Some homeschooling parents believe that unless they can do a great job, then homeschooling is not for them. That must be a tremendous cross for these Moms and Dads to carry. Thankfully, it is one that I do not shoulder. If you are burdened by this “great-or-nothing” form of what I call academic scrupulosity, let me suggest something to you: stop trying to do a great job; do a good job instead.
Maybe I can explain the difference.
Alexis de Tocqueville famously wrote: “America is great because she is good. When she ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” Written over a century ago, these words have proven prophetic. As a culture, in our desire to become great, we somehow forgot to be good. And this may never be so evident as in our educational system.
Never in history has there been a greater sum of human knowledge, but I’m struggling to decipher how that has made us good. For that matter, in the light of history, which was the society in which there was an overall positive correlation between knowledge and goodness? Even in ecclesiastical history, although the Catholic Church can certainly boast that it had more than Her fair share of great intellectuals, it is also true that some of the greatest minds in the Christian world were not faithful Catholics, but heretics.
As this “great education” argument has gained momentum, some fathers say things like: “I know my wife wants to homeschool, but my daughter needs to go to a real school. I want her to get a great education.” Well, she might get one, but she might lose her Faith in the process. Case in point: recent polling showed that American women are 75% pro-life. Ever seen that statistic?
Oops. Let me clarify that. Non-college educated American women are 75% pro-life. College educated American women poll are 25% pro-life. That is not meant to be an indictment of American women—it’s an indictment of an educational system in which the good is viewed as separable from—or even opposed to—the great.
When I was in college about twenty-five years ago, we learned how to argue against “situation ethics.” When I was a teenager, that was a term of common parlance. Why don’t you hear it anymore? Because situation ethics implies that, in some situations, you actually use ethics. As a society, our feet are already dry from crossing that philosophical Rubicon; we often cannot think of a situation in which to use ethics.
Though intended as a macro-political statement, de Tocqueville struck upon a truth that seems even truer in micro: that good is great. If that’s true for a nation, it’s even more true for a family. The writings of St. Therese are a hallmark to the idea that good trumps great. She writes: “You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.” St. Therese is gently telling us: “there is no greatness without goodness.” I suspect she is also alluding to something else, namely, that the desire to be great may easily be a vice, but the desire to be good is a virtue.
Maybe it’s just sour grapes, but I don’t think I want to be great even if it were in my power.
I looked up the definitions of “great” and “good” on dictionary.com. Here are the first three definitions of “great”:
- “Unusually or comparatively large in size or dimensions.” I’m not even sure I want to be that.
- “Large in number; numerous.” I know I’m not that.
- “Unusual or considerable in degree, power, intensity, etc.: great pain.” I’ve had that a few times, but I took aspirin and it went away.
Then I looked up the definition of “good.” The first entry reads: “Morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious: a good man.”
That, I want.
Give me the choice between good and great, and I’ll take good.
I’m not eschewing education. What I am saying is that our concept of education needs to be redefined, or perhaps rediscovered. When the Church teaches that one of the primary purposes of marriage is the education of offspring, I do not believe that She is referring in any particular way to calculus, or literature, or geography. I think that the Church is referring to teaching our children about God, the Source of all Good. I think that She was referring less to the teaching of the “3 R’s” of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, and more to the teaching about the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity.
Good and great are not mutually exclusive, but if the desire for greatness pulls you away from the good, you will acquire neither.
To the parents who live in fear of doing anything less than a great job homeschooling, remember this: my “best” is not the same as yours. You may be much better at teaching your children, and organizing your house, and keeping on a schedule, than I am. But among Catholic homeschooling families, it is not the differences that unite us—it is the similarity.
It is the goodness.
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