This is the twelfth article in the series How to Get an Elite Prep School Education on a Homeschool Budget.
As I write this column, I am simultaneously working on talks I will give at Catholic homeschooling conferences this coming spring and summer. My major theme this year will be the need for excellence in our home learning to prepare future leaders for our communities, our states, and even our country.
More than ever before, American society, and the international community in light of recent events, need leaders who are well-formed, not only academically and professionally, but also spiritually.
We need leaders with moral vision who can articulate critical ideas, and who possess the skills to make them reality. Some of our young people may one day own businesses, oversee corporate staff, serve on local library boards, and raise families. They too must be prepared to overcome obstacles while remaining true to Catholic values.
Catholic homeschoolers are able to produce men and women of faith and integrity to meet this need, and Seton’s curriculum will help you with this important task. I have found master teacher John Taylor Gatto to be a great source of wisdom and inspiration; he has identified fourteen themes that elite private schools use to prepare their students to take on leadership positions in the professions, business and government.
Gatto’s twelfth theme, and his personal favorite, is to instill in children the ability to deal courageously with challenges of all sorts.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Tailor the Challenges to the Child
Homeschoolers often modify educational materials to meet their children’s unique needs. Teaching our children to meet and overcome personal obstacles with courage and determination is also a customized process. Is your daughter painfully shy? Push her into social situations on a regular basis. Give her words she needs to greet and converse with others. Have her give oral presentations as part of her schoolwork.
Does your son have trouble sitting still and paying attention? Don’t treat this as an incurable condition; rather think of ways your son can overcome this problem. Give him activities, like building blocks and puzzles that build concentration. Let him start with short periods of schoolwork, but add ten minutes every couple of weeks until he can apply himself for longer periods.
Are your children uncoordinated? Have them practice throwing and catching, or dribbling a basketball. Are they lazy? Shut off the TV and give them extra chores. Are they terrified of needles? Bring them to the doctor every time someone gets a vaccination or blood test, so they see needles are nothing more than a tiny sting.
Years ago, when my three-year old daughter was afraid of dogs, my husband brought one home from a shelter. She overcame her fear in a matter of days. Practice and familiarity will help your children gain confidence in overcoming their fears and struggles.
2. Teach Courage!
Until fairly recent times, physical pain was a common occurrence during childhood. In spring and fall, farms kids worked until their muscles ached. Students walked miles to school, in all weather. Mostly these children stood up, dusted themselves off, and realized that the pain was not that big a deal. By adulthood, they had learned to take lots of discomfort in their stride.
In our own time, novice ice skaters may throw themselves into the air and smash on the cold ice one hundred times before they land their first axel jump. They stand up and try again. Water skiers fall in the lake and swallow water all the time. They get back on their skis.
When a ball player is hit by a thrown or pitched ball, it’s referred to as “stitching”, as the stitches from the ball often leave a mark on the skin. Others players will urge them to ignore the pain, and take the base. “There’s no crying in softball,” is often heard at the girls’ games. All of these exemplify the correct attitude to foster grit and determination.
Children need to learn to take discomfort, even real pain, in their stride. It is a fact of life, and no one can hope to escape it. They build the virtue of fortitude or courage. When the courageous are knocked flat by an obstacle or illness, they stand right back up, dust themselves off, and get back in the race.
3. Why Must Students be Courageous?
My personal experience on social media makes me share John Taylor Gatto’s admiration for inculcating courage as a key to academic success. We have all seen it. A mom posts that her seven-year-old son dawdles over schoolwork, gives her a hard time, and even throws tantrums. Other moms will advise her that seven is way too young for school work, Mom should let him have fun all day.
Maybe he needs a totally new curriculum, attuned to his special needs. Others will recommend that he be tested for ADHD. More than one will suggest eliminating gluten, or food coloring, or sugar from his diet, or giving him an herbal supplement, or a vitamin supplement, or treating his condition with essential oils. The list goes on and on.
I’m a big believer in the necessity of nutritious diets and fresh air and exercise as important to academic success, and some small percentage of children do have a diagnosable learning disorder. That said, Mom might first want to look at the obvious issue: little boys have lots of energy and would rather play then work.
Learning the 4 R’s (reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and religion) are really important so he has to learn how to sit still and apply himself for reasonable periods of time. No complaining allowed, and certainly no tantrums!
Does your daughter struggle in math? Your Facebook buddies can recommend dozens of math programs they claim are better, more effective, and more fun than the one you use. But if she were struggling with learning the piano, her teacher would recommend more practice, not a different placement of the keys. The solution, very likely, is to apply herself with more diligence to a subject she does not enjoy. She will not necessarily be happy about it, but that’s the point.
Sometimes all of us have to do something we find boring or distasteful, or downright painful to achieve an important goal. (Think of giving birth!) When the goal is a worthy one — and academic excellence is essential — those who shoulder on will meet success.
4. Look to the Saints
When thinking about instilling courage in our children, we Catholics can receive inspiration from the saints, especially the martyrs. Long before St. Thomas More climbed the scaffold in the Tower of London, he was in the habit of denying himself pleasure and actively practicing penance. After a lifetime of accomplishment, when the time came to stand up for the truth, Thomas was ready to die for it.
When we teach our children to say no to themselves, and to accept whatever life throws at them with fortitude and determination, we prepare them for success in the classroom and in life.
If Tudor England seems a bit remote, let’s never forget that Christians are being martyred right now in the Middle East by Muslim terrorists. No one is dying in the United States but citizens are being punished for following Christian principles.
Just consider that the State of Illinois shut down Catholic Charities adoption and foster care agencies because they would not place children with gay couples. In several states, Christian bakeries, florists and catering houses are being sued, in some cases for both business and personal assets, because they refuse to provide services to so-called gay weddings. The United States Air Force censored a chaplain for writing an article that included the adage, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”
New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital coerced a Catholic nurse to participate in a late term abortion or lose her job and even her license to practice.
Have we given our children the courage they will need to stand up for the truth no matter how terrible the consequence?