Friday, April 27, 2007

The Call to Homeschool

In my post below, commenter 4andcounting reminded me that I wanted to talk about something that I truly believe about homeschooling.

I believe that it is a call.

Now, as Catholics we're very familiar with the term vocation. We believe that at some points in our lives God calls us to a particular state in life wherein we can best serve Him and grow in holiness ourselves.

Our vocation is the biggest and most obvious call we receive from God, but there are different aspects to each call. For instance, if a young man discerns a call to the priesthood, he must still discern whether he is being called to be a diocesan priest or an order priest; if he thinks he's being called to a religious order he will still have to find out which one. A woman called to religious life will go through a similar process of discernment, and young people who think they are called to be married still have to find out what particular person God wants them to marry.

But even when all these things have been settled, God continues to call us to holiness in ways both big and small. A priest may feel moved to fast from a particular food on behalf of his parish family; a nun may, with the permission of her superior, pray the rosary each week outside of an abortion clinic along with a local pro-life group. Husbands and wives may decide to sign up for an hour of Eucharistic adoration if their parish offers it; mothers and fathers may come to the conclusion that it's best for their family if the television is removed from the home for a time, or even permanently.

I believe that the call to homeschool is not unlike these types of calls. I think that generally speaking homeschooling is the best way to educate children in faith, to nurture and protect their developing souls while providing them with the tools they will one day need when they enter the world. I believe it's the surest way for Catholic parents to fulfill their obligation, in this day and age, to see to it that their children are taught the faith and that they grow in the Christian life.

I think that, most unfortunately, it isn't possible any longer to assume that any school, Catholic, Christian, private or public, is going to educate our children to share our values. This doesn't mean that some wonderful schools aren't out there, but it does mean that many schools parents would once have trusted implicitly with their children are no longer worthy of such unquestioning trust.

But as much as I believe these things, I still believe that the decision to homeschool comes as a response to a call to do so, and that that call comes from God. Not every family in every situation will find themselves able or willing to homeschool, and not every family has felt in their hearts that quiet, persistent invitation to do so.

Some who are called to homeschool know this even before they marry and have children; some know it as soon as their first child nears preschool age. But I think the vast majority of parents out there who decide to homeschool find that the call to do so may take some time to hear, and some time to act upon.

It may begin as a slow dissatisfaction with the school your children are already in, a slow realization that whatever the school's values are, they aren't your own. (A military man of my acquaintance reached this point when one of his children's elementary school history books contained exactly two pages on World War II, and one of them was all about Rosie the Riveter.) Other parents get fed up with the impersonal bureaucracy that even Catholic schools may suffer from, or find themselves without help when one of their children is having a difficult time. Still others may like the school itself, but get tired of the bullying or bad behavior of some of their children's classmates, behavior which never seems to be corrected appropriately by those in authority.

For others it may begin before their children have even entered school. Encounters with peaceful, happy homeschooling families, research into the costs of Catholic education in their area, and a desire to have more say in what their children learn may war with their preconceived notions about education in general and homeschooling in particular. They may begin to consider homeschooling far more seriously than they ever would have imagined.

In both of these cases, the call from God may be similar. The seeds of dissatisfaction having been planted, there next will come that time period when "I'd never do that!" begins to be in conflict with the more wistful thought, "I'd like to do that." Families in this position, in my opinion, should approach God in prayer at this point, and attempt to discern His will for them. If they do this honestly and sincerely, I believe that God will indeed reveal His will.

It may be that they really aren't being called to homeschool, for reasons specific to themselves and/or to their family's particular situation. There really are some situations where traditional schooling may be the better option, at least for the present time, and generally speaking no one but the family themselves will be aware of the specific reasons why this is so.

But if there are no such obstacles, and if the desire to homeschool begins to grow stronger and stronger, then I think the family should consider investigating the various methods and curricula available for their children. Attending a meeting of a local homeschooling group might be a good idea at this point, too, to get to talk to parents who are 'in the trenches' so to speak and who, with their varied experiences, will probably be able to answer the family's questions and concerns.

One thing I've noticed among homeschooling families is that many of them say that making the decision to homeschool might not have been easy, and homeschooling itself might not be easy, but there's no doubt in their minds that they made the right decision and are doing the right thing. Many seem to experience a great deal of peace once they've committed to the course of homeschooling, the peace of knowing that they've discerned God's will for them and are fulfilling it to the best of their ability.

I encourage all who are considering homeschooling to enter into the process of prayerful and thoughtful discernment, knowing that many others have gone before you on this road, and that all of us are willing to help in any way we can. Specifically, I welcome comments here from those who are considering the choice to homeschool their children and who would like to ask questions or get advice. Or, if you'd rather not comment, please feel free to email me at the address on the left side of the blog with your questions or concerns.


4andcounting said...

Great post. I think some of my reluctance/stubbornness (sp?)/fear or whatever comes from how I feel about how I'm handling just being a stay-home mom. I am still having such a hard time surrendering fully and doing the simple things well and faithfully that the idea of taking on the additional responsibility of full-fledged homeschooling just seems like a mountain I can't see the top of at this point. But, I continue to read what you and others who homeschool have to say and am keeping it all in mind. I look forward to reading more.

Red Cardigan said...

4andcounting, I think many moms have had the same thoughts and feelings that you're having right now. In the end, you and your husband will decide what is best for your family; no one else can decide for you, though I'm glad you're reading and talking about all of this!

One thing you might consider is that homeschooling follows much the same natural path that being a mom does. Except for those moms who heroically embrace the call to adopt older children, most of us start with small helpless immobile beings. They need us a lot, but they can't get into much trouble! :) Soon they are scooting and crawling across the floor, and while we marvel at their mobility we realize that though we now have new challenges, we also have new benefits (such as regaining the feeling in our arm muscles). When they start walking we move everything up another shelf and look for hidden dangers, but we're excited to see them join other young children at play, and grateful for the chance to chat (albeit with many interruptions) with other moms of toddlers.

With each milestone there are new blessings and new challenges, new joys and new worries.

And homeschooling really isn't much different. We don't (most of us) start with a houseful of middle schoolers who need full-time structured teaching. We start with preschool children who are learning to identify shapes, numbers and letters, to color in the lines, use safety scissors, play, share, and explore. To go from these daily activities to kindergarten, which often takes a relatively short time each day and can be organized however you'd like to do it, seems to be a somewhat natural step.

Years later, I look back and think that if I could do it over again, I definitely would! I've learned some things, though, like how to be more relaxed and how not to be afraid that the world would fall apart if my oldest daughter didn't start showing some glimmer of understanding when given the math workbook. I've learned to change curricula to fit my children instead of trying to adapt my children to fit some curricula. And I've learned to celebrate the moments when they amaze me--as they do, every day.

Thanks for reading!

Fabiola & Patrick said...

Oh! Red Cardigan! you have me all dubious again... mmm

You see, I'm expecting my first (due in August, God willing), my husband and I discussed the homeschooling issue before we married. I was strongly against it, but having a baby on the way makes you look at things differently.

As now I'm getting a small taste of what being a mum is, and I no longer priorize myself as I used to only five months ago... I can see myself at least trying to do whatever is better for my children, and homeschool doesn't seem as bad as it did before.

I'll follow your advice about praying for God's guidance. We are still far from school, but I know how fast time goes by, specially when it comes to the little ones.

Thank you very much for your post.


Red Cardigan said...

Fabiola, congratulations! I will pray for your safe and happy delivery.

You have an exciting time ahead of you in so many ways! I'm glad you will consider being open to homeschooling in the future.