This is the ninth article in the series How to Get an Elite Prep School Education on a Homeschool Budget.
Master teacher John Taylor Gatto identified fourteen themes that elite private schools inculcate in their students to prepare them to take on leadership positions in the professions, business and government. We Catholic home schooling parents should strongly consider integrating some or even all of Mr. Gatto’s themes into our home learning. More than ever, American society needs leaders who are well formed, not only academically, but also spiritually.
Faithful Catholics will also see a need for energetic young people to enter the priesthood and consecrated life, and to serve our parishes and dioceses as faithful laymen. In his ninth theme, Gatto says each young person must arrive at a personal code of standards and that developing this code is a “long range, comprehensive thing that needs to be checked regularly.” Students must be brought to formulate and adopt a personal code of standards, in production, behavior and morality.
1. Understanding a Personal Code in a Catholic Sense
This theme may seem to be a bit suspect to some Catholic parents. After all, why develop a personal code of standards? Shouldn’t our children live according to Catholic standards?
Studying Holy Mother Church closely, especially the saints, answers that question. We realize the Church has always been characterized by a proper understanding of diversity and that diversity applies here. We must all, for example, maintain a detachment from material things. That’s clear from both the Tenth Commandment, as well as Our Lord’s exhortation to “Consider the lilies of the field.”
Not all of us, however, are called to live without possessions or hot water, like Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity do. Catholics must all care for the elderly, but not necessarily invite them into our homes as the Little Sisters of the Poor do.
Personal standards must always start with Catholic values, but those values will be lived differently in each individual.
As I associate Gatto’s theme to Catholic families, our children must first learn and integrate principles of Catholic daily life, but then develop from them a personal code of standards for living.
This could mean a commitment to the poor and elderly, devoting one’s life to pro-life action, or dedicating oneself to furthering Catholic education. But whatever pursuits our children aspire to, they must set high goals, develop plans to meet those goals, and then follow through enthusiastically.
Gatto believes our children need high standards for production, behavior, and morality.
2. Standards of Production
What, you may well ask, are children expected to produce? A perfect score on a spelling test would be a good start. How about a well-thought-out book report with no grammatical errors?
When speaking of “production”, and children, the “product” they are primarily responsible for is their schoolwork. The part we parents play is to insist that they do their best, always looking to improve.
Give your children a schedule of assignments everyday, and insist that they will be done correctly and completely. Make sure that your students’ work is neat with no obvious erasures or cross outs. Letters have to be on the line and numbers in careful columns. Threaten to make them redo sloppy or poorly done assignments, but rave about their excellent work to Dad, and post it on the fridge.
Settle for no less than their best, and teach them to take pride in a job well done.
Without doubt, it is the parents’ job to ensure that their children know and obey the Ten Commandments and live according to Catholic values. On this we cannot waver.
The true task, however, is to inculcates these values and behaviors so that our children take ownership of their own actions. I think this is the “long range comprehensive thing that must be checked regularly” Gatto refers to. It will take some time.
Parents spend their children’s early years teaching the rules and insisting that they be obeyed. Around the age of reason, maybe seven-years-old, we need to start encouraging the children to police their own actions. I started this process with questions.
What time do you think you should come home? Do you think this is your best work? Do you think that was a kind remark you made? I nudged them to the right answer, and Mom always had veto power, but questioning themselves about their own motives, actions, and words is one way to make children personally responsible for their behavior.
As the teen years approach, parents must seek to strike a balance between allowing our children independence while keeping them on the straight and narrow. I am convinced we cannot find this balance if we insist on a strictly enforced, rigid set of rules. We have to allow them to make their own plans, as long as they do not violate God’s laws.
We trust them, trust them. Yikes! Time to pull in the reins. When my children would accuse me of not trusting them to make a decision about this or that (Piercing your belly button! Have you lost your mind?), I would remind them that I trust their good intentions, but their young judgment may be seriously lacking.
Nevertheless, the goal is not to inflict our sound judgment or good morals on our kids. The ultimate goal is for them to use their own sound judgment and strong values to police themselves.
Catholic homeschoolers have a unique opportunity to form our children’s personal morality, and to lead them to adapt Catholic values as uniquely their own. The whole moral life can be summed up in four words: Do good; avoid evil. Parents spend the first part of their children’s lives teaching them the difference, through word, example, and religious studies.
As time goes on, we want them to understand not just what good is, but that they need to do good, and finally that they want to do good, all the time, even when no one is looking.
Traditional Catholic practices will be a huge help with this endeavor. Teach your children to examine their consciences every night at bedtime. Here’s an easy exam for the youngest children:
- Think of God, His name and day,
- Parents too, who care for you.
- Are you kind in every way?
- Pure and honest, truthful too?
Perhaps nothing will help your children grow in the moral life more than frequent Confession. Monthly is a minimum; weekly is the goal. Encourage their confessors to give them ongoing spiritual direction. Finally, a solid — single gender — retreat can be very beneficial, helping teens to refine their moral principles away from their everyday lives.
Encourage your children to develop strong values to live by. The Church, our nation and the world will reap the benefits.
© HighwayStarz / Dollar Photo Club