Once in a while I come across an article where a mom waxes eloquently about the awesomeness of her homeschool. I read about rocket-science experiments, kids reading college-level books, siblings living in beautiful harmony, fabulous field trips, morning baskets full of art and literature enrichment, and peaceful, well-ordered days.
There was a time when such articles filled me with inspiration and enthusiasm. But twelve years in, I confess, such articles usually makes me cringe. Homeschooling, for us, is not nearly so picture perfect. Some days we have a lot of complaining, a lot of bickering, a lot of tears. School is more work than fun. And there are many days when I feel overworked and stressed. So when I read about another mom’s homeschool awesomeness, I can’t help but wonder: Is she still in the honeymoon stage? Or, I am doing something fundamentally wrong?
Of course, homeschooling is a wonderful privilege. Being able to teach our children at home, in their most natural and loving environment, is a beautiful thing. A homeschool is a safe and nurturing haven where children can learn at their own pace. Above all, homeschooling gives us the ability to imbue our children’s education with the faith and to order our days towards an ever deepening love for God.
And yet, homeschooling can also be extremely challenging. It is not as idyllic as some proponents of homeschooling make it out to be. In fact, some days, it’s just a really heavy cross.
Perhaps this is because, as professor and homeschooling father Dr. William Fahey writes, homeschooling is itself an emergency measure.
In an article entitled A Just War Theory of Homeschooling, Fahey points out that (church) documents clearly allow, and in some instances may indirectly encourage, homeschooling without mentioning it specifically. However, he also quotes many Church documents that emphasize the importance of communal education. Why is communal education so important? Because, he writes, education is for the perfection of the child, and the child is perfected for a life in society.
Thus, he goes on to state that the common approach to homeschooling today (one which emphasizes individualism) is inherently dangerous, because it may go against what our entire Western tradition and the Catholic Church herself teach about the education of the young — that education should not be done in the home, at least not for long, except during a time and place of crisis.
Turns out, we are in a state of crisis. Our society is in a state of moral and cultural crisis. Thus Fahey writes, homeschooling is a proper response to a crisis within society and (we must be very sad to admit) within some quarters of the Church.
He goes on to say, The recognition that homeschooling is itself an emergency measure should offer much needed assistance to parents — especially mothers — who labor in the often exhausting task of being the principal, cafeteria staff, gym coach, bus driver, hall monitor, and (lest we forget) teacher of every subject. What’s more, the feelings of isolation and inadequacy so common to homeschooling parents should be recognized as the natural response to stress in the face of crisis.
Whether you agree or not that education should not be done in the home, at least not for long, except during a time and place of crisis, this certainly is food for thought. I’ve been gnawing on this idea for months, turning it over in my mind, and pondering it.
And I realized that throughout church history, Catholic parents have educated their children through many crises.
Think of the earliest Christian parents, who had to raise and educate their children during times of violent persecution in the Roman Empire. Think of Christian parents trying to raise their families during the times of barbarian invasions and through the war-torn, plague ridden Middle Ages. Think of the fierce persecution of Catholics in England during the time of Queen Elizabeth and the bloody anti-clericalism of the French Revolution. Think how communist governments have tried and still try to wipe out Christianity. Think of Christian persecutions today in the Middle East and Nigeria causing thousands to flee their homes or face genocide. These are just a few that come to mind. All throughout her history, the Church has endured countless persecutions. And all the while Christian parents have continued to educate their children and pass on the light of faith despite living in a state of crisis.
Today we are living in a state of moral and cultural crisis. It’s not as dramatic, perhaps, as the persecutions of our forerunners. But the secularization, materialism, and degradation of the human person that are corrupting our society is a real crisis.
Thus, we should not be surprised that our lives as Christian parents (homeschooling or not) are filled with difficulties, tensions, and stress. Educating our children, while trying to protect them from pervasive radical ideologies and pornography, is going to entail heroic measures. Especially with today’s technology. For some parents, this heroism comes in choosing Catholic schools that are far away and/or very costly. For others, it is being constantly vigilant and highly involved at public schools while withstanding tremendous pressure to conform to the norm. For others it is the exhausting and demanding task of educating our kids at home. No choice is perfect, and we find our situation falling short of our ideals despite the countless sacrifices we make.
But still we persevere, for we know we have a mission to fulfill and we know our sacrifices have a redemptive value.
It is impossible to fulfill our Christian mission on earth without suffering, writes Fr. Jean d’Elbee. It seems that the greater the missions are, the more the crosses are, too, and the heavier they are: the crosses of parents, the crosses of apostles, the crosses of priests, the crosses of bishops, the crosses of the Pope. The Lord has given us a field of work, and we must irrigate it with tears falling from the winepress of sorrow, in order that it may be fruitful.
The family is one of the greatest mission fields of the Church. Thus, devout Christian parents will always have to bear numerous heavy crosses. And even more so during a time of crisis. Homeschooling parents, in particular, need to stop doubting themselves, wondering why life is so hard and what they’re doing wrong.
Life is hard because we’re living in a time of crisis. Life is hard because our mission is extremely important. As for what we’re doing wrong? We could be doing any number of things wrong, and there’s always room for improvement. But Our Blessed Mother didn’t do a single thing wrong. Yet her life was filled with trials and her heart was nailed to the cross. Even if we did everything perfectly, we would still encounter the cross. Because Christ is on the cross, and it’s Christ whom we’re after.
There is a silver lining to the crisis we’re living in: persecutions, crises, and sufferings very often strengthen the faithful. History has shown this to be true. And it’s why no government, from the Roman times until today, has been able to stamp out Christianity.
It’s when things are easy that we become lazy and lukewarm. Its when things are easy that we stop relying on God. But children who grow up watching their parents make tremendous sacrifices for their faith have an incredible witness to emulate. They see that our faith is worth living and dying for.
Fulton Sheen once said, There’s nothing more tragic in all of the world than wasted pain. Think of how much suffering there is in hospitals, among the poor and bereaved. Think also of how much of that suffering goes to waste.
Let’s not waste our pain, our sufferings and crosses. These are the jewels with which we can ransom the souls of all those whom we love. The discouragement you feel after a rough day of homeschooling can be much more meritorious than a perfectly executed lesson plan if you offer it up with trust and cheerfulness.
So when times are tough, when you’re teaching from the couch because of nauseating morning sickness, when your baby has been up all night and you have a brood of fidgety children to teach in the morning, when a child is being difficult and obnoxious, when a middle schooler is relentlessly hounding you to let him do what “everyone else” is doing, when you stay up at night worrying about your moody, rebellious teenager, when money is tight and time is tighter, when all your sacrifices seem pointless…
These trials are the means God is personally giving you to educate and sanctify your children. Will you embrace them? Or will you waste them?
Let us unite our sufferings and anxieties to the heart of Mary, nailed on the cross, and offer them up for our children, our families, and all those we love.
Let us find strength and solace in our Eucharistic Lord, the source of all grace.
And let us persevere with hope and joy, trusting with confidence that God will bless our faithfulness and draw our children ever closer to His heart.
How’s that for homeschool awesomeness?