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Read it and weep. You KNOW Joe is telling the truth!

Reid: in response to your last paragraph first: I cannot of course comment on this specific case; however, in my experience, just the opposite is the greater problem: overloaded child protective service agencies leave children in dangerous homes for too long and, when they are removed, they are often returned too early. Thus, children end up injured physically or psychologically, or worse, dead.

To address your main point, about the role of families: the problem is, I think, that we are conflating the contemporary idea of “family”, the nuclear family, with the traditional notion of family, which is the extended family, and is closer to the idea of a “clan”. It is, I think, a tragedy of the contemporary world that we have become atomized into a society of individuals and nuclear families, separated from communities of extended families which no longer exist. Obviously, educational facilities cannot replace this, nor should they try, but, as with evolutionary niches, where there is a vacancy, something will attempt to fill it.

I have to disagree with some of your premises. Scientific inquiry, in the end, does not conflict with a Christian view of humanity or of creation in general. It just approaches both from a different perspective and usually asks different questions. For example, we can say that the human being is knowable along with Freud, but we would say, from an Orthodox perspective, that what is knowable are human “energies”, not the human “essence”. In any event, our children must learn to be able to engage contemporary culture, and we must not fall into the temptation of simply writing it off. If we do, the second our children can leave home and church, they will, especially if they are at all intellectually curious. I grew up in within the confines of the Evangelical subculture, and I know I did. What saved me from completely rejecting the faith was the knowledge that the Bible and history did not completely support the version of Christianity that I had been taught. Another example, a tragic example in many ways, is Frank Schaefer. There are things that he now supports that I do not, but he too is a product of an Evangelical ghetto culture. May Orthodoxy, in seeking to maintain its integrity, not go down that path!

Also, I think your meta-narrative regarding the state and capitalism vastly overstates things. There is a bit of truth there, but the state, except perhaps in totalitarian regimes, is never the monolith you make it out to be, and capitalism has always produced those who oppose it, often from an academic perspective, and often in the name of traditional values (Red Toryism, distributivism, etc.).

In any event, I don’t have all the answers and I do not oppose homeschooling or, better, cooperative situations such as you describe when and where they are feasible. However, there was a time not so long ago when most children got little or no academic education because most parents were not in a position to provide them with it. We simply cannot return to such a situation again, and, as the economic situation gets worse, such a thing could become ever more possible, especially if the culture says to already overburdened parents, “it is up to you, and you alone, to educate your children.”

You suggest that we expect parents who capable of doing so to follow this path, and that we have public facilities for children whose parents are not able to do this, and you liken such educational services to Food Stamps. The problem, of course, is that then, such public education would become “welfare” and we know that whenever there is a need for governmental budget cuts, the first thing to get cut is any form of “welfare”. This would be akin to “separate but equal” with regard to race. Children should not be segregated by socioeconomic status any more than by race.

I think the fundamental problem underlying your concerns is the destruction of local communities. Part of this destruction has been the consolidation of schools because of the alleged advantages of economies of scale. There are ways to mitigate this within the schools themselves, and they should be aggressively pursued wherever possible. In short, let us not move backward in our attempts to move forward.

I’m glad your daughter found a way out of the difficulties posed by public high school. I fear that many children learn how to survive the schools but only at the cost of hardening themselves in ways that the Lord did not design them for.

The concerns you raise about widespread homeschooling in this country are, I think, intuitively obvious to most people. I believe, however, that they represent a misapprehension of reality – a misapprehension that exists in part because it grows out of pervasive bad theology (namely, the myth of secularism about which Fr. Jonathan writes above) and in part because many powerful people believe that they benefit from propagating it. If you will allow, and if Fr. Jonathan does not mind me taking up space on his blog, I will try to explain.

Your first concern is the inability of parents to give their children an adequate academic education because they lack such an education themselves. If, however, as you say, the majority of parents are themselves undereducated, then they received their undereducation in the public schools. It is not obvious why their children will get better results from the same treatment. In fact is appears that children from poor and poorly educated households generally benefit least from the public schools. Indeed you put the matter even more strongly in your comment about a bachelor's degree being the modern equivalent of earlier high school diplomas, implying that the vast majority of students leave high school without an adequate education.

One might argue that this indicates the need for better schools. I disagree, but that issue is irrelevant to the question at hand, which is whether parents with, say, only a high school diploma are more able than the current public schools to give their children an adequate education. Again your comments demonstrate why and how they can. You rightly boast of your daughter's academic success, emphasizing the role her own initiative played in the words "she homeschooled herself." Presumably she was, by adult standards, undereducated prior to homeschooling herself. At that point she possessed neither an education degree nor a bachelors degree nor even a high school diploma. How could a young, undereducated girl give herself an adequate high school education? Simple. She took advantage of the resources available to her outside the public schools. And this is precisely how parents throughout history have provided academic education to their children in times and places where such education was important, giving their children an education superior to their own. A famous example is the widowed mother of St. John Chrysostom having her son study under the renowned (and pagan!) rhetorician Libanius.

Put another way, parents do not have to teach their children everything out of their own store of knowledge. They are not always teachers but sometimes managers of their children’s' education, providing resources adequate to their children’s' needs. In modern America, where good books are cheap and widely accessible, where tutors are available both in person and online, where homeschooling parents work together in co-ops to provide instruction in subjects (like math) they feel unable to teach themselves and subjects (like band and choir) that require a group, the poor education of the parents does not much hinder the education of their children. One need not be a concert pianist to find one's children a piano teacher. Comparing this to the poor accomplishments of the public schools, I have no hesitation in saying that most families – even those in which the parents have minimal education themselves – can give their children a better education than the schools.

Your second concern is parents whose work obligations leave them too little time and energy to homeschool their children. My acquaintance with homeschooling families leads me to a different conclusion. I have seen families in which both parents work doing a fine job of homeschooling their children. I have seen large families living on one blue collar income so that they can homeschool. I have seen mothers homeschooling their children during and after messy divorces with all the financial chaos and privation that precipitate from such grievous situations. One of the most mature, gracious, delightful, and pious young women I have known was being homeschooled by her single mother living on welfare. It is perhaps germane to note that homeschooling can be very cheap. While the pubic schools evidently average about $10,000 per student per year for operating costs (on top of capital expenditures) and cheap private schools cost perhaps half that much, many homeschoolers do quite well on under $500 per year. So my experience argues strongly that most families can homeschool their own children, despite demands of work and financial hardship. Of course as long as the public schools are even cheaper (since they are already paid for) and take far less work, few parents are likely to make the choice to homeschool; but my point here is that they are capable of it if it matters enough to them.

Please note that I am not arguing that all families can homeschool. No doubt there are parents who truly cannot homeschool their children for any number of reasons, including the ones you mention. I assert merely that most, a majority, can do it just as most can provide adequate food for their children. From the point of view of subsidiarity it is attractive that families teach their own children at home if possible and address educational needs at a community level only for those families unable to do so on their own (just as we can support food banks, soup kitchens, and food stamps for families in need even while we expect most families to feed their own children).

I would not lose sight, however, of academic education being one of the least important aspects of raising a child. Far more important is the sharing of life, the communion between parent and child and the imitation of parent by child that are the means by which children mature into adults and by which they prepare for the life-giving communion with the Word. In the context of that communion academic education takes a suitably humble role in which it can be a blessing to the child and to his present and future families.

So what does this all have to do with secularism? In the Renaissance and Reformation men quit looking at Scripture and the material creation and civil law as things to be known and interpreted as revelations of God. Christianity became Sola Scriptura. Science became the search for natural laws and the building of mathematical models. Civil law became a Constitution and a "government of laws, not men." These things became ends in themselves, to be modeled by reason like Euclid's geometry, apprehended intellectually like Plato’s Ideals, and then manipulated according to the will, pride, and greed of those with the power to do so. Put another way, men abandoned the nature of Scripture, Creation, and law, the nature that reveals the goodness of the Creator, in favor of a "secular" view that these things are just things, with no nature to constrain men's use of them. “Although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him; but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

The nineteenth century saw this secular program expand dramatically in the Industrial Revolution, as men designed machines that, reflecting the men's denatured, mechanistic view of Creation, multiplied their capacity to manipulate the Creation. They also embraced capitalistic dogma to make a virtue of the manipulation. Worse, men expanded the secular program to themselves, denying their nature as bearers of the Image of the Word, viewing themselves as the result of scientific processes (Darwin) and as knowable by scientific investigation (Freud). Man, himself, became a secular object, possessing no meaning, to be manipulated according to the will, pride, and greed of those with the power to do so, whether that be the ideologues in the government or the robber barons in the corporations. It was this century that gave birth to the modern public school.

As best I can tell, modern schools as we know them began in Prussia in or shortly before the early 1800's. Their ultimate purpose was to weaken the ties of children with their families and transfer those ties to the state. Why? Governments wanted to gain their subjects' obedience without resorting to increasingly unpopular displays of force and violence. Raising children as creatures of the state was a means to this end. Small wonder that Marx saw the schooling of young children as an integral part of his vision for society. Much earlier, however, ideologues and capitalists in the U.S. pursued the same means to achieve their own somewhat different vision. In the 1820's (as I recall) the first modern state schools began to appear, and by the 1850's the first compulsory attendance laws went on the books. It is important to note that these new state-run schools were not filling an educational vacuum. They were, rather, supplanting a patchwork of homeschooling, private schooling, and charitable schooling that was evidently working quite well, the same patchwork that had produced the Founding Fathers who, whatever their philosophical and theological faults, were well-educated.

From the start the schools aimed at producing workers to feed the "needs" of industry and government, and this has not changed. Check your favorite source of current educational rhetoric, and look for phrases like "preparing citizens to contribute to a world-class economy" or "preparing workers who can compete in a global economy." This is a grievously secular view of children, seeing them not as possessing a nature bearing the image of God, created for deification, but as economic entities preparing for a lifetime of production and consumption. Naturally the schools also adopted the methods of mass production, and they have “improved” it over time. They segregate children by age to make classes as (supposedly) uniform as possible so that all students gain the same benefit from the same process of instruction from the same hired hand, in a setting in which all children compete for a limited supply of rewards and good grades. How stark a contrast this is to the family in which, by God's design, children must almost invariably be of all different ages, in which all instruction is done without pay, and all share the weal or woe of the family!

The acceptance of education as a field of scientific research has only deepened this secularization. Now schools are best for children not simply because someone in charge thinks so but because they implement a "standards-based" curriculum reflecting the "best practices" established by scientific research. This is the ultimate reason why, in public propaganda, families cannot give their children an adequate education at home. It takes an expert to raise a child [N.B. having taught mathematics to many college students preparing to teach elementary school, I cannot tell you how laughable their status as experts typically is].

And this gets to the heart of my objection to the notion that most families cannot homeschool their own children. It implies that in the modern world families are, in fact, inadequate to raise their own children because academic education is the greatest need children have. This in turn denies the very nature of the family, asserting that children growing up in families is not a crucial part of God's design to promote the salvation of both children and parents but rather a merely accidental arrangement upon which the state can improve by scientifically developed alternatives.

If you doubt this, I would note an incident from two or three years ago in a community neighboring my own that has the reputation of having among the best schools in the state. Several parents arrived at school one afternoon to pick up their children only to find that the state had taken the children into custody without a hearing. The local juvenile court decided the children had missed too much school and placed them in state custody for "educational neglect." I never saw a follow-up article; but if these cases hold true to form, it was six months to two years before the children returned home, if indeed they ever did. In the state's view the role of school in the children's lives is vital while that of parents is optional.

Thanks, Reid. Short story: public high school was completely impossible for her due to her social and emotional makeup at the time. This is not at all uncommon in gifted and talented children and young adults, as she most certainly was. OTOH, her deficits in these areas were more than compensated for by her intellectual prowess and self-discipline. Consequently, she obtained a GED six months before she would have graduated from high school.

(Fortunately, she is now comparable with her peers in the social and emotional areas.)

Regarding the majority of families, there are several problems, the first being that most parents are themselves academically undereducated. For example, what percentage of American adults have a bachelors' degree? (And, these days, it seems that a bachelors in fact represents what a high school diploma once did.) The second issue is a question of time and energy. In most cases, both parents (where both parents are present) work outside the home. These factors would make homeschooling unfeasible for most families.

Congratuations on your younger daughter's diligence and academic achievements! Did you encourage her to pursue homeschooling, or did she take that initiative herself?

I am interested, though, in why you judge (or perhaps it is an intuition) that the majority of families are unable to give their children an adequate academic background for adulthood.

Reid, my younger daughter homeschooled herself for high school and is now a college senior bound for grad school. She will earn a Ph.D before she is done. Having said that, I have to disagree that "most families" can provide their offspring with an adequate academic education.

Of course from a distributist standpoint the subsidiarity of homeschooling is also attractive. Why have the community as a whole address the perceived need of giving children an academic education when most families can address the need themselves (which is certainly true in many nations, including the U.S.) and, in general, do a better job than the state institutions?

I would be interested in what thoughts you have had about homeschooling your children. I know that sometimes it is logistically impossible, especially in Pennsylvania, which has some of the most burdensome homeschooling regulations in the country. All things being equal, though, I would expect – and perhaps it just reflects my own shallow understanding – that homeschooling would be attractive to Orthodox Christians. Family is, after all, the very type of salvation, the place where boys and girls, bearing the image of men and women, grow up into that image (that is, into maturity) through communion with those who possess it fully (their parents) and those who are farther along the road (older brothers and sisters), all of this being practice for the greater communion with the Word of the Father. It is the place of hesychasm, the place where living together and knowing one another produces the wordless and life-giving imitation that precedes and supersedes explanation. It is the place where children learn the context in which they can eat of the Tree of Knowledge without harm, without embracing the pride that destroys communion and produces death. It is the place where the knowledge needed for a “career” is subservient to the crafts needed to be a man, a woman, a father, a mother, a monk, a nun, and, above all, a saint.

Schools, in contrast, pursue the vision of Barlaam. They exalt knowledge (or, worse, information, or, much worse, socialization, or far, far worse, “critical thinking’) as the chief ideal (and, ironically, they do it rather poorly). They aim to train children for “responsible citizenship”, which means conformity to the practices of a society (the deeper, more sinister meaning of “socialization”) that embraces the nihilistic myth of the secular, preparing them for a successful life of production and consumption. The teacher provides not communion but words (perhaps a Catholic school mitigates this, where at least the Catholic students may take the Eucharist with their teachers), sharing not his life but just his knowledge with his students. The only real day-in-and-day-out communion in a school is that of the students with each other, the immature imitating the immature without parents nearby. Chaining children to the Tree of Knowledge, denying that the Creation around them and the very children themselves possess a nature, modern schools provide the perfect breeding ground for childish, proud adults with no power to resist the frenzied consumption and frenzied political ideology of our society nor even the capacity to recognize such consumption and ideology as vices rather than virtues (“men without chests” as Lewis says).

Let us remember that secularization is a child of western Christianity itself. Perhaps a better word than "child" would be "golem" here, since secularization arose out of the denaturing of Christianity as a bureaucratized set of propositions and regulations. That took some doing, but a historic succession of bishops selected for their wealth and position did the trick. Meanwhile, in the Reformation, Christianity was further devolved into a histrionic set of sentimentalities.

We are all surprised and, rather, shocked that the creature can not only walk but seems to be a lot stronger than the real substance (i.e., Child) of Christianity.

I have read John's writing to my benefit at FPR, and so I am happy to see you here.

I must say that to me, the staff at the Franciscan school are not so much "secularizers" as they are unwitting dupes. They are not aware of the half-lie they wallow in. For that matter, neither are a lot of American Orthodox, even me.

I am too faithless and undisciplined to send my little girl to Hillstreet. I know the cloister is built on false predicates, but at least it is somewhat cloistered.

Thank you, Fr. Greg, for reminding me of John's book. I've always meant to order it. Now I will.

Thanks for dropping by, John. Fr. Jonathan, do you know Mr. Medaille? He is the author of an introduction to distributivism, "Toward a Truly Free Market".

Still, a secularized Catholicism (that is growing more similar to the secularized Protestantism of both revivalist and mainliner traditions) is better than the Fort Apache/Hillstreet environment of the district's gymnasium.

Actually, I prefer the secularists to the secularizers. The former are just what they are, the later are corrupters of the truth; the outright lie is better than the half-truth, as the serpent well understood. You shall be like gods, knowing good and evil. Yes, but there's the fine print: you shall learn the difference in places like Auschwitz; you will know it because you will have experienced it.

I remember as a 15 year old attending my first and last parish youth group meeting.This was in 1964 during the campaign to pass a fair housing law in California. The general sentiment in the room was that blacks should be sent back to Africa. This was in an affluent community. Sadly, not a lot has changed!

Mel, within Calvinism as a spirituality, which is in the American air we breathe, we alos find a secular Pelagianism: you, too, can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps: "Work! It's the white thing to do!"

Here, ethnicity, culture, transcends class. There is some consciousness of the former, none of the latter. There are so many seducing spirits, doctrines of demons. Leninism, Calvinism as secular Pelagianism (or vice-versa) are right out there in front.

What is always missing transcends ideology, indeed transcends all thought:

Love, Agape.

"Greater love no has than this..."

On the Q32 that enters Manhattan from none too rich areas of Queens, I saw the following ad attempting to promote healthier, just as affordable food choices - with graffiti scrawl in brackets:

"Turn your food stamps [for people who don't want to work] into fresh affordable food at your greenmarket [obama plan]."

Unfortunately, I don't think this came from a rich or middle class adolescent, not from this part of town and not on the bus. I'm sure it did not come from a devotee of St. Francis. Such things are in the air, it's the fiercely just graceless, fatalistic karma of Calvinism, just denuded of God (double predestination - and karma, for that matter - just sounds so bad, unless you stop defining it out loud to yourself and go right on believing it).

Thank you for this Father. I teach ethics to undergrads in college. It gets very interesting sometimes. I work three jobs, and yet I've been told by people in my (Orthodox) church that we don't need universal health care. It's not the government's job. The Church should take care of the poor. I notice none of them are offering to buy insurance for me and my husband. I keep wondering how much you have to work to be deserving.

Melxiopp, you must know that it is easy and tempting to be sycophantic, and most of the time, it takes a painful extraction by Providence to move one from the comforts of position and wealth-protection to the precincts of prophecy.

Prophecy and the Cross go hand in hand. Thank you, Fr. Greg. That is diametrically opposed to Tony Perkins' latest bout of glossomania, in which he averred that being pro-life and waving the tea-party flag against government spending "go hand in hand."

I'll take the Cross, thank you. The Pro-Life Movement has been bought and sold.

I feel ya, Mel, especially that last line, especially since Tuesday night. It's up to us to be the prophets now, and any prophecy that ignores the cross is indeed false.

Fr. Jonathan: gee, I wonder what could have happened in 1980???? ;-)

This comes from focusing our evangelism on the well-educated, primarily and firstly, who are most often from at least solidly middle-class means. We don't evangelize the poor or the lower-middle class. We also tacitly accept the values of the wealthy because we're after their money for the building of temples, schools, halls, the endowing of chairs, the publishing of books, the trappings of churches that have arrived. To keep up with the denominational Joneses we need money, and it's just not polite to bite the hand that feeds you.

Of course, we all also believe (let's be honest) that if we are good boys and girls, work hard and go to church that we'll be rewarded in this life - and not with the Cross.

We lack prophets. Sycophants and those yearning for glory - even if only glory in and about the church - we have aplenty. Was 'go along to get along' in the Bible, or did I hear that someplace else?...

If we are truly being the Church will we have more money or less? Will we have more schools or none? Will we be more visible or less? Will our churches be more or less magnificent? Are wealth and numbers a measure of holiness and how truly we are being the Church? Let's be honest, the answers we give deep down in our hearts are not Christian, regardless of the crosses we wear.

I've become more of a fire-breathing leftie of late.

This is horribly disheartening.

When I got to the lunchroom pontifications, I had to look back at the beginning of the post to see what age group we're dealing with here. I was thinking maybe middle school. But no. These are young adults, about to go to college and out into the world.

Heaven help us.

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