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I am so excited to have permission to send this out.

This is the MODG (Mother of Divine Grace School) newsletter for enrolled families, and it features an article on keeping your kids safe in the digital age from a Catholic perspective.  It is so wonderful because it is extremely informative without being holier than thou or anti-tech.  It says the amazingly obvious and yet not so obvious: you need to parent your kids even if you don’t like learning about all the latest gadgets.  Lots of tips, too!  Thank you so much, Cyndi Montanaro and Laura Berquist!  For more information about the school, go to www.motherofdivinegrace.org.  I have been grading papers from MODG for about 11 years now.  This is the best article ever, and my technology specialist (husband), approves, which is saying a LOT.  Enjoy!

MODG NEWSLETTER Vol 12 No 3

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So… that last post was in September.  I was wondering how long it had been.  Ouch.  It’s February.  Oops.

I have been dying to blog lately, but life keeps getting in the way.  In fact, I can’t really participate in my beloved book club, because I can’t even finish the books I’m working on right now, and they are all good books I WANT to FINISH.  And then people give me more books, for my birthday, and for Christmas.  And then my dear toddler person decides that staying up all night would be fun, and getting up early would also be fun.  Wheee.

Now she is potty training and doing quite well at it.  However, she is waking up early again.  This morning she woke up early because the cat jumped on her at 5:30 am.  The cat?  What cat you say?  Our neighbors gave us a cat.  She thinks she’s a doggy, and she even herds chickens back into their pen.  Chickens?  Yes, we do own only a townhome, but we have now six chickens, after this weekend craziness of going to the animal rescue in our area to grab a couple more.  I own a zoo.  Good thing my husband draws the line at creepy crawlies, because a young man at our house thought the Reptile Zoo was the best thing going.

Ok, back to books.  See?  This is the problem: Parental ADHD.  It’s serious.

I am currently reading several books, but I have had a lot of grading to do, too, so I’m not making as much progress as I would like.  For my birthday I recieved A Father’s Tale by Michael O’Brien, which is absolutely wonderful and I can’t wait to finish all 1000 pages, but I was rudely interrupted by The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Also amazing, but in a completely different kind of way.  His writing is amazing in a truly literate sort of way, whereas hers is amazing because of the ideas it brings up for the reader to think about.  His does that, too, but there’s a big difference in how they go about it. fter The Hunger Games, I thought, phew, I finished that one, I dare not try the other two in the trilogy, or I’ll never get back to A Father’s Tale.  And then my dear, dear brother in law thought it would be funny to lend them to me.  I am NOT reading them right now, but I am one of those people who HAS to skip to the end, so I did peruse them.  I hear some folks don’t like how it ends, but I thought it was probably the most realistic part of the whole series.  The author has done some work with the affects of war on children, and I think the series reflects that, and is therefore fascinating.  I hope the movie does it any kind of justice next month.  I will have to give both of these books their own time here, when I’m actually done with them.  That probably means July 2012 if I’m lucky.

Ever notice how there will be a drought of movies, tv shows and sometimes books, and then a huge flood of good stuff?  Lately?  SO MUCH GOOD STUFF.  I can’t keep track of tv shows and movies, either.  Sure, there’s tons of stupid shows and movies, too, but the good stuff is SO GOOD.  Usually it’s the geeky stuff.

I’m always searching for answers to the curve balls my children throw at me, so currently all reading is at a halt until I finish Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz.  In my many travels to different types of professionals, I discovered this book.  One of my children will be tested for dyslexia later this month, and I’m looking forward to results, but at this point I’m also just going forward as if that child did indeed have dyslexia.  I have it on my Kindle Fire (which my brother in law also gave “our family”, not “me”), and it is taking me a while, but I do love highlighting all the parts I want my partner in crime to read, since he never reads the books I suggest.  I wonder if this crazy scheme of mine will work?

Some of “my” reading time is taken up with reading to young children, also.  For the second time, we appear to be moving rapidly through two series at once, The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander and The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  We’ve been through The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis too many times to count, so I’m trying to get them to listen to these all on CD, and today I picked up another recommendation, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall.   So much good literature, why in the world did they invent things like SpongeBob books?  Really?

We’ve been having quite an interesting year around here, and I won’t get into that here, because it would be a WAT (wild-ass tangent, as we call them around here), and that would take away from the purpose of this blog.  Let’s just say life is one heck of an adventure and that things just keep getting more interesting.   Life is giving me a doctorate in something, but I’m not sure what yet.

Because we are having quite a year, I have decided to make a list of goals for this year in our homeschooling, especially the booklists from the curriculum I love, but I’ve decided not to follow it, because I need more flexibility to leave the house at inopportune moments.   Now I have “centers” posted on the fridge, and I try to remind them to do a fairly decent amount of work and their scouting badgework, and that covers quite a bit, really.  So far, I like it.  I feel a little weird about it, but I like it.  I think the kids do, too.  The principal seems ok with it. 🙂

I really hope to be blogging some more soon, but please, please don’t hold your breath.  I don’t want you to pass out.

On with life!

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This is a seriously inspiring collection of lighthearted Catholic homeschooling moms who have decided that unschooling is for them, at some level.  Some more than others.  All describe their lives as a family in extremely intelligent terms.  I LOVE this book and will have to buy it.  It’s been making the rounds through on of the homeschooling mom groups I attend and I’m so glad some days when I snoop on someone’s bookshelf.

The book has to make the rounds, and the next person is a person I shall see every morning this week, so  I want to type this before I move it down its chosen path to inspire others.

I may have mentioned this here before, but maybe not.  I went to both Catholic and public schools.  I’ve never been terribly good about following directions, but I did earn a 3.5 GPA and higher most of the time.  I hated school.  I loved sports.   It wasn’t a total waste of time, but I can’t say it was how I wanted to spend my time.  I knew two families growing up.  Each had five kids, and I was friends with the oldest in each family, both girls a couple of years younger than I.  Well, one of them, five years younger, and we shared a driveway.  The driveway is a long, rocky, country driveway, and we were perched uphill from the family we shared with.  They were unschoolers.  My parents really wondered how anyone was going to turn out, but they have all turned out fine, often better than fine!  The other family used a rigid and thorough curriculum, and their kids have all turned out fine, too.  Because of those two families, I’m willing to bet that most things we’ll do with our family are going to be fine, too.  It’s too easy to feel guilty!  Some people should feel guilty, granted, but they are not usually the ones who do!  Silly world.  Memories of the unschooling family and the magazine called Home Education Magazine calm me down when I feel like the weight is too heavy and homeschooling is too hard.  It is so nice to know that, at a certain point, a child’s education is really up to him or her!  Sometimes that point is a lot earlier than we think.

Back to the book.

The author lists 13 families.  Most of them unschool, but the last four do a combination of ideas, like classical supplemented with some unschooling ideals.  Yes, it’s possible.  It sounds kind of like us!  The one I liked best was the one who had both a husband and a son involved in the computer game design industry.  A conservative Catholic homeschooling family with gamers who actually make money?  What??!  So I wrote to her about finding the balance in Gaming vs. Other Things, and she was quite sensible.

I loved quite a few chapters.  There is also a “Philosopher’s Perspective” in the epilogue, along with a short set of book lists.  Probably the most important thing that sets this book apart is her focus on St. Therese of Lisieux.  St. Therese focused on her “Little Way” of doing all things for love of Jesus, especially the small, everyday things.  In fact, she compares some of the saint’s writings with those of John Holt, who wrote “Growing Without Schooling”  and “Why Children Fail”.  There is a similarity about their way of telling us that we can no longer see the forest for the trees.  Sometimes life and the point to life (or the point to education), is a whole lot more simple, and therefore harder to grasp somehow, than we thought.

As an aside, I need write this somewhere.  She highly recommends the book “I Believe In Love”. I MUST remember to tell my book club!  If you are in my book club and are reading this, please, please write it down for next year so I will read it!

Here is a quotation from this book which I made my oldest child read, because it was such a succinct way to begin theology.  On accident.

Pg. 121-122:

My Plan: To study World War II

Where the Plan Took Us: To Theology and Beyond

While reading historical fiction set during the war, we discussed the Holocaust.  My then ten-year-old said, “Mom, how could God let this happen?  He’s so good.  He could have stopped it.”

How does one explain the problem of evil to a child?

I began by telling her that she had asked an eternal question, a philosopher’s question, a wonderful question.  I said that people have lost their faith over that question when the answers seemed inadequate, elusive, or wrong.  I took her back in time, to Adam and Eve, and asked what God gave them. 

“A choice!” she said.

“Yes, a choice.  He allowed them to choose good or bad, right or wrong, didn’t He?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you think he did that?”

“Hmmm… I don’t know.  Wouldn’t it be nicer if he’d made them obey?”

“Well, yes, in some ways, it would be nicer.” (I reminded myself to explain felix culpa to her later.)  “But let’s think about what kind of a relationship comes out of making someone do something. 

(They then perform a sock puppet show making up vignettes about those two types of relationships and crack themselves up.)

… For love to mean anything, it has to be freely given.  Had God made us pliable puppets, our love for Him would be meaningless. 

… Then we talked about the freedom God gave human beings — our free will– allowing us to make choices about everything, including love.  Where the possibility of true love exists, the possibility of utterly rejecting love co-exists.  And where the possibility of rejecting love exists, there is the potential for evil.  Some people will choose evil.

There are some beautiful quotations sprinkled throughout and I will leave you with one on pg. 71:

God’s love can only unleash its power when it is allowed to change us from within.  We have to let it break through the hard crust of our indifference, our spiritual weariness, our blind conformity to the spirit of this age.  Only then can we let it ignite our imagination and shape our deepest desires.  — Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Youth, World Youth Day XXIII

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A friend of mine recommended this book to our book club, and she feels very strongly about it.  I am really enjoying this book and can’t recommend it highly enough for, oh, Everyone.  I mean Everyone.  It’s awesome.

The best part is that he doesn’t begin by assuming his readers are Catholic, or even Christian, or even that they believe in God!  He begins with seeking God in general, according to six paths to belief, from the path of independence to the path of return.  There are so many wonderful and interesting insights into people’s search for spirituality!  See the second chapter for details.

Having gone to a Jesuit university myself, I know a little bit about Jesuit mentality.  Not as much as I thought I did, though.  I wish now that I had delved a little deeper and begged to be invited to Jesuit House for dinner.  Therefore, I very much enjoyed the Jesuit jokes sprinkled throughout.  The Jesuits are known for their academic rigor, their social justice streak, and while they do not think they are holier than God, they might think they are smarter on occasion.  Ha!

An example of a Jesuit joke appears on page 317.  “Here’s a joke about discernment:  A woman asks her local priest ofr advice.  “Father,” she says, “I have a little boy who is six months old.  And I’m curious to know what he will be when he grows up.”

The priest says, “Place before him three things:  A bottle of whiskey, a dollar bill, and a Bible.  If he picks the bottle of whiskey, he’ll be a bartender.  If he picks the dollar bill, a business man.  And if he picks the Bible, a priest.”  So the mother thanks him and goes home. 

The next week she returns.  “Well,” said the priest, “which one did he pick:  the whiskey, the dollar bill, or the Bible?”

She says, “He picked all three!”

“Ah,” says the priest, “a Jesuit!”

My experiences with certain Jesuits worried me a little bit, but I was pleasantly surprised by the deep spirituality of this book, not to mention its defense of certain things people question about the priesthood, such as celibacy and obedience.  This author has a serious knack for explaining things in simple terms, without watering it down.

A quote on celebacy and chastity, and yes, he does explain the difference, also.  Pg. 226-227:

“Ultimately, as Shelton says, the vow becomes not something that you do, but something deeper.  “In the novitiate, if someone asked me why I don’t have sex, I might have said, ‘Because it violates thevow.’  Now I would say, ‘That’s not who I am.'”  Married couples also may relate to that last statement.  In the movie Moonstruck, when a married woman is propsitioned by a friendly manher own age, she declines by saying, “I know who I am.”  It’s about integrity and commitment.

He goes on to say how he’s available to his students at Regis University, and that time would rightly go to his family if he had one.  …  “But there is something more,” he says.  “I’ve come to realize that I wouldn’t trade those moments, and the enduring relationships that have been forged after the students graduate, or the times that I’ve been available to a student in a crisis, for a life with a wife and kids.  Chastity provides me with something I wouldn’t have if I were married, and which means just as much.  This is what I would call ‘special’ for me.”

On page 222, he brings up another point I wouldn’t have thought of:  “Chastity also helps other people feel safe.  People know that you’ve made a commitment to love them in a way that precludes using them, or manipulating them, or spending time with them simply as a means to an end.  It gives people a space to relax.  As a result, people can often feel freer with tehir own love.”

And lastly, because for some reason everyone must always bring up scandal, his explanation is perfect, on pg. 221:

“By the way, chastity doesn’t lead to unhealthy behavior.  The sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church was, as I see it, more about a small percentage of psychologically unhealthy men who should have never been admitted into seminaries or religious orders in the first place, and some bishops who should have never shuttled them from one parish to another, than it was about chastity per se .”

And now for obedience.  Ultimately he does a very nice job of explaining how he almost quit the Jesuits out of pride over a decision requiring his obedience, and how very glad he is that he stayed.  Thus, some of the best parts in this book are about discernment in all walks of life.

Pg: 269:  Many readers who have a problem accepting this aspect of obedience may have an easier time accepting a more practical reason:  someone needs to be in charge.  Managing a worldwide religious order, as Ignatius did, required one person, one ultimate authority, to guide the work.  So the vow of obedience is always, as are the other vows, “apostolic,” that is, it helps us to carry out our assignments more effectively.

Actually, I’m always surprised by the number of people who scoff at obedience in religious orders yet live it relgiously in their own lives.  Many people who work in professional settings report to a manager….  I saw many longtime employees tranferred to faraway locations, yet they would never think of complaining because they were so devoted to the company.  These decisions are seen as necessary to achieve the organization’s goals — as are decisions in a religious order.”

Honestly, the best parts of this book are on prayer and on discernment, and he gives wonderful examples of Ignatian sprituality and Jesuit life.  He has several steps for decision making and prayer.  I really am amazed, and think everyone should buy a copy.  I know I need to.

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Father Elijah

Michael O’Brien is an amazing author.  He writes Catholic fiction and is also an artist, residing just north of where I live, in British Columbia, Canada.  He is very conservative and also sensible of Catholicism as it was meant to be.  His characters are often complicated and flawed, but strive toward the Light.  Most of his books have at least one character who appears in other books.  They intertwine beautifully.  He leans toward the apocalyptic, especially in Father Elijah.

A group of moms that I know are having a book club this year, and this was my pick.  I’ve read it before, but it is good to read again so that I can try to lead a discussion of the book with my friends.  It is beautiful, and I can’t wait to hear what others think of the book.

Father Elijah finishes the story that was begun in the book Sophia House.  He begins as a young theological genius from the Warsaw ghetto, who manages to survive World War II thanks to an accidental meeting with a fallen-away Catholic bookseller.  As he builds a new life for himself as a politician and a leader of the new state of Israel, many believe him to be one of the most powerful men in the world.  Suddenly, everything changes, and he looks for new meaning in his life, tied to his past.  He becomes a Catholic priest, a monastic, living as a monk and away from modern civilization for 20 years.  Then his world turns again as the Pope calls him to Rome for a special mission to ultimately defend the Catholic Church and real freedom in the modern world. 

Many of the theological discussions are thought provoking, and yet they do not slow down the pace of the book.  The book and all of his books give a sense of Catholic identity that does not get a lot of press.  It is ultimately the struggle for authentic Love, self sacrifice, and trust in God that becomes more clear to the reader.  I love reflecting on the tapestry of meanings throughout the book.  Here is a beautiful quotation as an example:

Every sin is a choice to turn a miraculous being into an object for consumption. It flattens the human person, one’s self and one’s victim, into a one-dimensional universe.

In every person’s soul there is an icon of what he is meant to be. An image of Love is hidden there… Our sins and faults, and those committed against us, bury this original image. We can no longer see ourselves as we really are.

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Dear, dear LeeAnn, thank you for this article.  For those who do not know LeeAnn, she is in our homeschooling group, and she has returned her children to public school this year partly in order to provide more service to both her family and her church, and to enjoy her youngest while he is little (if I forgot something, LeeAnn, let me know). 

The truth is, homeschooling is very hard.  Home life is very hard.  Being a good wife and mother and everything together is pretty darned stressful.  I have never promised I would homeschool all the way through, but I’m not ruling it out, either.  As long as the cost/benefits analysis comes out in favor of homeschooling, I will continue.  If it ever doesn’t, then off to school they go.  Public school.  No way I can afford private, nor do I see enough difference to justify the cost even if I could.

In any case, I think this is a very appropriate article to make sure we are still benefitting our families and our world, and not doing things out of a sense of imbalanced duty.  I am going to copy and paste the whole article below, from www.catholic.org.

Have a beautiful day!

Catholic Homeschool: A ‘Just War Theory’ of Homeschooling

By William Fahey
9/15/2009

Inside Catholic

We are engaged in the defense of hearth, home, and the families entrusted to us.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Catholic Online) – Given the increasing popularity of homeschooling among faithful Catholics, it is vital that those who practice it — or are thinking about trying it for their children — have a fully Catholic understanding of the family and the nature and meaning of education. Without it, their good intentions can go astray, following the exaggerated individualism of the culture instead of the mind of the Church.

Some enthusiasts claim that homeschooling is the Catholic approach to a child’s education, but neither history nor the teaching of the Church supports this exclusivity. Though homeschooling is an important and virtuous pursuit, some families are drawn to it through a mistaken ideology — a shadow image of Catholic culture, Catholic education, and the family itself.

Catholic and Western tradition have always held that education is communal. Since man is a political or social animal — as Aristotle, Cicero, and St. Thomas Aquinas tell us — we must never neglect the communal dimension of education. Nothing short of complete family engagement — father, mother, and child — in the learning process will secure a proper education. Families may come to grave peril if fathers remain disengaged from their children’s education, or if other families are not sought out and some degree of inter-family education is attempted.

Of course, by this I do not mean something so simple as the “socialization” of students, which critics of homeschooling often throw at us — the old argument that if John and Mary do not have an opportunity to eat bologna sandwiches on the playground with 300 students and talk about Hannah Montana, they will grow up to be social deviants. The “value of socialization” is usually a code for the regimented ethic of pop culture, which has no virtue and is of no importance.

I mean something much more radical and (perhaps initially) more difficult for homeschoolers to accept: that education is for the perfection of the child, and the child is perfected for a life in society.

Stated more controversially: The common approach to homeschooling today is inherently dangerous, because it may go against what our entire Western tradition and the Catholic Church herself teach about the education of the young — that education should not be done in the home, at least not for long, except during a time and place of crisis.

For many, perhaps the majority of Catholics, they are now in a time and place of crisis. Still, it is important to establish the norms of education, from which we can examine its various forms.

Let us consider three Church pronouncements. First, Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical on education, Divini Illius Magistri:

“Education is essentially a social and not a mere individual activity…. The family is an imperfect society, since it has not in itself all the means for its own complete development; whereas civil society is a perfect society, having in itself all the means for its particular end.”

The Second Vatican Council’s document on Education, Gravissimam Educationis, affirms this social goal of education:

Education, the fathers wrote “is directed toward the formation of the human person in view of his final end and the good of that society to which he belongs and in the duties which he will, as an adult, have a share.”

Most recently, the Church’s Compendium of Social Doctrine states:

“Parents are the first educators, not the only educators, of their children. It belongs to them, therefore, to exercise with responsibility their educational activity in close and vigilant cooperation with civil and ecclesial agencies.”

The Compendium goes on to describe the “primary importance” of parents working with “scholastic institutions” in the education of their children.

All these documents have wonderful sections setting forth the principles by which we educate our children as faithful Catholics. The documents clearly allow, and in some instances may indirectly encourage, homeschooling without mentioning it specifically. What’s more, they are critical of any form of education that jeopardizes the child’s moral and spiritual development.

Nevertheless, it is essential to keep in mind a simple truth: Homeschooling can also become a destructive ideology.

Contrary to the Catholic understanding of education, there is a rising individualism that is worming its way into our literature on homeschooling. Homeschooling in this nation was spearheaded by the hippies of the 1960s and has largely been embraced by Protestants; some 95 percent of homeschoolers today are Protestants, and the tone of the literature and materials often reflects that make-up.

More alarming, homeschooling has risen alongside home-churching. The “Non serviam” banner has long been unfurled by those who do not wish to recognize the sovereignty of Christ in the temporal or ecclesiastical order. Homeschooling at all levels is not rooted in either the Western tradition or — as the documents mentioned above illustrate — in the Catholic tradition. It is a proper response to a crisis within society and (we must be very sad to admit) within some quarters of the Church.

By analogy, war — justly pursued — is a legitimate response to a threat to a community’s life. Yet war is not a norm, even if it is regularly present or must be sustained for long periods. What I am calling for is a sort of “just war theory” of homeschooling. After all, we are engaged in the defense of hearth, home, and the families entrusted to us. Should we not also have carefully thought-out principles of education rooted in natural law, Scripture, and the Catholic tradition? Should we not also have an objective for this struggle beyond the solitary education of a child?

I see no end to the current crisis that calls for homeschooling, and I am glad that the principles of Catholic education allow it and encourage it as a vehicle for the good. Nevertheless, homeschoolers need to take steps to ensure that their education program preserves the goal of traditional teaching: the perfection of the person for God’s glorification and living a life of service and sanctification in human society.

The recognition that homeschooling is itself an emergency measure should offer much needed assistance to parents — especially mothers — who labor in the often exhausting task of being the principal, cafeteria staff, gym coach, bus driver, hall monitor, and (lest we forget) teacher of every subject. What’s more, the feelings of isolation and inadequacy so common to homeschooling parents should be recognized as the natural response to stress in the face of crisis. They point to something “unnatural” about the total education of the child at home: Homeschooling calls for a heroic life, but the Church has never held that it is necessary for parents to lead a heroic life in the pursuit of simple, natural things.

Biology and vocation do not always overlap. I have a vocation to marriage, which has borne fruit in children; and a vocation to teach, which has borne fruit in a life as a college professor. But the parenting of children does not secure the teaching vocation: My having participated in the creation of a son or daughter does not in itself authorize or prepare me for the teaching of geometry or history or Latin or any particular subject. By natural law and Church authority, I have a right to see to the proper moral education of my children — but that I have children does not endow us to be grammarians. My right to secure an education does not mean I have infused talents as an educator or rights to a teaching vocation.

Recalling and pursuing the communal dimension of education will do much to curb the tendency towards ideology. The following are three recommendations to support or reanimate our commitment to the communal nature of education:

1. Frequent Mass attendance. (Daily Mass is wonderful, but in many circumstances it is not an option.)

2. The formation of family educational “cells” — shared teaching, shared projects, swapping of class, regular art shows and contests between families, and pageants for the high holy days. As in most stressful endeavors, when the burden is shared it grows lighter. The homeschooling family thus can and should become the new foundation of the revitalization of Catholic schools.

3. A commitment to seeking stable co-operative meetings and classes within parishes when possible.

The key here is to maintain a positive desire to unite with other kindred families in the educational act (even if circumstances or prudence do not allow it). Education must remain communal in intent if it is to remain true to natural law and Catholic teaching. It goes without saying that Catholic families should pray for the restoration of Catholic schools; Catholic families should aspire to the noble role before them: the seed bed of schools. Again, consider Pius XI:

Since, however, the younger generations must be trained in the arts and sciences for the advantage and prosperity of civil society, and since the family of itself is unequal to this task, it was necessary to create that social institution, the school. But let it be borne in mind that this institution owes its existence to the initiative of the family and of the Church, long before it was undertaken by the State.

My wife and I homeschool, and I know personally that homeschooling can be filled with many joyful moments and graces (in addition to being a good way to form the child intellectually and spiritually). My own experience of teaching my children Latin, history, the Catechism, and natural history has been very rewarding. What is more, it has deepened my love for my children and my own appreciation and gratitude for my vocation as a father.

Thinking of homeschooling as a “just war” pursuit is perhaps dramatic, but the analogy may be necessary to make us take another look at our actions in this foundational area. Good parenting, even with intact and wholesome schools present, will always involve the parents in the education of their children.

—–

William Fahey is president of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire. This article was adapted from a speech presented at the New England Catholic Home School Conference on June 6, 2009.

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