Homeschooling is a radical proposition. Not sending your kids to school, an institution that has been a centerpiece and hallmark of our society for hundreds of years, is extreme. How many movies and books feature scenes that happen at school? How many childhood memories revolve around school activities, teachers, festivities?
Homeschooling is a drastic choice, but perhaps it is in response to a drastic deficiency in society. In a wonderful “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday podcast” by the Bible Geek (they are all wonderful), a sentence of his has always stuck with me: “Parents’ goal is not to get their kids into college: it’s to get their kids into Heaven.” This is drastic.
Society obviously does not have this goal. As Jennifer Fulwiler cleverly reflected on in this radio show, no one could ever tell her while she was in school why she was in school. You are in school to get into college. You are in college to get a good job. Here perhaps is where most people think their children’s education should be geared: for a good job, for worldly success.
Instead, Jennifer Fulwiler suggested on this show and others that one of the goals of education should be to seek Truth, and sometimes some truths that you find change you. Our society’s obsession with money making as the true sum of happiness leaves out room for important elements in a world view.
What about the handicapped who don’t have as much of a chance at worldly success? What about jobs that are not as high-profile and profitable as doctors and engineers — are they not as important? Is your job your main source of happiness and truth?
The phenomenon of homeschooling points to an entirely different reality: the home and the family are the most important. When these are in danger, when the school is not at the service of these, then the school can be thrown out.
In this unscripted speech by St. John Paul II, he says “everything exists for the family: different environments, societies, peoples, cultures, social life, economic life… not at the expense of the family.” Is the school, is most education these days for the family?
One of the most obvious answers to this question is the sheer quantity of time kids need to spend at school and preparing for school, in terms of homework, etc… In most cases I know here in Portugal, the family is definitely at the service of the school and not vice versa. They relinquish any flexibility in schedules and occupy all their time in picking up, dropping off, helping with homework, going to meetings. Most of them are unable to do anything other than school during the week (i.e. family time, mass, other activities).
One mother I know switches snack time for dinner time, at the cost of the father not being present, because it is too tiring to wait for him because of their schedules. Most families I know do everything they can, including make huge sacrifices, to accommodate the school and its schedules, and not the other way around.
Schooling is very heavy these days, not only in time-consumption, but as a priority. As time progresses, people are becoming more and more educated. More and more college degrees and doctorates exist than ever before. School is the end-all and cure-all. Helping their children get good grades and do well in school seems to be the greatest task of a parent.
However, this mentality loses track again of the goal of education, which is also a gift to be put at the service of others. True happiness isn’t directly related to the number of degrees you have, but instead to how well you use the gifts you have received to make others happy. This is first and best learned in a family, and then in a family of families.
Homeschooling says to a world in which people are more and more obsessed with being academics, “wait, we aren’t just brains. We are people made for love and communion with one another.”
Societies are set up differently nowadays than they were even a hundred years back. Today, society is less family-centered, less village and more industrialized.
This is especially apparent in Portugal, where there were dramatic changes after coming out of a dictatorship in 1975. Before, people knew their neighbors and children played in their neighborhoods. Now, more people live in the city and the country is just left with elderly. People are more compartmentalized: adults work long hours, babies are in day-care, the elderly and in old age homes and children… are at school, all day, every day.
As Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté set to prove in their book Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, society is more peer-oriented and less family-oriented, and school has a lot to do with that. Homeschooling is a drastic response to this drastic situation, in which, if you have to do without the school to focus on the home, so be it.
Homeschoolers are radical, but maybe some solutions have to be radical to go with the problems. As we look for new and innovative ways to fulfill our mission of getting our children into Heaven, sometimes getting them into school is in second place.