Homeschooling and original sin

posted in: Homeschool & Parenting | 6
Original Sin by Michael Coxie (photo in public domain).

When we choose a homeschool philosophy as Catholics, we should consider whether the worldview behind that philosophy is in accord with the Catholic faith. Many of the proponents of these philosophies are Protestants. Others are Mormons or secularists. One area in which I have found many philosophies to be lacking is in their distorted view of human nature after Adam’s Fall.

Errors concerning human nature fall into two general categories. Either they ignore original sin and see man and his choices as all good, or they think man is completely fallen and can never do anything good without supernatural help.

“The doctrine of original sin, closely connected with that of redemption by Christ, provides lucid discernment of man’s situation and activity in the world. By our first parents’ sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free. Original sin entails ‘captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil’. Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 407).

God created us good

Some Christians, particularly some Fundamentalist Protestants, believe that Adam’s fall completely erased the good that God created in man. The believe we are “totally depraved,” unable to do anything without the taint of sin. Even Christ cannot make us holy, they think–He can only cover over our sinfulness.

It’s not surprising that this attitude creeps into some homeschool philosophies.

A while back I wrote about Ruth Beechick’s insistence that fear is children’s first motivator to learn. She believes that if children are not first disciplined (by which she appears to mean punished), they will refuse to learn.

This isn’t born out by experience. Children love to imitate their parents and older siblings. They learn to talk without having to be pressured into it. No one has to punish them to get them to try rolling over or sitting up or walking. (Although potty training is another thing!)

Our minds are made to know God as well as to love Him. Children naturally want to learn.

But this does not mean that we never need to be guided into some areas of necessary knowledge.

We all fell in Adam

Last time I wrote about Leadership Education (a.k.a. Thomas Jefferson Education), promoted by Oliver Van DeMille. I want to re-emphasize that I like a lot of what DeMille has to say. But throughout his philosophy I detect a denial of man’s fallen nature. DeMille is a Mormon (LDS). The Latter-Day Saints reject the doctrine of original sin. Here’s how I see that playing out in the Leadership Education ideal.

DeMille over-emphasizes modeling’s role in education and child rearing. His “inspire, not require” mantra promises that if parents themselves practice a love of learning, their children will follow suit. He goes so far as to state that an authoritative parenting style will breed children who “hate” learning. In reality, the fault is just as likely to be with the children as the parents. We cannot force children to learn or to love learning, no matter how stellar our parenting styles, curriculum, or example.

A similar problem is found with some other of his “Seven Keys” to learning. “Mentors, not Educating the WholeHearted Child  Third Edition  -             By: Clay Clarkson, Sally Clarkson    Professors” and “Structure time, not Content” put too much emphasis on the child’s likes and dislikes. There is too much trust that a child will spend his time wisely. There is too much trust he will be diligent, simply because others around him are.

DeMille expects both adult and child to be perfect, it seems to met. The adult should be a perfect parent and model. The child should be trusted to choose excellence without being pressured.

A better way

Clay and Sally Clarkson, although non-Catholics as well, have a more balanced approach. They write in Educating the Whole-hearted Child: A Handbook for Christian Home Education:

“Because children are made in God’s image, they are already intelligent, creative, and curious.”

The include this quote from H. Clay Trumball:

“Hardly anything can be more important in the mental training of a child than the bringing him to do what he ought to do, and to do it in its proper time, whether he enjoys it or not.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Connie Rossini

Share with us: How does original sin play a role in your chosen homeschool philosophy?

6 Responses

  1. Michelle

    Connie, have you read Homeschooling With Gentleness, by Suzie Andres? If you have, my apologies. Her quest was to reconcile unschooling with her Catholic faith. In it, she dispels the argument against the fallen human nature objection, which by the way, is a very persuasive one. I wish I could fill in all of what is missing, but I’ll stick to the main points.

    The first is the capital sin of sloth. “This sin is often misunderstood as laziness, when it actually has a different meaning. Sloth, also called acedia, is not a sin against industriousness, but a sin against charity. The CCC teaches: “One can sin against God’s love in various ways:…acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness”(2094). And also, “Another temptation (in prayer), to which presumption opens the gate is acedia. The spiritual writers understand by this a form of depression due to lax ascetical practice, decreased vigilance, carelessness of heart. ‘The spirit is indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’ (Mt 26:41)” (2733) What we think is the capital sin of laziness is really the capital sin of sloth, or acedia. It is not a sin against industriousness, but a sin against the love of God.”

    “Second, to the extent that laziness is an imperfection, venial sin, or weakness resulting from the fall, it’s remedy will be grace, not hard work…………We can give our children access to the world of grace by introducing them to the sacraments and the practice of prayer. This will help them to over come the fall in their own lives.”

    “Third, we must constantly remind ourselves that , as Mother Theresa said, ‘We are not called to be successful, but only to be faithful.’ Perhaps this is why the church identifies acedia, not laziness as a capital sin. As Catholic parents, we will want to teach our children that loving God and doing his will are our first priorities, rather than worldly ambition, or a drive to succeed, even in academic realms.”

    She goes on to address the complaint that if we are not made to do anything, we will do nothing, but it’s too much to type She concludes that while our nature has been damaged by the fall, we are not so devastated that we cease striving to learn and uses non Christians to prove her point.
    “How much more will our children strive and learn when we can assist them with the graces of the sacraments and prayer? As I mentioned above, these are the remedies that heal and strengthen our wounded nature.”

    She touches on how there is more than one approach to Catholic homeschooling and to find what works for your family.

    I am thankful for this thought and heart provoking question. God bless and keep doing what you are doing!

    • Connie Rossini

      Thanks, Michelle. I haven’t read that one. Unschooling is one of the few methods I haven’t read about in detail, because it does not appeal to me. I agree completely about sloth = acedia. But that’s really beside the point, in my opinion. I probably agree with the author, from what you quoted, on the fact that kids have some natural desire to learn. They don’t need to be “pushed” in every area, as we talked about the other week. But I believe they need to be prepared to serve God in the world we live in, and to use the talents He gave them to the utmost of their ability for His glory. This doesn’t mean the same thing as a pursuit of worldly success. I don’t think unschooling would give kids the skills they need to thrive. That’s just my opinion. It probably works for some people. I suspect certain temperaments would really have trouble with it.

      • Michelle

        I guess I’m not sure what the point was then. You asked how original sin plays a part in our chosen philosophy and that is what I tried to do. Acedia and the remedies that heal and strengthen our wounded nature. I believe It applies to any philosophy. I am sorry I didn’t keep it simple enough.

        • Connie Rossini

          When I said it was beside the point, I didn’t mean to be critical of the way you were trying to answer my question (which question, I admit I lost track of!). But what I meant was that I can agree totally with the author’s definition of sloth and still disagree with her on laziness. I do believe laziness is a sin, even if it’s not the deadly/cardinal sin of sloth. And I believe certain temperaments (think: phlegmatic) have a tendency towards laziness. Does the unschooling philosophy provide what these children need? I haven’t read enough about it to know how this objection is met.

          As for the remedies, I think there is an over-emphasis on grace versus nature in the quotes and summary you gave. Grace and hard work always go together in the Christian life. I doubt Andres would say that we shouldn’t strive to become humble, for example, and just rely on grace. So why shouldn’t a lazy person use hard work to overcome his fault? I might be missing something, because of my lack of familiarity with the thought behind unschooling. Maybe we’re talking past each other. I suspect you and I are close to each other in our thoughts on this.

  2. Renee

    Thanks so much for this! I have tried to be aware of how the understanding of the human person/original sin affects both parenting and education, from methods/style to curricula. I really appreciate what you wrote and think it is so important for us to consider and understand. I appreciate the specific examples as well.

    • Connie Rossini

      I’m glad this helped you. Some people will undoubtedly disagree with my conclusions, but I often find myself considering this subject when I read books about homeschooling.

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