On the Home FrontMARY HASSON AND KIMBERLY HAHN
Tell a reporter that you home school so your daughter can achieve academic excellence and you will now win grudging acceptance. But tell him itís because you want her to know the Good, the True and the Beautiful, and to fall personally and passionately in love with Christ and His Church, and you will get the same old vacant stare. Thatís the real point of Catholic home schooling, and the cultural gurus are still missing it.
As the cultural gurus are wont to do, they missed the point, again. They used to dismiss home schooling as academically inferior. Now that has begun to change. The past five years have seen a marked shift in how the press (though not the education establishment) has treated home schooling. As a growing body of statistics attests, teaching one's children at home is likely to raise a child's test scores and to improve academic excellence. Home-taught children outscore their institutionally educated peers by an average of 10 to 30 percentage points; more and more frequently, stories highlight the musical brilliance, scientific creativity, or artistic giftedness of particular home schooled children. Such success can no longer be ignored.
Rather belatedly, then, the cultural powers-that-be have baptized academic excellence as a legitimate, or at least understandable, reason for home schooling. Tell a reporter that you home school so your daughter can perfect her piano technique and you will now win grudging acceptance. But tell him it's because you want her to know the Good, the True and the Beautiful, and to fall personally and passionately in love with Christ and His Church, and you will get the same old vacant stare. That's the real point of Catholic home schooling, and the cultural gurus are still missing it.
Alas, some in the Church are, too. Certainly academic success is a cornerstone of home schooling. Nobody wants academic mediocrity. And enhancing personal creativity is a wonderful benefit not to be missed. But as Catholic home schoolers our goal for our children is much deeper and our purpose within the Church much more profound. The hearts of Catholic home schoolers must be firmly set on two aims one personal and one apostolic.
For our children, the personal goal of our home schooling is a radical one to teach and live the truths of our faith with our children, in such a way that they will serve our Creator well on earth and enjoy an eternity of happiness with him. While this is a goal shared by many let us hope all Catholic families who do not home school, our commitment in time and presence allows us to accomplish this goal in an intensive, integrated way.
Catholic home school families are likely to begin the day with family prayer, followed by an energetic scramble to get everyone dressed, fed, and out the door so the family can attend daily Mass together. Returning home, the typical academic lessons of reading, math, geography, and science are interwoven with lessons from the catechism and Scripture study. Catholic books and materials provide a Catholic perspective on history and world events. Even non-Catholic materials, from math workbooks to Carmen San Diego, offer parents the chance to find the values compatible with our Catholic faith and to critique those that are not, teaching our children about shades of meaning and hidden assumptions. Chores, meals, and play-time, along with the formal academics, provide the opportunities and settings for life's lessons lessons of trusting and seeking God's help, of painstakingly struggling to build virtuous habits, of recognizing and fighting the natural inclinations to sin that afflict us all, and of giving and receiving forgiveness.
Just as the tutorial approach to academics allows home schoolers to succeed intellectually, the tutorial approach to learning and integrating Catholicism helps home schooled children to absorb their faith well. A steady, continuous drip of water eventually cuts a channel for itself even in the hardest rock. Occasional cloudbursts merely roll off the rock, leaving no impact. So, too, with formation in the Faith. Once-a-week CCD classes, as good and necessary as they may be, cannot hope to accomplish much if the rest of the week is lived in a completely contrary way. Even good Catholic families, entrusting their children's faith to the parochial school, may not have the time to make sure that "religion" is more than just an academic subject. Home school families, simply because of the nature of home schooling, tend to avoid the cloudburst syndrome.
So, are Catholic home schoolers some sort of breed apart ... a spiritual elite with a shortcut to sanctity? Not at all. Home schooling takes place in real families, where children struggle to be obedient, respectful and diligent, and parents work to overcome frustration and impatience on a daily basis. But blessed by an abundance of time together, the home schooling family is capable of creating an intensive community of life and love not because we start out as more virtuous human beings, but because we have more time and focus to deal with the realities of sin and weakness. Family life is a wonderful laboratory of trial and error, growth and setback. Rather than squeezing prayer and formative moments in between carpools and homework, our faith and struggle for virtue is the thread that we try to weave, throughout the day, into the fabric of our lives, and those of our children.
We treasure this as a gift from God. But, like all his gifts, it is given not just for our individual benefit, but for his Church as well. Thus, to the Church itself, Catholic home schoolers offer a particularly timely and distinctive gift. By our witness, by our example of an integrated family life of faith, and by our encouragement and exhortation, Catholic home schoolers can be the occasion for other families to commit themselves more fully to become their children's primary teachers in the Faith that is, home schoolers in the truest sense regardless of where their kids go to school.
What must our goal be, then, as Catholic home schoolers? To 'convert' non-home schooling Catholic families to the home schooling way of life? To persuade all parents who send their children to Catholic schools that their children's academic interests are best served by teaching them at home? No. Certainly, we can encourage those who listen to consider the benefits that this integrated lifestyle offers. But, the Church clearly states that parents have the right to choose the Catholic educational alternative that best fits their needs and priorities. Indeed, while home schooling is capable of producing academic excellence, many Catholic families find academic excellence at the local parish school or the private Catholic institution nearby. Academic excellence is an important objective that families have for their children, but it is not a goal that requires home schooling.
The Church unequivocally states that parents have an 'inalienable' right, and one that cannot be entirely delegated, to teach the children that truth of the Catholic Faith. The common mission of all Catholic parents is to teach their children the Faith and to share in the living of that faith so that the teachings themselves take root.
Catholic home schoolers are in a unique position to encourage and help other families to fulfill their responsibilities in this area. First, we are a sign, a witness to the blessings of a family life built on a shared living of the Faith. We offer a testament that the Church's teachings are accessible and understandable, and are able to be transmitted as part of normal parent-child dialogue. And, second, we know a good many tricks of the trade. We've usually learned them the hard way and we're happy to share!
In this mission, Catholic home schoolers offer a great resource to other families, pastors, catechists and Catholic school teachers everywhere. Perhaps history between some church officials and home schoolers has been marked by distrust and animosity. With each choice to home school some Catholic pastors, principals, and DREs saw an implicit criticism. Certainly in some cases, a family's choice to home school really has been made reluctantly and primarily because of the poor quality of the religious or academic instruction of particular schools. Yet often, church leaders, like home schoolers, have been too quick to generalize about the "other side's" motivations. Amid promising new efforts by various pastors and dioceses and home schooling families, however, those days of hostility and distrust may soon become part of home school history. Whatever our particular motivations to home school may have been, all Catholic home schoolers can rejoice at the opportunity to undertake our children's religious formation with such an intensity. Encouraging other parents in the education of their children in the Faith is a gift that home schoolers can bring to the entire Church family.
So the next time someone you know acknowledges the academic achievements of Catholic home schoolers, you can respond, "Yes, but they have embarked upon, and achieved something so much more important!" And this is the real point of Catholic home education.
Mary Hasson and Kimberly Hahn. "On the Home Front." Catholic Dossier 3 no. 2 (March April 1997): 30-32.
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Mary Hasson and Kimberly Hahn are the authors of Catholic Education: Homeward Bound, a guide for Catholic home schooling published by Ignatius Press. Mary, a home schooling mother of five and an attorney, has done graduate work in the theology of marriage and family. Kimberly, also a home schooling mother of five, is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and co-author, with her husband Scott, of Rome Sweet Home (Ignatius Press).
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