Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Catholic Homeschooling: While the Eyes of the Great are Elsewhere

At the start of the Catholic homeschooling year, we may start with high expectations or we may begin anew with another sense - one of "Oh, my, it starts again!" We may have begun the 'homeschooling journey' with a hobbit-like thought of "Great! Where are we going?" or we may have understood from the very beginning the seriousness of the mission. After living, parenting and homeschooling for many years, we know that (for better or worse) our circumstances and outlooks may differ, and our interior or physical strengths may alter, but the Truth, which is the reason for the journey, never changes.

Objective truth is not a matter of what we may 'believe," by which I do not only mean "assent of the intellect." Rather I refer to that false but popular definition that belief is a matter of opinion, a tenacious clinging to one's own ideas. As St. Thomas wrote in explaining what objectivity means in relation to truth, "It is what it is." That is why we are taught that the meaning of life is to KNOW (not just believe) God, love God, and serve God. But if we do not yet know such things as we ought, we shall if we trust and give our assent to faith.

Catholic home life and Catholic home education is really about "knowing" God. It is about loving and serving God. Always keeping in mind that Our Lord, Jesus Christ, IS the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE is what keeps us to our moorings. Our Lord's dogmas and doctrines are deposited in His Church via Divine Revelation. For all Catholic parents (homeschooling or not), Our Lord's doctrines on marriage and education are found within the Church - and they exist to guide us on the straight way. We need not 'seek' the path of Truth; we already possess it. We only need follow it!

As we begin the journey for the first time, or start it anew, it cannot be denied that September, the month of Our Lady's Sorrows, is another chance in which to ponder the beauties of the Faith and grace. Thus it is a perfect time to recall what led each of us to Catholic home education. The years pass by and circumstances are constantly changing, sometimes to our liking but more often not. What matters is our charity and perseverance.

Our answers will prove how matters change from year to year, and yet - come what may - the noble task of Catholic education continues in our homes. For example:

1. Who are we formally teaching this year? The whole kit and caboodle of our blessings or some of them? An eldest child who has reached grade school age? Are the older children at an outside school while some of the younger children at home or visa versa? Are any of us assisting in the Catholic home education of grandchildren? Is this our first year of homeschooling? Are we nervous, a bit trepiditious, afraid of failing? Is this our twentieth year of homeschooling? Are we getting a bit lackadaiscal about the whole process? Are we seeing the first fledglings try their wings? Have some already left the nest? How are we interiorly dealing with all the changes?

To that end, let's consider a few other matters (things which apply not only to the lives of Catholic homeschoolers; these questions might be slightly revised to apply to our lives as Catholics. In other words, 'what' we are really doing with our time, what books or newspapers do we we read, etc.):

2. What materials are we using? Old favorites? What is new? Are we not amazed at the times spontaneous discussions arise, either related to (or a tangent of) the lesson plans? Was there a problem we recognized last year, one that we are attempting to resolve this year?

3. When do we homeschool? All day? Half a day? In-between other things that seem to keep interupting? Five days a week, or four days a week, with Fridays as a 'reward' day if tests are done well that morning? And then there is the same question as asked before in regard to materials: Was there a scheduling problem last year that we are now attempting to rectify?

4. Above all, WHY do we homeschool? Have we ever deeply thought of the answer to that question? Have we ever written it down, to remind ourselves of it on the more trying days? Do we often discuss those reasons with our spouses and our children? Do we KNOW the good that Catholic home education can bring to the whole family - all it needs, like everything else in regard to God's Will, is our free will cooperation.

5. Finally, how we answer the previous questions are tied to this last question: HOW do we homeschool? Do we make honest attempts to keep fast to the Church's doctrine on education? Do we grasp "the importance of religious instruction"? (1) Have we accepted the Church's perennial truth that dogma and doctrine are not subject to personal interpretation but must be understood in the light of Divine Revelation, which is found in Tradition and Scripture? For the "sacred dogmas must be perpetually maintained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be a recession from that meaning under the pretext of a deeper understanding." (2)

Personal interpretation of doctrine is a serious error issuing from an over-confidence in the individual intellect. For though we accept faith through the intellect, the truth remains: "Intellect is a guide, though, that, if it lack its companion light, the knowledge of divine things, will be only an instance of the blind leading the blind so that both will fall into the pit." (3) In a word, the intellect must be illuminated with the Church's scholastic philosophy, for knowledge is only the beginning of wisdom. And wisdom is only one of many virtues which we must practice.

On the other hand, Catholic parents who, for whatever reasons, lack confidence in their own training, their virtues (especially patience!), or perceive any other lacks which may hinder their ability to teach the truth of Religion - the Religion which must permeate the curriculum (4) - may take solace in this explanation to the universal Church on teaching Christian doctrine:

"No matter what natural facility a person may have in ideas and language, let him always remember that he will never be able to teach Christian doctrine to children or to adults without first giving himself to very careful study and preparation. They are mistaken who think that because of inexperience and lack of training of the people the work of catechizing can be performed in a slipshod fashion. On the contrary, the less educated the hearers, the more zeal and diligence must be used to adapt the sublime truths to their untrained minds; these truths, indeed, far surpass the natural understanding of the people, yet must be known by all - the uneducated and the cultured - in order that they may arrive at eternal happiness." (5)

The Church's encyclical on teaching Christian doctrine, addressed to the patriarchs, primates, bishops, archbishops and other ordinaries in peace and communion with the Apostolic See, contained a reminder to the hierarchy of the Church's duty to Her members. Those words are a great comfort to those of us living in this age permeated with modernism, for the sublime truths exist and always will. Still, it is difficult to accomplish the mission without the necessary cooperation, zeal, and diligence of all the pastors.

"Yet hope remains while the company is true," said Lady Galadriel as she looked upon the ever-faithful Samwise. Each faithful Catholic family is a 'little company' (a Fellowship, as it were) of the Church Militant, and so we take upon ourselves the full responsibility of our children's education, even as the shadows of Mordor lengthen. We do so with little help from those from whom we should expect it, but we will find such help in a tiny band of faithful priests and laypeople (and with many graces from God, if only we remember to ask for them).
We parents may rest assured that the 'careful study and preparation" necessary to teach Christian doctrine (and all other 'subjects') will be ours as we teach our children. For as Catholics, we are so very akin to the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, who did not know the faith and fortitude that was already in them, who did not realize they would overcome their fears, who did not expect to be separated from good and faithful kin and friends, who did not know in what forms would they face many terrible dangers to body and soul. Neither did they know they would receive refuge in Rivendell and Lothlorien, that they would be given "gifts of grace," or find unexpected help and friends along the way. Like the task of the Fellowship, our "homeschooling journey" is an important chapter - not only in our own story but also of "the story" of the world, even when our part is over.

All that we do and learn on that journey is what people mean when they speak about "the beauties of Catholic homeschooling." Still, there are days in which it seems we take this task upon ourselves all alone, thinking ourselves too small to do what must be done. But remember the insightful words of Lord Elrond, gifted with foresight yet echoing what has always been true: "Small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."

"ORA et LABORA" (Pray and work) means prayer and sacrifice. Those actions sum up the lives of all faithful Catholics, including Catholic homeschooling families!

1. Pope St. Pius X, Acerbo Nimis (On Teaching Christine Doctrine, 1905): para. 17
2. Vatican Council 1, can. 3
3. Pope St. Pius X, op. cit., para. 3
4. Pope Leo XIII, Militantis Ecclesiae (On St. Peter Canisius, 1897): para. 18
5. Pope St. Pius, para. 26

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