Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Regulated Mediocrity

A brief tizzy of discussion moved through the online Catholic world today over reports from the Youth Synod that the English-language working group had recorded some seemingly critical notes on home schooling:
USA has many home schoolers – bishops in USA are not united, as homeschooling can have an ideological basis – kids may have special needs

are parents qualified to homeschool them?
It's hard to discern what sort of discussion was had from such quick jottings, but if Catholic home schoolers jumped to the conclusion that they were being critiqued, it surely was not without having experienced slights at the hands of local churches. Around the time we moved away from Texas there was a good deal of upset in the Austin diocese when the diocesan offices told a large Catholic homeschooling group that the new bishop would not be able to participate in their annual home schooling mass anymore because it would be inappropriate for him to in any way encourage people not to attend Catholic schools. Within our own parish here, we've had the pastor deny groups of home schoolers permission to meet in parish buildings, even though the home schooling families are active in the parish (including teaching Sunday school.) Again, the explicit rationale is that since the parish has a school, he can't give any aid and comfort to those who choose to pursue other schooling options.

It's tempting to see this as about money. Catholic schools are expensive to maintain, and they in many cases rely primarily on tuition paid by the families sending children there to meet those expenses. Parents who choose to school their kids some other way are thus seen as taking needed money away from the schools.

I expect this is the case to some extent. However, I think another perhaps larger motive can be seen in the concern that "homeschooling can have an ideological basis" and the question "are parents qualified to homeschool them?"

Catholicism is the most institutional of institutional religions, and our bishops often think in a very institutional fashion. As such, one of the tendencies I've noticed is that bishops often prefer mediocrity that they control to more varied performance that they can't.

For example, some years ago when I was helping to teach RCIA classes, an edict came down from the diocese that several "sensitive topics" (mostly relating to sex) should only be talked about by people who had gone through diocesan approved graduate theological training. If your parish happened not to have a volunteer catechist who had gone through the diocesan graduate program in theology, you could show a video which was on the list of approved catechetical materials.

These video materials were not particularly good. And indeed, some of the people who'd gone through the diocesan grad program weren't that doctrinally sound, or particularly good speakers. But this did give the diocese an appearance of control.

I've seen similar dynamics play out with marriage prep, youth catechesis, etc. There's a strong tendency to try to put in place means of greater institutional control, even if the result does not much increase the quality of the teaching or actively stifles it.

For institutions with this mentality, homeschooling must seem like the ultimate wild card. Sure, the diocesan schools often don't do that great a job at teaching the faith. And their quality of teaching may not be much different from the local public schools. (Indeed, in our own diocese the Catholic schools make a selling point of using exactly the same curriculum as the local public schools, the only difference is that they teach religion as well.) But diocesan schools are at least under clear institutional control.

Home schooling families, by contrast, are under no institutional control at all. They can pick the curriculum they want, teach in the style they want, and there is no way for a diocesan office to intervene. To an institutionally-minded bishop, this must seem dangerously anarchic. And so even though homeschooled Catholic students provide a disproportionate percentage of the young men entering the priesthood in the US these days, there is in the minds of many church men a cloud of suspicion hanging over them.


Foxfier said...

Homeschoolers are also more likely to be noxious to those who are justifiably insecure-- they are both very likely to actually know what they're talking about if they challenge you, and not trained to know when to shut up even though someone is wrong on something that's important, or you think you're confused.

(I'm still not good enough at reading people to know when they just mis-spoke vs when they have no idea what they're talking about-- much less when they'll blow up at being "questioned," especially if they're wrong, vs laughing and saying 'I thought I did say it the right way around!' and carrying on.)

So they're likely to be getting a LOT of feedback about trouble with home-schooled folks. Especially if they are hard up for teachers, and have some that push their personal views as binding Church teaching.

August said...

It is not critique. It is betrayal.