Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fear and Love in Homeschooling

In life there are only two paths: the Path of Love and the Path of Fear. They begin from the same place and travel very close to each other at first, but the farther a man travels along them, the more spearate they become. In the end they diverge so sharply and irrevocably that they lead to opposite sides of an unbridgeable chasm. On one side is life in all its fullness. On the other is death in all its emptiness.

I grew up in a homeschooling Catholic family and I know many homeschooling families, both Catholic and Non-Catholic. I know enough about it to know that no two families choose to homeschool for the same reasons, or in the same way. Some have religious reasons, some have primarily academic reasons. There was a time, when I was a teenager, and a little bit into my early twenties, when if you had asked me how I intended to educate any children I might ever happen to have, I would have said "Homeschool," hands down and given you a half dozen or so well-articulated reasons for that conviction. Since then, however, I have had the good fortune to meet and become very close friends with a number of families, young and old, who have homeschooled some of the time, or most of the time, or all the time. Some used curricula programs, some created their own curricula. Some went alone, some worked as co-ops with other families. Some homeschooled up until highschool, and then sent their kids to the public school or to private schools. I know of two groups of unusually ambitious families who pooled their resources and created their own Catholic schools, one in New York and one in Louisiana.

We can quote statistics about how well homeschoolers do on standardized testing, or invoke stereotypes about the sheltered, socially awkward homeschooler going hog wild on sex, drugs and rock'n'roll in college. No matter how many "outcomes" I have seen I can see very little in the way of a pattern. (Even the evaluation of outcomes must be undertaken very carefully, taking into account that every human being is different and makes his or her own choices.) I do, however, see a pattern in the foundations, so to speak. The motivation behind the choice to homeschool is really a choice between two opposite reasons. The choice is made either out of fear of evil, or out of love of the good.*

Too many homeschooling families that I have known chose homeschooling out of fear, fear of the experience they had in highschool being replayed in their children's lives (with good reason). The choice to homeschool was a reaction against that, a flight from the evils of the world. This attitude of fear is very powerful, but also very posionous. This attitude of fear becomes a prevalent undercurrent in the life of a family, and then in the life of a young person who grew up in that environment. The fear of making mistakes, of failing, of not being the "perfect Catholic" family, of somehow being corrupted by the evil world, all of these attitudes are based on fear. This is the fear that keeps Catholic young people from going to secular colleges for fear of being corrupted, from entering the military for fear of being dragged off to the strip club, from asking that girl to dance for fear of being led into sin or having everyone think you are going steady. It is the fear that keeps men from trying out the seminary, because they might fail. It is the fear that keeps men in the seminary after they have decided it isn't for them, because they don't want to be seen to fail. This fear prevents good Christian boys and girls from spending time together because they fear temptation more than they trust grace. This fear prevents good Christian young people from being friends with atheists, for fear that their faith will be stolen. Fear, fear, fear. We become so enamored of the homely ideals which really only exist in our minds that we run away from the real world, and consequently it goes to the devil. What do you expect when the salt of the earth is horded for our own private recipes, and the light of the world is put under a shade to make it a convenient night light for scared children?

The opposite motivation is love. Some people homeschool because they believe they have a gift to give their children which the world cannot give them. They want to share this gift of life with their children, in the hopes that their children will then go out and share that gift with the world. So they allow their children to ask questions, even challenging or disrespectful sounding questions. They allow their children opportunities to learn from anyone and everyone who has something good, true or beautiful to offer. Perhaps most importantly of all, they allow their children room to make mistakes. They do not try to shelter them from the responsibility to make their own choices, they do not prevent them from meeting people who think differently. They are available to answer questions and aware of the questions that their children are asking, but they are willing to be pushed aside, ignored or not listened to. They applaud the good, no matter how immature it might be, without ever condoning or encouraging that immaturity. These parents are humble enough to realize that they are not in control. They are simply tools in the hands of God, so they can make themselves available but not grasp at control when things don't go the way they planned.

This is the pattern throughout life. The slightest good attempted by the grace of God, even if it "fails" by our standards, is of more value than any amount of evil avoided. Remember the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-29), and tremble if you were given great gifts. Tremble, but rejoice, for you have been given the opportunity to do great good. Invest everything you have and everything you are in the mission that excites your heart and sets it on fire. Do not fear the naysayers, whether they wish you well or ill. Listen to their fears, and recognize them as fears. Take whatever truth they offer, and let their fears pass you by.

For we were not given a spirit of slavery to fear, but a Spirit of adoption by which we cry Abba! Father!

Fear not! He has conquered the world. He who is in us is stronger than he who is in the world.

* For the purpose of this blog I have artificially separated and contrasted the two motivations, but in real life they are never that simple. There are very, very few people in the world who are completely motivated by love and never by fear. There are some people who are motivated almost entirely by fear, but I hope not very many. There is a little bit of love in everyone, just a little spark of fearlessness. So don't expect to see real human beings entirely in one camp or another, and don't expect to see homeschooling families entirely in one camp or another either. The distinction is meant to enable us to see which direction we ought to be going. When we start using it as a set of boxes to stick our fellow Christians in, then I think it has become a trap and should be discarded.

1 comment:

  1. I would hope that if I were ever lucky enough to have kids, that I would be motivated by more by love than by fear. Although a little bit of fear, I have come to realize, is a healthy thing.