No, really! For a brief few moments I seriously considered the possibility.
We recently received one of those mail order catalogs filled with all manner of homeschooling paraphernalia, including a set of full sized, realistic looking medieval sparring swords made out of “unbreakable” polyurethane.
“Hey!” I thought. “That looks like fun, and it would help them with history too.” I have a penchant for medieval history, sports in general, but especially for the pugilistic arts. I looked at the price, did some rationalizing, and suggested that my wife make it my Christmas present. See how unselfish I’m being, using my Christmas present for homeschooling purposes?!
What is really amazing is that for a moment, but much briefer than my moment, my wife seriously considered it as well. Then, thankfully, sound reason and judgment took over. Why in the world would we need or want to teach our children medieval sword fighting? Furthermore, how could we teach our children medieval sword fighting when neither of us know anything about it? It would probably turn into another occasion for my wife to beat me with a stick. (Actually, don’t let her know that, or she might start to seriously reconsider the whole idea!)
However, judging from the fact that these sparring swords are in a homeschooling catalog it is obvious that some people, somewhere actually do purchase these swords. If they are teaching their children medieval sword fighting, well maybe they should take a step back and evaluate if the activity is really a beneficial educational experience, or just playing around with sticks.
This episode brings us to one of those perennial questions for homeschoolers: Am I doing too little or too much? I know homeschooling parents who struggle with both sides of the question, but most seem to be worried about doing too little, and because of this they end up doing too much.
The fear of doing too little comes from a tired old prejudice against homeschooling that rears its ugly head whenever a homeschooler mentions the subject to an acquaintance who knows nothing about it. A couple of years ago I was at a holiday luncheon at my company, and a co-worker asked me where my children went to school. At that time all my children were being homeschooled. When I told her this, she asked: “Can they read?” I smiled, and replied: “Well, they are struggling a bit with the Latin Vulgate.” She had no idea what I meant, but I decided to let it drop at that. There’s no use trying to overcome ignorant prejudices about homeschooling.
However, many homeschoolers still try to make an argument against this prejudice by over-compensating at home. They over-compensate by insisting that their children learn high school level chemistry by seventh grade, speak at least one ancient language and one modern language fluently, and take hand gliding lessons on Thursday nights right after their piano lesson… or is it Wednesday night after mandolin/guitar lessons? Their children are going to prove those ignorant people wrong by being perfect in every way imaginable, even if it kills both child and parent!
It is true that one of the better benefits of homeschooling is the freedom to make time for variety. I know one homeschooled child who got the opportunity to learn to pilot a plane. I know a homeschooled child who learned to be a master seamstress by the age of 16. I know of one homeschooled child who was able to devote a lot time to physical conditioning and playing football. He’s now the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos. While institutional schooling provides many standard extras, there is room for more out of the ordinary extras that institutionalized schooling does not and can not provide.
On the other hand, there’s also a certain danger in homeschooling in placing too much emphasis on the extras, and not enough emphasis on the basics. Homeschooling becomes unfocused and chaotic without a sound grounding in these basics. While there might be more time for playing around with sticks in the backyard, that is play, and that kind of play doesn’t constitute the nuts and bolts of home education. It can become an unwelcomed distraction.
Staying focused has to be a daily priority for the homeschooler, and the best way for Catholic homeschoolers to stay focused is to return, time after time, to the reason they chose for homeschooling in the first place. This reason is often different for different homeschoolers, but for the traditional Catholic it usually always boils down to one over-riding, positive purpose: to teach the faith. When putting together the lesson plan, a good question to submit every curriculum or idea is: “How does this convey the truth of our Catholic faith?” In the study of the natural sciences, mathematics, literature, grammar, languages, music, history, etc. there are a plethora of ways to instill the basic tenants of our faith. Everything true and useful ultimately serves our faith.
Truth is something that traditional Catholic homeschoolers are used to evaluating and discussing, but what is useful is a question often ignored in the Catholic homeschooler’s quest to create the perfectly homeschooled child. Broaching the usefulness of a curiculum or idea needs to be just as important. If not addressed honestly the homeschooler runs the risk of exhausting both themselves and their children.
Face it! The violin lessons may not be all that useful for Junior who is tone deaf, and those basketball practices at the YMCA are just distracting for Martha who gets queasy at the thought of rubbing up against someone else’s sweat. Does William really need to memorize all the popes? And does your dream that Robert becomes an eagle scout make sense when Robert hates to go camping?
And really? Do you want to spend $100 for polyurethane sparring swords, when Teresa and Timmy can go out to the brush pile and grab two sticks to horse around with for free?