Monday, February 7, 2011

Educating our Children, or Who Do You Think You’re Foolin’?

What exactly does it mean to have an education today, or for that matter to be educated? We’ve spent the last week or so discussing things that are right, wrong, and indifferent about how and why our children are educated today. We have the parochial and private school option, the public school option, the charter (quasi public/private) school, and of course, lest we forget, the home school option.

In my own opinion, there is not a great deal of difference today between the private/parochial school and public school options, except for perhaps a religion class tossed in, to be able to identify a school as a teaching arm of the particular flavor of that religion. There are, after all, Christian schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools, Muslim/Islamic schools, and so on. There are private schools with no outwardly apparent religious agenda, but many times there is an agenda catered to.

Hilaire Belloc wrote in “Survivals and New Arrivals” about attacks upon the Catholic faith coming from nationalized education. He rightly commented that our Faith, indeed any faith, is under attack when subjected to such a system. The reason: a standard is established- to the exclusion of all others. In such a situation, truly one’s faith is put to the test just as certainly as the sun will come up in the morning.

So what do we do? I think that as parents, as primary teachers of our children, we need to be certain that our children know certain things, key among them, of course, being our faith. I happened upon “The Dangerous Book for Boys” recently, and perhaps inspired this piece. The list of topics is too long to repeat, in reading the titles, some are humorous, but all make a point- to be a good boy, you have to be well rounded. Subjects include science, poetry, literature, knot tying, fire lighting, games, history, grammar, even a section on girls (only two pages, but I figure the author is trying to get the lads to pace themselves). Perhaps one of my favorite sections, not to be bested by A brief history of Artillery, was Essential Gear. Please indulge me as I enumerate appropriate “gear” for a boy:

Swiss Army Knife Compass Handkerchief
Box of Matches A shooter (marble) Needle and thread
Pencil and Paper Small flashlight Magnifying glass
Band-aids Fishhooks

Notice a lack of Ipods, Cell phones, laptop computers, big screen televisions? Many of these things I had as a boy, except for probably the Shooter (though my mother reminds me that early on I did play marbles). And I didn’t feel lacking or incomplete. But I wonder that even my own son couldn’t hunt and skin a rabbit.

At the risk of inciting an onslaught of criticism, I quote Robert Heinlein, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.”

I know, I know, many of his other quotes are completely heretical, but I would contend, after conversing with my bride, that Heinlein was a wounded man in many regards. I suspect that if one had suggested to him that many of his thoughts were indeed Catholic, he would have scoffed, and quoted another of his characters, and disparage religion altogether.

In fairness to the ladies, I perused the “Dangerous Book for Girls” and came away wanting. Many of the topics were similar to the boys, but almost saccharine in their approach. I submit there should have been more than one page devoted to boys, but alas, I am not the author, but would contend there is far more to know about us men than would fit on one page of a book guiding young ladies. The girl’s book also boasts its own list of essentials, and I find my approval returning:

Swiss Army Knife Bandana Rope and Twine
Journal and Pencil
w/backup pen Hair band Bungee cord (not for boys?)
Flashlight Compass Safety pins
Duct tape (what???) Deck of Cards A good book

Now I find my blood boiling (well, not really boiling, but you get my point). Why do the girls get a compass, and the boys don’t? Are we not establishing a stereotype early on that men won’t use it anyway, so why waste it? Duct tape? We all need duct tape. And I can find at least a hundred uses for bungee cords, thank you very much. And how is a boy to learn how to play poker, a section that has SIX WHOLE PAGES devoted to it? Perhaps the cards are a tradeoff for the section devoted to timers and tripwires.

There are any number of things that one can argue effectively are needed to be known in order formulate a proper education. As parents, we draw upon our own experiences and the counsel of those within our circles to discern what is appropriate, and what is not. We can choose to shelter our children from the world and leave them ill-prepared to operate within it. Or we can give them the tools to be what God has intended us to be, as Christ tells us in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, “You are the salt of the earth.” As Fr Oliver Vietor exhorts us in his homily, “Be Salty!”

If we remember Christ telling us the most important commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength,” and the new commandment He gave us, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, then we would do well in teaching our children what it means to be children of God, and to prepare for the eternal kingdom.

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