Twenty years ago, when my parents began homeschooling first my younger brother (who had some non-standard learning needs) and later all of us, homeschooling was still very much a fringe phenomenon. It was not unusual for people to predict, on hearing that children were homeschooled, that they would not be able to get into college, or for neighbors to harass homeschoolers by repeatedly calling the truancy officers on them. The extent to which homeschooling has become mainstream since that time has been quite extraordinary, and due in no small part to the academic and personal successes that homeschooled students have shown themselves capable of. Many states’ public education systems are now actively friendly towards homeschoolers, and make state curricula available free of charge to homeschoolers who wish to use them at home.
Sadly, one area where this increasing social acceptance of homeschooling has often been lagging is in Catholic circles at the parish and diocesan level. Homeschoolers are sometimes seen as a threat by parochial school systems — this despite the Church’s teaching that parents bear the primary responsibility as first educators of their children.
Such a situation has recently reared its head back in our old home diocese of Austin, Texas. A local Catholic homeschooling group, Holy Family Homeschoolers, sent an invitation to their annual Homeschoolers Blessing Mass to newly appointed Bishop Vásquez. In past years, an invitation had always been sent to the bishop. Bishop Aymond had officiated at the Blessing Mass when he first came to the diocese and had allowed a certain degree of openness in dealing with Catholic homeschoolers at the parish and diocesan levels.
Given the many demands on Bishop Vásquez’s time, it is hardly surprising that he was unable to attend this year. What is, however, both surprising and distressing is that the response to the invitation sent to Bishop Vásquez’s office came not from the Chancery but from the Catholic Schools Office, and in a tone which was decidedly dismissive:
> Bishop Vásquez received your invitation to celebrate a Eucharistic liturgy for the fall homeschooling blessing Mass.
> Bishop Vásquez believes Catholic education, and in particular Catholic school education, is an essential part of the life of the Diocese of Austin. As you know, Catholic schools are at the heart of the mission of the church.
> Bishop’s presence at the homeschooling Mass would convey a contradictory message equating the importance of Catholic school education with Catholic homeschooling; therefore, Bishop Vásquez must respectfully decline the invitation.
> Sincerely in Christ,
> Ned F. Vanders, Ed.D.
Ned Vanders is the diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Schools, and I think that the above email pretty clearly backs up the complaint I have heard that he is “openly hostile to homeschooling”.
Again, let me be clear: I think it is quite reasonable and understandable that Bishop Vásquez is unable to attend. A note from his office to that effect would in no sense be offensive. However, I think that the response that was received by the Holy Family Homeschoolers is worrisome in two senses.
As we have learned, there was much hatred of Catholics by English Protestants in Maryland. One great Catholic man was able to overcome this hatred and he is one of our great patriotic heroes. His name was Charles Carroll. Charles Carroll was born in Maryland. His parents sent him to a Catholic school in France where Catholics were respected…Charles Carroll said that his greatest accomplishment was that he “practiced the duties of my religion.” Many Protestants began to realize that their prejudice against Catholics was unjustified.
The sentences above begin and conclude a typical lesson in a Catholic homeschooling course on American History intended for first graders. This is not a genre with which I have much familiarity (we’re homeschooling for a few months to finish out the school year after a move), and so I thought it might be interesting to offer some comments as an outsider on the homeschooling materials we’ve received.
The most obvious (if superficial) feature of the homeschooling materials is that they are drenched in religious art, regardless of subject. As an alum of a mixture of public and parochial schools, I was surprised to find Spelling and Math textbooks adorned with (often very beautiful) religious art work. I don’t think there is anything right or wrong with decorating textbooks in this manner, per se, but it takes some getting used to.
As the passage quoted above suggests, the next thing that I noticed is that the history narratives tend to be awash in a type of Catholic triumphalism. I like a small dosage of triumphalism as much as the next guy, but it seems to me it should used (at most) as cream or sugar in coffee; the tendency with this particular textbook is instead to include a few (uniformly favorable) facts in the ongoing account of noble-Catholics-doing-good-things.
In a story those in homeschooling stories may already have heard about, Federal Judge Lawrence Burman issued a ruling in late January granting political asylum to a family of Evangelical Christians from Germany, on the basis that they faced religious persecution in Germany over their belief that they needed to homeschool their children in order to provide them with proper religious formation. With a number of writers, both American and European, pursuing a narrative in which Europe is far more civilized and tolerant than the US, this event provides an interesting example of how European laws are often, in practice, far more restrictive than people in the US would be comfortable with.
The family in question had suffered repeated fines for homeschooling their children, and had been threatened with jail time or loss of custody.
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who are evangelical Christians, say they were forced to go the the US because they wanted to educate their five children at home, something that is illegal in Germany….
In October 2006, police came to the Romeike home and took the children to school. In November 2007 Germany’s highest appellate court ruled that in severe cases of non-compliance, social services could even remove children from home.
Uwe Romeike told the Associated Press that the 2007 ruling convinced him and his wife that “we had to leave the country.” The curriculum in public schools over the past few decades has been “more and more against Christian values,” he said.
Occasionally one runs across a post that’s particularly nicely done. I think Matthew Boudway’s recent reflections on a column by Clifford Longley on the new atheists comes dangerously close to perfect. It’s brief, highlights an interesting article, and adds a thoughtful perspective that provides more depth to the article it cites. Here’s a snippet:
[In response to Richard Dawkins's claim that it is wrong to “indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents, and to slap religious labels on them,”]
“There is no such thing as value-free parenting,” Longley writes…Longley proposes this as an argument about parenting, but it is hard to see why it wouldn’t also apply to education. If the argument doesn’t apply to education, why doesn’t it? If it does — and if it is a good argument — then people of faith have a compelling reason not to send their children to schools where the subject of religion qua religion is carefully avoided. One could, I suppose, argue that the tacit message of such schools is that religion is too important to get mixed up with the tedious but necessary stuff of primary education, but of course public schools approach important matters all the time, and cannot avoid doing so.
Salvete AC readers!
Buckle Up! Because here are today’s Top Picks in Catholicism:
1. The Reform of the Reform project continues as the Congregation for Divine Worship recommended the following:
- Voted almost unanimously in favor of a greater sacrality of the [Latin] rite.
- The recovery of the sense of Eucharistic worship.
- The recovery of the Latin language in the celebration.
- The remaking of the introductory parts of the Missal in order to put a stop to abuses, wild experimentation’s, and inappropriate creativity.
In addition they declared the reaffirmation of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue.
Pope Benedict XVI continues in correcting the abuses and misinterpretations of Vatican II with these rectifications and tweaks.
Salvete AC readers!
Here are today’s Top Picks in the Catholic world:
1. Since the passing of Father Richard John Neuhaus, the FIRST THINGS journal has gone through some changes that have enhanced their image. The mysterious Spengler joined FIRST THINGS as Associate Editor and outed himself in his Asia Times column as David P. Goldman. Then Elizabeth Scalia, who was once as mysterious as Spengler, with her popular political-Catholic blog The Anchoress joined FIRST THINGS as well. Not to mention that prior to these two fine additions FIRST THINGS also initiated their very own blog a few months back.
2. David P. Goldman, a.k.a. Spengler, writes an intriguing article on how Israel can reconcile it’s Jewishness with a liberal democracy and how this correlates with the West and its march towards secularism. Mr. Goldman has this prescient conclusion to this article:
Defenders of the West democracies should take a deep interest in the outcome of what might seem to be arcane legal matters in Israel. Pushed to its extreme conclusion, the secular liberal model will exclude the sacred and the traditional from public life. Of all the things sacred in the thousands of years of pre-history and history that inform Western Civilization, surely Judaism and the Jewish people are the oldest and arguably the most pertinent to the character of the West. Eroding the Jewish character of Israel is an obsession of the secular project, precisely because the Jewish people in their Third Commonwealth in the Land of Israel have such profound importance for the Christian West.
For the article click here.
3. A very disturbing story coming from the Diocese of Savannah where Bishop John Kevin Boland is preventing an orthodox Catholic, Robert Kumpel of the very well written St. John’s Valdosta Blog, from attending any Mass in his diocese. Bishop John Kevin Boland is doing so in conjunction with a lawsuit leveled against by another layperson to Mr. Kumpel so as to prevent him from investigating allegations of multiple abuses by diocesan officials. In other words it seems that Bishop Boland is frantically covering something up, but we don’t know what that is because of a restraining order on Mr. Kumpel who was attempting to investigate this.
Bishop John Kevin Boland is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a Catholic politician who is personally opposed to abortion but publicly for it. For example, Bishop John Kevin Boland is personally orthodox, but ecclesiastically heterodox in his application of Church teaching. Such as Archbishop Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington where he is known for his personal orthodoxy but is lacking in applying it in his pastoral and management style.
For the article click here.