Friday, August 2, 2013

Prudence and Providence and the New Homeschooling Year

 Whenever I share plans for the upcoming year I start feeling uneasy about it.  I suppose that is silly -- people are perfectly capable of making their own decisions for their own kids.  I personally like seeing what other people are doing in their homeschools and sometimes I get great ideas from reading their plans, so why not return the favor?    All that being said, I thought I would try to write out what I always start thinking, and see if it comes out coherent enough so that I can link to it as a disclaimer in future.  So here goes....

Curriculum is one thing, but it is not the only thing, or even the needful thing.  You can have any amount of high-quality, well-recommended, suitable curriculum on your shelves and it can be like a clanging of cymbals or perhaps even more sadly, the sound of silence.   On the other hand, you can have very little money and hardly any curriculum and give a child a fine education.   My grandmother was widowed with several young children and yet my Dad went to an excellent prep school on a full merit scholarship because he was gifted and someone wanted to help gifted poor kids.   This is just to say that it seems to me that Providence is like Wisdom, always playing in the world, always delighted to be with the children of Men. 

I just wanted to make clear that when I'm listing what I'm "using" with my kids -- sounds very druggy and unhealthy --or even when I say how I do things,  I'm not saying "you should get this" or "I couldn't do without this" or "this is the way to do it."   Not that you probably would, but that this is SO not my intention. 

On the other hand, obviously I have reasons (hopefully) for choosing one method or material rather than another.   My reasons might change from year to year and legitimately so.

This shows the difficulty in talking about Prudence, which is what all these contingent decisions boil down to.   Prudence is, of course, "recta ratio agibilium" or right reason applied to practice, and just looking at this definition, you can see how what is prudent for me might not be prudent for you, or vice versa.

Prudence will take into account capacities, limitations, understanding of vocation, and many other things that vary sharply from person to person and even from time to time, though there are universal principles, since prudence is an intellectual virtue.  This is not relativism or philosophical eclecticism but merely a solid fact about the way things are in this world of diverse individuals. 

Prudence also relates etymologically to "providentia", Providence,  or looking ahead to provide, which obviously relates the past and present to the future, providing continuity where necessary and conversion/change when called for. 

The Catechism, and a long line of encyclicals, all clearly state that the education of children is the sacred right and sacred responsibility of the parents.   No one can take it away; the parents can't give it away, like Esau did his birthright, or Pilate tried to do by washing his hands.   

As parents we are allowed to delegate and fill in the areas lacking to ourselves, which after all is I suppose what I partially do when I buy a book or manual in order to facilitate subjects I don't know sufficiently to present from scratch. 

I think this is why the Catholic school system grew up in the US -- because immigrant parents, often uneducated and scraping our the merest subsistence, needed help if their children were to grow up knowing their faith and something of their civic role.   Sending them to public school would not suffice to meet the need.   By entrusting them to the teaching nuns, they gave their kids what they wanted for them but couldn't manage by their own personal resources. 

Then about a century later, homeschooling grew up partly because Catholic schools had tended to become something more like private schools for the upper middle class.  And also because, generally speaking, most of us even living on one modest income with many children are by no means in the marginal position of the early immigrants.    Where we might not be able to afford to send several children to Catholic school, we are able to do the same thing on our own, and it has the added bonus of making the home more of a center of relationship and learning.

In addition, we generally are motivated to make up some of the gaps in our own educations, and there are multiple free and low-cost educational resources at our disposal.   A library card or internet access used judiciously can get you a long way, as can the local thrift store's bookshelves.   Giving a child many siblings may deprive them of a few possessions, but it also makes for a thoroughly educative and adventurous environment.  Where there are deprivations, there are corresponding blessings:  God says that the poor are blessed, so we know the blessings are there, even when times are hard. 

So back to materials and methods. 

Or how about mottoes?

Marva Collins said,  "Anything works if the teacher does." 

And much as I like to justify planning and writing self-motivational posts as part of the teacher's work, and it does have its legitimate part to play, it's not really the kind of work she meant.    I believe she meant the direct working triangle between the teacher, the child and the object of their attention, the things being learned, whether this activity is formal or informal, structured or unstructured.

I think the one needful thing is the relationship.   In an imperfect world, relationships are like bodies, always breaking down and repairing.   Muscles break down and repair in order to become stronger, so in God's providence, ruptures and struggles don't necessarily show deep disease -- they may be opportunities.

St Ignatius writes in his First Principle and Foundation, which is the first principle and foundation of his notion of education:
The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.  All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.

It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one's end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one's end.  

To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.
  This is the very process of planning out a school year when you are a homeschooler (or even when you are not -- my friends who have children in school do pretty much exactly the same discerning process).

Given my child, that has been entrusted to me, I can't save his soul.  Only God can.  But I certainly can try to avoid "despising, offending, or hindering" as Charlotte Mason discusses thoughtfully through several of her books.

The things available to me to help with this endeavor, including curriculum, activities, even time and energy and talent themselves, are to be USED , not made into some sort of icon or desideratum in themselves .  By the way this postulate is not new on Ignatius' part -- he is basically paraphrasing Augustine here.   And Augustine in turn is paraphrasing St Paul and ultimately Christ, both of whom actually said it in stronger terms.

This is the filter through which one runs all curricula, all methods, all plans.    This is basically a road map for holy Prudence.   Too bad, of course, that I am such a beginner still at actually operating this way.  

I am basically reminding myself of this, because if I don't remind myself, God is gracious enough to remind me, pretty pointedly sometimes.  I can't count the number of times I've gotten all my ducks in a row and then been radically derailed by some medical crisis or some other kind of life event.

Which is fine (assuming I take the lesson as I should, which I basically never do) because God is reminding me of His priorities, and giving me another chance to get it right.  


  1. Nice. I appreciate you putting all of this into words......

    That should be MY motto: Anything Works If The Teacher Works....for the next couple of years.

    I had a conversation yesterday with a local homeschool mom who was calling me for advice for her 7th and 8th grade girls.....

    We had met when she came into the hospital to have her 6th baby and I had told her then to call me if she ever needed some guidance. It has been 18 months since we had talked. She not only works full-time as a professional, but runs the business and employs several people.

    She understood when I told her: after working full-time, sometimes on my days off I actually FORGET that I am homeschooling my little man. It is like he is on summer vacation indefinitely. She totally agreed with this,

    So, I am praying that I can spend more time being INTENTIONAL with my boy. I am praying that it is easier this year than last because I have graduated my senior AND I am sending her away. ;)

    AND.....I am hoping that my sophomore in the IS program at the local high he can play sports......will be more independent with this schooling. He was quite independent by the end of the year last year.

    So......thanks again for these words. And, that quote.


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