Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Education: empowerment and slavery

This post is prompted by a certain anxiety I have about homeschooling.  Home schoolers are often the nicest of people and they often have the nicest, most well rounded, articulate of children. My anxiety is not so much about the right to educate one's children at home (a right that I will always defend), it is about the very Catholicity of homeschooling.  In my heart, I am not convinced that it is Catholic and I'd like to make my views known to a wider audience, hence my blogging about it.  The fact that so many home educated children are such grounded and holy individuals stems simply from the fact that God is the "unum necessarium" in their lives and actually has very little to do with their education as such.

I do not believe that the world is any more developed or any less modern than when Pius XI wrote his excellent encyclical on education: Divini Illius Magistri in 1929.  It is and always will be a relevant document worthy of study by anyone who cares about education. Much of what I have to say is inspired by his writings.

Pius XI makes it clear that the last end of education is God, and fitting the children of God for heaven.  He also says that three organisations bear the responsibility for the education of children: the home, society and the Church.  He makes it clear that the home cannot provide everything, nor can society, nor can the Church.  He makes it clear that education is "a social and not merely an individual activity", and that the home and society provide the natural framework for this and the Church the supernatural framework.

What will be difficult for homeschooling families to swallow is that he says that family is imperfect "since it has not in itself all the means for its own complete development", it is a unit amongst other units, divinely ordained, beautiful but utterly dependent on society and the Church.  However the family has priority over civil society because of its God given sanctity, hence the importance of defence of the family at all costs.  BUT civil society is perfect in its own sense, with its own agenda, and because families subsist within society, civil society has some pre-eminence over the family because of the common good.  Families can not cut themselves off from society any more than humans can cut themselves off from eating and sleeping. Families work within civil society or they cannot shape civil society.

So civil society is a sphere in which education OUGHT to take place, not in isolation, but as part of a wider package.  One ought not to expect any awareness of the "last end" of education from civil society as the function of civil society is purely temporal and earth bound.  BUT that doesn't make it any less fitting that children should be educated within civil society.  It has its role.

There are more good teachers than bad teachers, it is a thing of nature imbued with natural virtues, I have been utterly inspired and humbled by the care and dedication of many teachers, most of whom are humanists at heart and more often than not committed atheists   Most teachers love their subjects and would probably be doing anything else other than teaching unless they didn't genuinely wish to enthuse young people and share the treasures they have found.  Most teachers genuinely have a solid and disinterested love for children.  They care and they care deeply but they can be dispassionate as they have no vested interest in a particular child in their care.  In this sense teachers can provide things parents may struggle to do:  consistency, rigour, expertise and patience. Essentially teachers do not have the overwhelming burden of responsibility for any one of their charges that a parent may feel for their child and I believe this makes us better educators than parents in the purely academic field.  

I haven't time to go into Pius XI's prophetic warning about the dangers of leaving sex-education to the state.  Sex education ought to happen within the family.  I do however wish to raise one last point, something I feel very keenly as an educator; it is about the meaning of "education".

The entymology of the word "education" means to "draw out".  Pius XI argues that there is a tendency to reduce education to its entymological root and that this is wrong.  He argues that education is about much more than "drawing out" that which lies within the child.  If we consider education simply as drawing out, it leads to a kind of self-absorption and a dangerous belief in one's own ability.  If any teachers reading this have had the pleasure of teaching someone who has been through a Steiner school, they will know exactly what he means.

To learn involves humility.  You have to place youself in a position of trusting your teachers and working within the civil systems where you live (fully aware of their faults).  This isn't blind submission, you must learn to challenge your teachers and be critical of the agenda of society.  You must also humbly submit to the other learners around you, knowing that they too are on a journey.  Part of your learning experience always involes guiding others and patiently helping them with things you understand. Trying to provide an atmosphere where education can happen solely within the family at the expense of civil society, no matter how God-fearing the family may be, is perhaps a strain many families can do without.

So I ask again:is homeschooling Catholic? I hold that it has an undeniable right to exist within society, but is it Catholic?

No comments: