Friday, September 5, 2008

Homeschoolers' Dilemma

Diane and I were having a discussion about this, that and the other thing — did you know that "month" doesn't rhyme with any other word? The amazing things one discovers when one goes to Mass. The topic turned to our friend, Adina, a homeschooling mom in our parish, who has a daughter in her 20s and a son in his late teens.

Her daughter is pursuing dance, and her son wishes to become a Catholic film-maker. These could be alarming-enough choices for a parent, but what Diane related to me was that Adina's children had no interest in going to college. Adina is not surprised that her children are choosing these paths; after all, she has been as close to them as anyone could be, having stayed home and raised them and schooled them for their entire childhood years.

As Diane related this story to me, I could hear the trepidation in her voice. You know what I'm talking about, right? That feeling that what one does is one goes to school — to college — and one gets a degree to secure a job. Diane reflected on Adina's children's choices and what these would me for our own children: what if our children don't wish to pursue college? How will they find their way through the world? How will they learn? Or present themselves to others? How will they secure their livings?

In short, a parent's, all parents' (I would venture to say), heart-felt concern. We wish our children to be happy and to be at ease, and easy, in their social circles, to be just, valiant and kind. We don't wish them to have our failings, but we also wish them to have our joys.

This is the crux, isn't it?

But I put forward the view that college isn't about learning, not anymore. I'm grateful for my degree and for the years of learning that I had in public high school and at the United States Coast Guard Academy. But what did those institutions teach me?

I will grant you this: those years did help, significantly, in my formation. I am, well, "grateful" that the Coast Guard Academy gave me skills and strength that I didn't have before (or, if I'm being Socratic, "brought forth from me the skills and strength I didn't know I already had"). But, realistically, home-schooled children who enter college, in general, adapt better and have much more confidence than their peers. Why? Because their parent have already actively formed these children's character. These children already know better who they are, where they stand, what they accept and what they don't — they don't need their peers' approval to guide their consciences. So, in general, home-schooled children don't need the formation that college provides.

What about learning? So you are going to tell me that college professors are a well-spring of impartial and pure knowledge? Okay, some are. A very few are. There are those one or two professors we remember just standing in awe of their learning and their love of it. Most, however, are doing their jobs (well, good, or otherwise). And then there are those not so few professors we remember that we don't wish to remember. What about learning? I put forth that I have learned what I've needed to learn not from college professors. I didn't even learn how to go about learning from my college professors. Like my father before me, when I need to learn something, I go forth and learn it. I buy the book; I read the book; I devour the book. Then I buy three more from three different perspective. I do this until that thing I need to know is an integral part of me. It's not one, or three, or however many other, person's point of view. It is mine, because I have thought about it, I have pondered it, I have used it until it is mine.

Has anyone else besides me ever used the internet?

So I think we can put aside the thesis that college is the sole source, or the best source, of knowledge or of acquiring knowledge.

What, then, is my thesis? College is a hierarchical society. A job is a hierarchical society. "Most" children go to college today to get a good job (I only wrote "most" as an appeasement, because the numbers who do go for other reasons are way below statistical noise, and colleges, being fundamentally business enterprises, cater to what sells). And it is a truism: college graduates get better jobs, better-paying jobs, more often than those without the lamb-skin. So, then, is that how we define "happiness"?

No. Show me the rule that says to make a living one must work for the Man. Show me the happy person on the job. You can do the latter, I'm sure, but doesn't that just prove my point? Why is it that a person who is happy in their job is the outstanding exception? In fact, on reflection, many of you reading this blog are happy in your vocations. Back to the point: why is it that a person who is happy in their job is happy in their job because they are happy about themselves? Why is it that almost everyone is, well, not sad, but just existing in their jobs? Is that God's plan for us, to submit our will and our time to punch the clock? To look in the mirror and see the dulled eyes that tell us that the next eight hours are going to be just like yesterday's eight hours; just like tomorrow's eight hours will be: trying to justify the nothingness, the emptiness, of our pursuit?

You do know that corporate jobs are a relatively new thing in the history of the world? This country, in fact, encouraged a man to go out, literally and carve his homestead right out of the next patch of forest. And, when that was done, he had to do something that ensured his family and his community survived. Jobs were a necessity: I was a farmer because someone in my family and the families surrounding me could eat, or a blacksmith or an apothecary or a traveling salesman or a preacher.

No, I'm not a luddite: I'm also not turning my back on modern society. I believe, vehemently, that progress is necessary and good. Progress expands our horizons: allowing us to live our lives longer and better, giving us more options from which to choose to live our lives.

What I'm saying is that the "job" as we know it today, the thing that is wrapped up in our American Dream (that is then exported to the rest of the world as the "way to live" — which is a sad irony: America's "Rugged Individualism" so conveniently packaged as "Workin' for the Man"), is a relatively new choice and not the only choice, and, probably, not a good choice for one's happiness.

What, then, is the good choice for happiness?

That's obvious: listen to your heart and answer the call. With all this running about — going to school, going to college, getting a job, getting fired and then running, scrambling, to get the next job — there's no time left for standing still and just listening. What do I really wish to do ... no, really wish to do with my life? Which legacy do I wish to leave? How will I impact other people's lives? How do I wish to be?

I think that Adina's children have asked these questions, and are asking these questions, and the answers they are reaching are not pointing them in the direction of going to college to/and get/ting a "good" job. No matter what complacency is promised in that direction (an empty promise, for the most part, but the illusion of it, the maya, is so strong, that it pulls most people in without question), these children, no, not children, these human persons — these souls! — are choosing their own paths. But isn't that really what happiness is? Knowing who you are and doing what you are? Choosing your vocation?

And that is our problem, we who are homeschoolers and parents, our dilemma: we sketch out a path to what we see as happiness for our children, but will we be happy if they follow our path? Maybe. But, ultimately, they become their own persons and must make their own choices. They are not us (no matter how hard we work to make them us), nor will they always be ours. We must give them the strength to overcome their own trials, and the courage to face those trials. We give them the roots, and we give them the wings. It is they that must grow, blossom, and then fly.

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