Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Culture, Growing Children, and Passing on the Faith

Because I have been blessed with children, the last few years have been a journey of much growth for me. I just wanted to share the structure our lives have taken and how this relates to our aspirations of Christian culture.

We have two kids, and they are both the result of struggle. We adopted my son after a 3 year fostering process, and 15 hours after we finalized his adoption I gave birth to my daughter who was conceived after 5+ painful years of infertility. Somehow I think that without these crosses I might have been much more likely to go through parenting on auto-pilot, less willing to rock any boats with unusual choices. Speculation is futile, I know, but let's just say that I believe graces of freedom came to us through our crosses.

If homeschooling is counter-cultural, then in my adult life I have always been counter-cultural enough to prefer it over other forms of educating children. Not to mention that currently I live in a community with tons of homeschooling families. So when I set out to learn more about homeschooling when my son was three, it was no big deal to me.

When I tried applying theory to reality, I quickly learned I had to adjust my theory. I hadn't quite taken into account that human beings, by their nature, desire knowledge, and that each person has a learning style by which they most naturally and readily gain this knowledge about the world around, inside, and beyond them. I really did not consider that my son's learning style and my own are most definitely not the same! But I did have enough sense to see that if I wanted to avoid the battle and folly of trying to remake my son into myself, I would need to start learning from him about how to proceed.

This led me to embrace unschooling, and I have found Fr. Giussani a helpful companion along this way.

Many have no idea what unschooling is, and some who feel they do have an idea that unschooling means parents abdicate leadership of the family to the whims of their children. I would risk a definition as natural learning within an intensely lived family relationship. I'll leave the quibbling over definition to others. For us, the major step in unschooling was to let go of cultural expectations for what children are supposed to do, what homeschooling parents are supposed to do for them, and judgments about which things are valuable to learn and which are not. So what do we do if we don't go with the traditional scope and sequence? We live our lives. Unschooling is really just about living. Because it is all about life, it is all about the Source of our life. We learn as we live, and we learn as reality makes it fitting or necessary. I learn to understand my children, to see when they need challenges, when they need rest, when they are learning, when they are expending their energies productively. I see when we are all just lazing around as well. But the response it all of the above does not have to be based on any externally imposed expectation. This gives us all the freedom to live in response to the God who calls us, but does not force us.

I see many advantages in this approach for us. For one it allows, nay, requires, us to create our family's culture rather than accept the bulk of it from a prepackaged, external source, which would be my natural inclination. Passing on the Faith becomes as natural as breathing, even when we don't spend time with Bible or Catechism lessons.

I'm by no means trying to hold up my family or the other Catholic unschoolers I know as the salvation of Western civilization. I'm sure that many would find serious problems with our approach. But it works for us, and I feel God has called us this way. I also find tremendous affirmation for my educational philosophy in the writings of Giussani (despite the ironic use of the term "School" of Community!).

1 comment:

Freder1ck said...

We're not in a position to homeschool our kids, but we are trying to supplement in a serious way the education that they receive at the school and the church...