I was recently trying to explain to some American friends in their sixties, who came to visit for dinner, why it is so scandalous in Portugal for my three-year-old daughter not to be in “school”.
It is a huge cultural norm here that children go to daycare at the age of two or no later than three to be socialized. It is said to be a medical necessity for their development, as our own pediatrician will certify. When I told my American friends that people say that if children don’t go to school, they will get “too attached to their mother”, my friends immediately countered, “That’s from the Communism”.
Perhaps there is some truth in which the communist ideology, or any ideology contrary to a Catholic worldview, destroys the family structure. The mother-infant bond and relationship is the first and introductory relationship of the child into the family, and then into society. Pushback of various forms, including homeschooling, could be responses to an oppressive State.
Communism in Portugal
Communism certainly does not view the family as the basic cell of society, as the Church teaches. Frederick Engels, who founded the Marxist theory with Karl Marx, wrote:
In the great majority of cases today, at least in the possessing classes, the husband is obliged to earn a living and support his family, and that in itself gives him a position of supremacy, without any need for special legal titles and privileges. Within the family he is the bourgeois and the wife represents the proletariat. In the industrial world, the specific character of the economic oppression burdening the proletariat is visible in all its sharpness only when all special legal privileges of the capitalist class have been abolished and complete legal equality of both classes established. The democratic republic does not do away with the opposition of the two classes; on the contrary, it provides the clear field on which the fight can be fought out. And in the same way, the peculiar character of the supremacy of the husband over the wife in the modern family, the necessity of creating real social equality between them, and the way to do it, will only be seen in the clear light of day when both possess legally complete equality of rights. Then it will be plain that the first condition for the liberation of the wife is to bring the whole female sex back into public industry, and that this in turn demands the abolition of the monogamous family as the economic unit of society. (Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, II. The Family, 4. The Monogamous Family)
Here in Portugal the government is very left-leaning and the culture is very influenced by communist ideology. This has been especially true since the dictatorship was overthrown in 1974 and communism took a strong hold. Of the five main political parties, the only two that are more right-leaning still have the word “socialist” in their name. I live in a city that used to be centered on factories (which have since almost all closed), and the communist party has been in almost unbroken leadership for at least twenty years. Not the “socialist” party, but the actual communist party. There is a yearly festival nearby called “Avante” (“Forward”, a communist slogan), which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Is the communist ideology really at the root of why children are socially obliged to go to school at age two or three? I met a mother of eight who didn’t know how to potty train children, because since she had always sent her kids to school before age two, she never learned. Here the school is heavily relied on for educating children in everything, from manners to math. Most children, even very young ones, spend up to 12 hours at a school each day. Or at least nine to five. Just as everything is centered around jobs for adults, everything (family life and schedules, sports, social life) is centered around school for children.
The attachment theory was coined by John Bowlby in 1958 and refers to the importance of a baby’s strong physical and emotional attachment to a loving caregiver on long-term development. It is a well-known theory that is typically associated to the mother-infant bond, skin-to-skin contact at birth and breastfeeding.
This contrasts starkly with the stories my sixty-year-old neighbor tells of her youth working in the factories, very influenced by communism. All mothers were obliged to go back to work when the baby was one-month-old and the baby would stay in an on-site nursery for long hours, where breastfeeding was impossible. Introduction to solids, potty-training and other such matters where all mainly initiated by the nursery, not by the mother. When her children were still young, she would sometimes have to work nights, because the factory didn’t close at night. A factory bus would come get her and bring her back home again.
This is no longer so extreme here in Portugal, but it is still surprising how many people say negatively, “Oh, he’s too attached to his mother.” Our pediatrician says if they don’t go to school at age three they will never detach from their mother’s skirt and won’t know how to defend themselves “in a cage with 10 monkeys” (which is school). School is a harsh place, but the alternative of being “overprotected” by the family is much, much worse.
The authors of the book Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers extends the importance of strong physical and emotional attachment to caregivers into childhood and even adolescence.
According to a large international study headed by the British child psychiatrist Sir Michael Rutter and criminologist David Smith, a children’s culture first emerged after the Second World War and is one of the most dramatic and ominous social phenomena of the twentieth century. This study, which included leading scholars from sixteen countries, linked the escalation of antisocial behavior to the breakdown of the vertical transmission of mainstream culture. Accompanying the rise in a children’s culture, distinct and separate from the mainstream culture, were increases in youth crime, violence, bullying and delinquency. (Chapter 1)
If the family is not the basic cell of society, people are compartmentalized into age groups around “the factory”, whether that be work or school. Culture is passed on horizontally, from peer to peer, and no longer vertically, from the older generation to a younger generation in a village. In a communist ideology, parents are not the primary educators of their children, the State is.
In fact, as was repeatedly denounced by the Synod, the situation experienced by many families in various countries is highly problematical, if not entirely negative: institutions and laws unjustly ignore the inviolable rights of the family and of the human person; and society, far from putting itself at the service of the family, attacks it violently in its values and fundamental requirements. Thus the family, which in God’s plan is the basic cell of society and a subject of rights and duties before the State or any other community, finds itself the victim of society, of the delays and slowness with which it acts, and even of its blatant injustice. Familiaris Consortio, n.46
Homeschooling toward a family-based society
Many people that are attracted to homeschooling have an “attachment parenting” style. As the title of the previously mentioned book suggests, holding on to your kids even within school age can help form those strong bonds with adults and lead to a healthier, happier child and future adult. Many opt for homeschooling because of the immense pressure of schools on children’s lives and intimacy. The school should be there to help parents, the primary educators, with what they need help with. Instead, many homeschoolers make this option because they feel the school is encroaching more and more on their family and on their childrens’ lives. Schools constantly have more demands, more time consumption, more government regulations, more tests, less flexibility and adaptation to each family.
Schools here in Portugal are especially time-consuming and one-size-fits-all. Homeschooling is legal in Portugal, and there are some homeschooling families, but it does not have the visibility it has in the US and most people have never heard of it.
Homeschooling does seem to be taking the attachment theory and opposition to a peer oriented society a step further. It puts the family in a dramatic first place. It puts parent-child and sibling relationships in a dramatic first place to peers.
The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. ‘The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.’ The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2221
Whether a family decides for homeschool or a brick and mortar school, for a society to be healthy and prosperous the family must be the building block. No government and no ideology should be able to step between the mother-infant bond, which is the first introductory relationship into the family. No government should be able to primarily educate its young citizens, from such early ages, at the cost of separating them from the family. And no government can substitute the school of love that exists in a home and at the heart of a well-functioning family.