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 the...best... 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!