31 May 2011

Catholic Education in America: Homeschooling is Not the Problem

at Catholic Online


The 2010-11 school year marked my first as a homeschooling mom.  For two years our daughters had attended Catholic schools, but this school year was the grand opening of the Hartline Academy for Girls.  It’s been challenging, rewarding, frustrating at times, a steep hill to climb some days, but a blessing for all of us and we have no regrets.

I was quite dismayed – rather irritated, actually – to read the article in Our Sunday Visitor recently regarding the conflict between homeschool families in Texas and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, as well as Ned Vanders , superintendent of Catholic Schools.

It centers on a belief that Catholic parents are obligated to send their children to Catholic schools if there’s a school in their area, and parents who do not are guilty of abrogating that obligation.  In other words, parents who choose to homeschool are committing a grave offense against Catholic schools.

The Holy Family Homeschoolers Association had invited Bishop Vasquez to celebrate a blessing Mass with them at the beginning of the next school year.  Curiously, the response didn’t come from the Bishop’s office but from Ned Vanders. 

He wrote:  “Bishop Vasquez received your invitation to celebrate a Eucharistic liturgy for the fall home-schooling blessing Mass.  Bishop Vasquez believes Catholic education, and in particular Catholic school education, is an essential part of the life of the Diocese of Austin.  As you know, Catholic schools are at the heart of the mission of the Church.  Bishop’s presence at the homeschooling Mass would convey a contradictory message equating the importance of Catholic school education with Catholic home schooling; therefore, Bishop Vasquez must respectfully decline the invitation.  Sincerely in Christ, Ned F. Vanders, E.D.”

Respectfully, there was nothing respectful about Mr. Vanders’ reply.  It was a thinly-veiled snobbish attack on the integrity of homeschoolers, the right of parents to make such a choice, and the validity of Catholic homeschooling.  It was insulting and dismissive.  And it still baffles me why Bishop Vasquez did not respond himself.  I sincerely hope the Bishop does not share Vanders’s views on Catholic homeschooling.

(OSV reported that the Diocese of Austin declined interview requests for Vanders and Bishop Vasquez.)

It’s disturbing that the Diocese of Austin has intentionally created an “us-versus-them” atmosphere regarding homeschooling families.  The OSV article went on to quote Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas, executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation.  Fr. Stravinskas is also not very supportive of homeschooling families.

Fr. Stravinskas says “the Church Fathers made clear that catechesis is the job of the whole Church, with the main responsibility resting on the shoulders of the pastor, not the parents.”  I did a double-take upon reading that one, because it seems to me that runs contrary to Vatican II’s Declaration on Christian Education which states that parents are the primary educators of their children.  No pastor can replace parents, and no parish can substitute for the child’s home.  Children will live what they’ve been taught to live at home.  If the Faith is lived and taught within the family, chances are good the children will “catch” it and nurture that Divine Love for themselves.  If home is a place where God and the Church are neglected or blasphemed, well, the children will surely catch that, too.

Fr. Stravinskas also says that “Catholic parents who choose to homeschool when there is a Catholic school available at least implicitly send the message that they do not trust the Church to educate their children properly, and the children get that message.  That leads to a subtle anti-clericalism because the children learn that priests cannot be counted on to hand on the faith.  It shows in what he sees as a dearth of vocations from homeschool families.  ‘Why would you want to join the club if its members can’t be trusted to do their jobs?’”

First, I’d like to know exactly how many vocations are coming from Catholic school families compared with homeschool families.  I wouldn’t be so quick to discount the homeschoolers.  The homeschool families I know would be elated to have a future priest or nun among their children!  I sure would!

But mostly this is just a continuation of the theme that it’s the pastor’s job to teach children, not the parents.  I disagree.  God has entrusted three souls to my husband and me to raise and teach, and we will be held accountable for how well we passed on the Faith.  The buck stops with us first, not our pastor.

A few more thoughts:  How many priests or nuns are in the classrooms of Catholic schools around the country?  If educating the children is their primary job, then why is it the Catholic schools my girls attended rarely ever saw the pastor assigned to the Church next door?  Why is it the children only attended Mass about once every other month?  Fr. Stravinskas is partially correct in his insight that many parents do not trust the Church to educate their children, though I would clarify that the church distrusted is likely the local parish, not Holy Mother Church.  

When a Catholic school does not make daily Mass, or at least weekly Mass, a priority for the formation of its students, then something is very wrong.  It’s not a generic Christian education we’re after, but a Catholic one, and that means the Eucharist, the liturgy, Mary and the saints.  That means Mass.  At my children’s former school, Mass was more of a special occasion than the essence and foundation of the Faith.  Is that the catechesis I’m supposed to be satisfied with?

Finally, Fr. Stravinskas never really addresses the issue that begs to be confronted: the outrageous cost of Catholic education.  It is simply out of reach for most families.  Consider this: it cost us more money to put our daughter through 1st grade than it did for my husband to get a very demanding, high-tech Masters Degree from a major university.  Tuition for most Catholic elementary schools is just ridiculously expensive.  I’d wager that Fr. Stravinskas would declare the money well-spent because the quality of education is unmatched.  I would disagree again.

I am now using a homeschool curriculum that in my opinion far surpasses the curriculum used at our former Catholic school.  Not to mention the fact that homeschooling gives me the opportunity to tailor the instruction to each child, to emphasize what my child needs more, and quickly advance through what she needs less.  If I see my child struggling to understand something, we don’t just move on ahead like a classroom teacher must.  The goal is to learn, not just get through a textbook.

The religious instruction we’ve gone through at home this year has been better than the catechesis they received in previous years.  The reading, vocabulary, English, math, spelling, history and science have all been outstanding, very thorough and completely faithful to the Magisterium.

The reality is we educated both our girls at home this entire school year for the cost of ONE MONTH of Catholic school.   And we only had two school-aged kids at the time – what about the families with 4, or 5, or 6 children in school at once?  In my opinion, this is an abysmal failure on the part of the Church.  If Catholic parents are expected to send their children to Catholic schools, then the Church had better get serious about making education the number-one priority and stop burdening Catholic families with thousands upon thousands of dollars in tuition every year.

The Diocese of Wichita has proven it can be done.  They are presently the only diocese in the country where children of active parish members can receive a K – 12 education tuition-free!  What’s stopping every other diocese from doing the same thing?

Beyond the tuition, my husband and I honestly got sick to death of all the “extra” costs associated with the school.  We were required to purchase a certain amount of Scripp each month, plus participate in a Fundraising program (if we didn’t sell enough of the fundraising stuff, we’d be charged a couple hundred dollars to cover our cost).  School lunches, field trips, different uniforms for winter and summer, etc, it all added up to a lot of money, and it got very annoying very quickly. 

I’ll gladly admit I’m happy to be free of fundraising obligations, since I can’t stand having to sell people over-priced stuff they don’t need or want.  I’m happy to be saving lots of gas money each month since I’m not making two round-trips each day to a school 20 miles away.   I’m happy not to have to worry about $40 sweaters getting lost or stolen.  I’m very happy not to be forced to change my shopping habits in order to purchase $200 of Scripp each month that I don’t really want.  I wanted a Catholic education for my kids, not all these expensive and crazy requirements.

I’m not trying to bash Catholic schools; I fully believe there are many excellent Catholic schools out there, and I want to see Catholic schools thrive.  I don’t disagree at all that Catholic schools are essential to the Church and the mission of our time.  We’re open to enrolling our kids in a great Catholic school in the future, if possible.

But if Fr. Stravinskas, Ned Vanders and Bishop Vasquez are going to insist that Catholic parents have an obligation to send their children to Catholic schools; if they’re going to dismiss the validity of homeschooling and impugn the motives of homeschooling parents, then it’s high time they faced reality and dealt with the legitimate reasons why many of us have chosen to teach our children at home.

We’re not trying to undermine the Church or our pastor’s authority.  We love the Church.  We want our children to become priests and nuns and faithful Catholic adults.  We’re not the enemy of Catholic schools – we are Catholic schools.

10 May 2011

They Say Marriage is a Dying Institution: What's Really Dying is Love

at Catholic Online

The pronouncement came from actress Cameron Diaz and psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow last week:  marriage is a dying institution.  It is an old tradition that has now overstayed its welcome and should be thrown out the back door.  It doesn’t suit us or our world any longer.  So they say.

Dr. Ablow gave a detailed analysis of the reality of marriage and the reasons why it should and will soon disappear from society.  His eulogy for the cornerstone of civilization as we know it was depressing to say the least.  (I could envision him walking up to the casket in order to smack the dead body upside the head and say, “Good riddance, ya lousy thief.  You shoulda died a long time ago.”)  He suspects the reason marriage doesn’t suit us now is because it never has.

Marriage, he says, takes so much from us.  It is “a source of real suffering for the vast majority of married people.”  “As a healer, I can’t help looking askance at anything that depletes energy, optimism, mood and passion to the extent that marriage does.  It is, without a doubt, one of the leading causes of major depression in the nation.”

Yikes.  When and how did marriage become such a terrible thing?

First he calls the government’s involvement in marriage a “colossal mistake.”  He insists government “should have no role in marriage, whatsoever.” “Laws should exist, instead, that simply commit parents to financially support their biological children.”  Forget about parents making a home for their kids; forget about forging a family for them; forget about showing them what it means to keep promises and put someone else first.  Forget about commitment, fidelity, honor, security, and all those other foundational virtues.  All that’s necessary is financial support, and I guess you’re off the hook entirely if your kids are adopted.

Surprisingly, Dr. Ablow agrees (unintentionally, I think) with the Catholic Church regarding his second reason marriage is dying:  oral contraception.  Whether he meant to or not, he illustrated that the Church has been right all along:  contraception corrodes marriage.  Sex is meant to be both procreative and unitive and when you separate the two, disaster ensues.  Of course, Dr. Ablow put it differently: “Once human beings understood that they could express themselves emotionally, romantically and sexually without necessarily creating multiple families and perilously diving their assets, the psychological pain of living without sexual passion (even by choice) was significantly intensified.”

I’ll rephrase:  Once people realized they could have sex with a different person every night with much less “risk” of making a baby, therefore less “risk” of disrupting their life and losing their assets, they soon found no reason at all to remain faithful to anyone, including their child.  All that mattered was lessening their “psychological pain” and increasing their sexual passion.  Pleasure trumps everything.

What a pile of sand.  No wonder the foundation of the family – marriage – is crumbling.

Conspicuously absent from Dr. Ablow’s bruising verdict that marriage is passé was even the slightest mention of love.  He speaks passionately about passion, sex, good feelings, physical attraction, freedom, the hassle and expense of divorce, but has nothing whatever to say about love.  So it’s no surprise he comes to the same self-serving conclusions as Ms. Diaz and every other prognosticator spreading doom and gloom about marriage.  Marriage surely is doomed to failure without love.

I’m not talking about being “in love.”  I’m talking about Love.  And guess what?  Love is hard work.  And that’s good!  We self-absorbed humans need daily, plentiful opportunities to look beyond ourselves and stretch our sacrifice muscles so that, with time, we learn how to love.  We have to learn how to love when the good feelings have vanished.  We have to learn how to love when the passion has chilled.  We have to learn how to love when there doesn’t seem to be anything in it for us.

We have to be reminded what love actually is:  Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

Did you see where it said love is passion, or love is easy, or love is physical attraction?  Me neither.  Did it say love is a good feeling?  Nope.

That doesn’t mean that the love of a husband and wife should be devoid of good feelings, or that the spousal relationship should be tepid and boring.  Emotional barrenness is not inevitable and certainly not God’s plan for spouses.  But like all of life there are changing seasons; there are highs and lows; there are easy times and trying times; there is happiness and sadness – you get the idea.  Those who head for the door when they aren’t feeling it anymore will never reap the rewards of love.

Dr. Ablow says, “The third reason marriage is a dying institution is because it inherently deprives men and women of the joy of being ‘chosen’ on a daily basis.”  (Here again, marriage is a thief stealing something precious from us.  Sheesh.)  Well, boo hoo.  So none of us should have to feel obligated to stay if we don’t want to anymore?  If we don’t feel especially “chosen” this week, we should be able to leave in search of someone who will stroke our ego?

I don’t want the guy who won’t hang around through the tough times.  I don’t want the guy who’s going to split when someone prettier and more tingly with excitement over his greatness comes along.  I want the guy who has the steel to stand by me, keep his vows, and honor his commitment particularly when it doesn’t feel good.  I want the guy I chose when I promised to forsake all others.

And by the same token, I want to be the woman who does the same for her man.  That means I’m gonna have to learn how to love, and it’ll be painful at times, because Love will entreat me down off my throne and smash my selfishness to bits.  But only little by little, day by day.

I also want the guy who will choose to love me when I’m not very lovable.  I want the guy who will keep walking with me through the hard times, being faithful through the empty times because he believes that Love will breathe on us again and the delights of passion will warm us again, even if more mellow than when we first began.  (Like a good wine, Love ages sweetly.)

I want the guy who wants to learn to love, because he values Love and knows that Love is the reason for living.  If that sounds like a greeting card cliché to you, too bad.  Love is the end-all and be-all.

The sad state of marriage today has nothing to do with it being outdated or confining or passion-killing.  It has everything to do with people who are no longer willing to love each other because they no longer understand what Love is, nor do they know Who Love is.  It has everything to do with people being slaves to sexual desire and desecrating the beautiful gift of sexual love that brings forth new life.

No, Dr. Ablow, marriage is not a dying institution.  What’s dying is our respect for each other and our reverence for human life.  What’s dying is our willingness to sacrifice, to serve, to remain steadfast, to keep our vows.  We are weak with self-gratification and a toddler’s attention span.  We have no faith that deserts can bloom, ice can melt, storms will pass, and wounds can heal.  What’s dying is our love.

Dr. Ablow concludes, “It’s only a matter of time now.  Marriage will fade away.  We should be thinking about what might replace it.”  Marriage is in serious jeopardy, no doubt.  If it dies, it will not be due to any inherent defect of its own but because we have ceased to try to conquer our defects.  It will be because we gave up the struggle of love.

With what, exactly, shall we replace Love?

~~~

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