stereotypical homeschooler.  In reality, homeschoolers are all around us, from the chic woman whose children are avid sports jocks, to the gorgeous 40-something whose daughters are ballerinas, to the woman whose children can quote pretty much every episode of Spongebob Squarepants and spot swear words in a cross word puzzle and actively translate Latin into English, (guess which one is me?), these families are schooling at home and remaining active in the parish. The only way you know it is when you ask the kids, "where do you go to school." There is that moment of silence before their eyes twinkle as they reply - "Oh, we homeschool", before they run off to blend in to the crowd.

Homeschoolers, at least in Austin, look like they need to educate the educators!


Finding His Heart said...

This article is pure awesomeness! I hope the bishop reads this and sees his short-sightedness.

Jenny Camp said...

Way to go Christine! i would say you are the gorgeous 40 something, but you do not have any daughters. :)

KathiBee said...

Wow - flashback. I haven't heard the "Homeschoolers-should-stay-home-b/c-that-is-how-they-define-themselves" line in years. I heard that 12 years ago when we started our homeschooling co-op at a local parish & one of the staff I had to deal w/regularly did not hide her disdain for our "type". Thankfully, while I know she was a powerful person & had a strong relationship w/the pastor, he did his homework on homeschooling & allowed our co-op there. While my impression is that he is not a huge advocate of homeschooling, he has done so much to support our co-op over the years & went the extra mile a year ago to allow us to stay when due to diocesan procedure changes, it would have been less of a headache for the parish to not allow us there anymore. I appreciate him so much for this.

I couldn't agree more w/you that we must stay active in our parishes. This same pastor sees the plethora of homeschoolers who attend Mass on Friday afternoons & has even humorously remarked that he should start a collection basket at that Mass.

Sometimes that is hard to do - many times we don't have our kids enrolled in CCD or Youth Group, so we need to seek out other venues of participation in parish life. In our last parish, we were the only homeschooling family I knew of & I like to think I helped people see that yes, we were "normal" & not judgmental of other education choices or that we had some sort of anti-clericism issue.

I look forward to your remaining two entries on this topic. Well said!

Anonymous said...

I was bummed when I read your article and here's why:
First because I thought your main point was that homeschoolers should be and typically are very involved in parish life. Great! Totally agree.
Bummed though that you like so many other moms want to be cool and promote worldly language and attachments that are impure like Spongebob (gay icon, promotes sarcasm and disobedience etc) and the use of swear words. And this was something you were bragging ab as a. Symbol to all that you are cool.
No one has lead a cooler life than I have in the past. I ran the marketing depts of more than one very cool entertainment studio. This gives me the authority to lovingly warn you that if you want to form your kids to Jesus through Mary you can not have them watching Spongebob. That's counterproductive.
Sarcasm in Greek means "the tearing of flesh" so again is the temptation. But we have been told to live in the world but not to be of the world. How we speak what we wear what we watch can attach our children early on and make them of the world. Since you have a blog and decided to comment on what the Bishop of Austin erroneously did, I can tell you I was equally disappointed in your list opportunity and did not feel you went very deep with your commentary.
God bless you we have a lot to do to change the culture I hope you will reassess your attachments.

texasmom said...

Dear anonymous,

Don't worry, my blog is just the first in a 3 part series, so it will go more in depth.

Faithful Catholics come in all sizes and shapes, from those that watch Spongebob to those that don't! I do not do that to be "cool". My husband and I are both faithful Catholics who have chosen a particular way in which to merge our faith and the way we live in the world, as have you.

Thanks for your words of loving caution, in any case. I will pray for you if you pray for me.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous/Monica: Spongebob is not gay. His artist/creator denies it, and even James Dobson, whose initial comments are quoted on the matter, has denied it and claimed his comments were taken out of context. And even as an occasional watcher, I could make an argument that Spongebob promotes obedience almost to a fault. Part of the humor comes from the fact that he is so devoted to his fast food job, and even when he is tempted to disobey, his guilty conscience gets the better of him every time. Not trying to hijack these comments, but you are way off on this and spreading an unsubstantiated myth. This is an example of a popular sound byte turning into a ridiculous witch hunt. Clinging to it weakens your credibility.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm deeply disappointed to hear that the Catholic church in Austin is not completely onboard with homeschooling as a good choice for today's Christian families. I'm not Catholic, but I dearly love all Christians as my brothers and sisters. I'll be praying that the spiritual leaders in the Catholic churches will open their hearts and eyes and see that homeschooling can be a Godly and viable choice for bringing up the next generation of believers!