Friday, June 17, 2011

The Right of Education - OSV Article, Part 2

This blog is the second in response to the Our Sunday Visitor's article on homeschooling vs Catholic School education.  The first of my blogs focused on the sorry response of the Bishop of Austin, Tx to a local homeschool group. This blog will take on the opinion (from the article) of Father Peter M.J. Stravinskas, who runs the Catholic Education Foundation.

Fr. Stravinskas thoughts are very typical of those who are, not clueless about homeschooling, but anti-homeschooling.  In a nutshell, Fr. Stravinskas claimed:
  1. Catechesis is mainly the job of the pastors, then the Church as a whole, with the parents coming in somewhere after all these others.  
  2. Families who homeschool at least implicitly teach their children that priests cannot be trusted to hand on the faith. 
  3. Homeschooling leads to a decline in religious vocations.
  4. It is unhealthy for mothers to spend 24 hours a day with their children.
  5. Parents cannot possibly teach their children all they need to know.
  6. Homeschoolers set themselves apart as an "elite" group within the Church, causing division.
Wow! Where to start! I am going to jump around a bit, so hang on!

You Might Be Crazy If....
Let's go with #4 first, because it made me laugh - it is psychologically unhealthy for parents and children to be with each other 24 hours a day.
Okay, so the days where I spend all morning arguing with the 13-yr-old who cannot believe he has to (gasp!) do something so cruel as write a paper or clean a room, simultaneously potty-train a toddler while teaching middle school Latin,  or on the days they all seem to have brain farts at the same time, then yes, I can see that it may be psychologically unhealthy for me to be with my children all day, every day. 
But, the thing is, I am not with them all day, every day.  For starters, they all have their own (sometimes shared) bedrooms. We go to bed separately, and we have free hours. The kids play, whatever it is I do, and we spend some healthy time on our own. They do have friends, hobbies, and toys. 
In fact, the label "homeschooler" can be mis-leading. With all the homeschool support today  (and the recognition that there is money to be made from homeschoolers), there are a plethora of classes and activities to do, and groups to belong to. We are actually not often at home all day! 
If what Fr. Stravinskas says is true, then mothers or fathers should put the kids in day care straight away, as there is nothing more psychologically demanding than caring for a newborn 24 hours a day. Vacations are a no-no, unless you plan on separate activities. 
It is not always easy being around each other so much, but the last thing it is is psychologically unhealthy. I like my kids. They (usually) like me! We learn a lot from each other, and together we create a really healthy, stable family. You see, by homeschooling together, we have to learn to get along, to work through our differences, and to listen with respect. How many families want these things? 
We are not joined at the hip, the kids can handle life apart from me, we are not sharing a family bed that sleeps six.  
And we are not crazy. Usually.....

My Teacher, Mrs. Mom
#5 - Parents cannot teach their children all they need to know. 
I couldn't agree with this more. Thank God we are not stuck in a log cabin in the middle of the winter, in 1820 on the prairie! 

The rallying cry of homeschoolers comes from the Vatican II document, Christian Education. It says, "Parents must be recognized as being primarily and principally responsible for the education of their children." ( No 3)
But the document also states,
"The task of imparting education belongs primarily to the family, but it requires the help of society as a whole." (No 3). 

Or, as it states in Familiaris Consortio,
"The family is the primary but not the only and exclusive educating community." FC (no 40)

I do not know of one homeschooling parent that is the sole teacher of their children. For starters, my children attend, or have attended, on-line classes, community classes, science workshops, homeschooling coops, seminars, discussions, and PE. Do I know Latin?  Nope. So, how do I teach it? Through the experts who do know Latin, and how to teach it. The boys use their DVD's every day, and would tell you that Ms. Leigh or Mr. Moore is their teacher - Mom just helps out!

Even without these resources, parents are never the sole teachers of their children. Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, Cicero, and a host of other authors have a lot to share. All I do is guide the reading a bit, provide some discussion, and listen to the results.

More specifically, Fr. Stravinskas was speaking about high school education. It is a valid question - how can the average homeschooling parent teach high school subjects with the needed depth?  The answer is - we don't!
I would be the first to tell you that I do not excel in math or science. If I tried to teach my children all about chemistry, for example, it would be a very, very short class!

But what I do know how to do well is to research and find great science classes, science curriculum, and experiments. 

Homeschooling parents are like shepherds. It is our job to guide our children to the green valleys and still waters where they can take refreshment and nourishment. Our job is to lead our children's education, not to be the sole voice in it. 

Name Your Source
#3 - Homeschooling leads to a decline in religious vocations.
Really? Where did that come from? I would like to know, because from what I have read, homeschooling often has the opposite effect. Catholic families who include faith in the homeschooling life usually are big supporters of religious vocations. Our children are the ones altar serving daily mass in the school year. 
Sorry, Fr. Stravinskas - I am just not buying this one!

 Thou Shalt Attend Catholic School
#2 - Families who homeschool instead of sending their children to Catholic school teach their children that priests cannot be trusted to hand on the faith. 

 First, Fr. Stravinskas' argument would have to mean that priests are the ones teaching in Catholic schools. That is not the case. Catholic schools are usually staffed by lay-people. Sometimes religious, but that seems to be the exception anymore, not the rule.  
Catholic families can choose not to send their children to Catholic schools for several reasons, which many other writers have explored. I will just sum up.
First, some families, it is true, do not like their particular Catholic schools. Sometimes it is because the school is more Catholic in name or location, rather than mission and curriculum. Sadly, this can happen. It is fair for Catholic families to expect a truly Catholic education from a Catholic school. Fr. Stravinskas wants us to leave the determination of that to priests.
Secondly - the cost. When it costs $15,000 a year to send one child to the nearest Catholic high school (and we have four children), then it becomes a financial burden to the family. Yes, a family should not expect a free education, but a Catholic education should not be available solely to the well-off. Even with scholarships, we could not afford this. Many families are in this situation. 
Some diocese do this well. The Diocese of Topeka, Kansas has made it much more affordable, and I have heard St. Louis, MO is similar. It can be done, but sadly, it usually is not.

Perhaps Fr. Stravinskas was thinking of the Vatican II document, Christian Education. It says:

"Catholic parents are reminded of their duty to send their children to Catholic schools  wherever this is possible, to give Catholic schools all the support in their power, and to cooperate with them in their work for the good of their children." Christian Education, Vat. II, No 8

But if so, he forgot this quote, from the same document:
"Parents, who have a primary and inalienable duty and right in regard to the education of their children, should enjoy the fullest liberty in their choice of school." Christian Education, No 6

We are Catholic, Yes it's True! We are Catholic, How About You?
#6 - Homeschoolers can set themselves apart as an "elite Catholic" group, causing division within the Church. 

This is a valid point. It can happen. There can arise, from some, the attitude that "we are more Catholic than you because we homeschool." It does not have to be said, it can be implied. 
Schooling is a choice that each parent has to make. Personally, I went to public schools my whole life. I made great friends, was supported and challenged in my faith, learned a great deal, and was influenced for the good. Because it was what was right for me. Public and Catholic schooling parents should not judge homeschoolers for being anti-establishment, and Catholic homeschooling parents need to be clear they do not feel superior to others because they strive to blend faith and life in a way not often found in traditional schools. 
This is true of any group of Catholics. It is a mistake to think that only your way of doing things is correct. Yes, we have to follow Church Law and remain faithful, but there is a wide world of variation in how that is lived out. St. Paul and St. Peter disagreed with each other many times. They had different styles and different missionary aims. Thus proving that while all are called to discipleship, not all are called to witness in the same manner. 
What is a Catholic homeschooling family? Do they have to use a particular curriculum? Do they have to say certain prayers? Not watch tv? Is it a sin to be familiar with modern culture?  Do they have to attend daily mass? If this is how you judge others, you are certainly setting up barriers. 
There is nothing more damaging to the faith than a sense of superiority. One can teach, gently correct, give example, but to start saying "you are a good Catholic" and "you are not"....well, that is a bit like playing God.

Let the Church be the guide, and we Her faithful followers. 

To Be Continued...
And the #1 reason Fr. Stravinskas claimed homeschooling is bad - catechesis is the province of the pastor, not the parent. And this, my friends,  - the problem of religious education and homeschooling - will be the subject of the third, and final, blog in this series of responses to the OSV article on homeschools vs. Catholic schools. 


Other helpful quotes:
all from Familiaris Consortio:

The  right of the parents to choose an education in conformity with their religious faith must be absolutely guaranteed. No 40

The State and the Church have the obligation to give families all possible aid to enable them to perform their educational role properly. FC no 40

However, those in society who are in charge of schools must never forget that the parents have been appointed by God as the first and principal educators of their children and their right in completely inalienable. No 40


rmanns said...

Wow! Very well said. Kudos! I'm overwhelmed by the truth and clarity of your reply, as well as the blind ignorance expressed by Fr in the article.

Camille said...

Well said! And much appreciated! :)