Thursday, January 06, 2005

Education

Mrs. Curley and I have educated our children at home for 7 years. I had a discussion last night with two gentlemen (who I consider best friends) about homeschooling and Catholic education in general. In that light – especially since I often can be more articulate on paper than verbally, I thought I would write some of my thoughts about these topics.


I am going to start by defining the goals of education – because this is key to understanding why home education is the option we continue to pursue. In this definition you will find lofty goals; one has to determine how the options available for your children meet these goals.


One would think that it would be fairly simple to come up with a definition of what a good education is. However there are different levels of success and failure in education. For instance, take the ‘simple’ skill of reading. Obviously if students can not read then the education has failed. But let us look now at various levels of success, which may also be failures depending on the age and capacity of the student:

1. if the students can read, but don’t;
2. if students can and do read, but only read trash (pick your definition);
3. if students are willing, and do read classics and comprehensive works, but can’t fully understand them (reading comprehension);
4. if students have reading comprehension skills for comprehensive works but can not logically communicate this comprehension;
5. if the students can logically communicate their comprehension, but can not analyze and discern the reading in the light of Truth.

Note that as we raise the criteria for a successful education more and more factors contribute to the success or failure of the education – some of these factors being out of the control of any individual educator and sometimes out of the control of any specific school system.

Now let’s look at History in the same way. Knowing the important figures, dates, and events in history are the basic skills. Understanding why historical events happened is a higher skill. Being able to analyze current events and relate them to historical events is a greater skill. Understanding that one can not simply measure all events in history by today’s cultural standards is still a further skill. And being able to look at and understand history in light of the Incarnation is the still greater skill.

We could analyze every academic discipline as we have reading and history to come to a conclusion about the ultimate goal of education – understanding of course the intellectual maturity and capacity of the child further defines the limits of reaching this goal. Thus education is surely learning basic academic skills, but it is much more. Education is also learning how to learn. Education is about learning how to think logically – not just what to think. Education is learning to recognize and discern the Truth.

With this in mind, we now look at three educational settings: public schools, private schools, and the home.

Certainly the current debate about education in our society has centered on the failure of the public schools systems to provide even the basic academic skills (as I have defined above). Thus many of the measures that have been put in place recently in the public school systems simply measure the basics and not the higher skills of education. However, in today’s secular culture, even when a public school supplies the basic academic skills and some of the higher order skills to its students, we note that the highest order of skills are necessarily missing because we have a government mandated “value-free” learning environment. Thus secular bias (even when it is not a “liberal bias”) is institutionalized in today’s public schools. There is no avoiding this fact. Therefore the education gained at the best of public schools must be heavily supplemented to obtain the highest skills of education. This must include both instruction in the Faith and correctional instruction to reverse the secular bias taught in many academic disciplines.

A private school – especially a Catholic school can provide, in part, what the public schools can not. A Catholic school has the freedom and the obligation to teach its students about the Christian world view; about history in view of salvation; about science in terms of Revelation (note that they are never in conflict). However, most Catholic schools are not fully equipped to do this, especially as most use the same texts (with the same secular bias) as the public schools. Further, the teachers at these schools often have been educated in this secular bias. Thus you have a situation where a Catholic school actually teaches anti-Catholicism in history class for instance – without even knowing it. A Catholic school has the opportunity to also provide Catholic culture. This would include frequent opportunities to receive the sacraments, enforcement of modest dress during the school day and at school functions (yes, even for the cheerleaders), etc. Here again, we see that even private school education can not stand in isolation. Both the parents and the school administration will help determine the catholicity and excellence of the school.

The Holy Father has written that education in the home, specifically from parents, “since it is connected with the transmission of human life…is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others” (my emphasis). This is true regardless of whether the student is in public or private school or educated primarily at home. Thus parents have a grave obligation in overseeing the education of their children, regardless of where they spend their ‘school days’. The actual instructional role of parents will vary depending on the culture of the educational setting. An excellent public school setting will necessarily mean more time in teaching our children and discussing with them the doctrines of the Faith and the Catholic worldview. A poor public school setting will require this, plus teaching and encouragement in the academic subjects. An excellent orthodox Catholic school may require less of an instructional role and more of a nurturing role, but a less than excellent orthodox Catholic school will require much the same effort as a poor public school – maybe even more effort because the parent must explain to the child why the ‘Catholic’ school is not so Catholic.

Because of the grave educational responsibility of parents, a home education can not want for excellence in teaching basic academic skills even if it can provide an advantage on creating a Catholic culture, as these basic skills are building blocks for more comprehensive insights and understanding.

When considering home education, parents must decide if they can successfully provide for (at home) the educational goals defined above, better than the other options (public or private) available overall. This is a comprehensive analysis taking into account finances, academics, culture, personality and skills of the student, etc.


Education is not like a bureau with a drawer for reading, a drawer for history, a drawer for math, a drawer for science, and a still separate drawer for religion. The academic subjects are integrated. God’s creation and His plan for man’s salvation touch on every subject: sometimes to create wonder and awe, sometimes to give guidelines, but always to teach us how to live and how to die. Education is about learning to discern Truth. The true goal of education is ultimately about preparing your child to work out their own salvation.

From the small holding in Bethune on this traditional feast of the Epiphany ...

Oremus pro invicem!

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