Sir John and the Knights of the Long Table

Eleven of us live here at beautiful Schamelot, and we have a small 20 acre farm of chickens, emus, two dogs, 13 or so cats and a cockateil named Sassafrass.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Dead Thing Flows With The Current--Only A Living Thing Can Swim Against It

Part of the mystique of homeschooling is how very different it is from the mainstream. For most homeschoolers it is not only a different way of educating our young, but a different way of life entirely. This difference is a definite turn-off to some folks, but a strong lure for others. For Catholics it is a necessity. I'm still reading Kay Toy Fenner's book, American Catholic Etiquette, and she summed up very nicely what I want to say on this matter:

"Many influences in modern living unite to induce the general public to accept a universal standard of morals, behavior, opinion, manners and dress. To some extent this has always been so; our ideas in these areas have ever been heavily influenced by those of our fellows. Universal literacy, the availability of inexpensive books and magazines, and our public school system have encouraged the spread of common standards. To these we add today television, radio, and moving pictures, and, most important of all, the development of certain psychological theories as to how man can best function in a modern world.

"...The educators engaged in teaching children how to 'function in the group,' to accept the 'will of the majority' as the standard of what constitutes right behavior, are, from their own point of view, merely assisting children to live happily with their fellows. All of this would be intensely valuable, if the ideas and standards upheld were the noblest possible. Unfortunately, setting such a universal uniform standard always means levelling down. One can never level 'up.' The standards acceptable to humanity at large will always be inferior to those possible to the brightest and the best. If these inferior standards are held up to the superior members of a society as ideal, such members are robbed of all incentive to struggle to the heights which may be possible to them.

"This results in an incalculable loss to mankind. Our great philosophers, saints, radicals, inventors--those whom A.W.E. O'Shaughnessy called 'the movers and shakers of the world'--have always been 'different' from the common run of man, and have been rightfully proud of their differences. Such people are the yeast which leavens the loaf of mankind; if they fail to rise, the loaf will become a pancake.

"For society at large, the acceptance of a low dead level of conformity, the spread of a common fear to differ from one's fellows, is a tragedy. For Catholics, it is impossible. We are, and will continue to be (for how long only God knows, but He knoweth) a minority group. Socially and governmentally, this is unimportant. In the realm of ideas and moral standards, it is important, and it is just in these realms that we are far more of a minority than we were a hundred years ago...

"This means that present-day Catholics must learn and must teach their children to differ from the majority of their fellows in many basic moral principles, to love and cherish those with whom they differ, while refusing to accept, as their moral guides, standards with which they do not agree. To do this, neither doubting one's own position nor rejecting all who differ from it, one must constantly bear in mind that the number of persons who hold any set of opinions has nothing to do with the rightness of one's position; to differ, and to be in the minority while differing, has no bearing on whether one is right or wrong.

"Granting that it is valuable to dare to be different, how does one go about teaching one's children independence of thought and action? One first examines one's own attitudes and opinions to see whether they are based on independent conclusions, or unconscious acceptance of what one sees and hears..."

In my mind there is a very simple answer to her question that goes beyond examining one's own opinions. I believe that the answer is to look to Tradition, and traditions--of morals, behavior, opinion, manners and dress. And not just the traditions of the first 69 years of the 20th century, but the Tradition of 2,000 years of Catholic saints and scholars, and ordinary folks like us, who, by Christ's example have been held to the highest standards. I've always hated the terms "liberal" and "conservative" because they are comparative terms that use eachother to guage themselves, rather than a transcendent reality. And one can be as liberal as liberals were 50 years ago, but still be considered conservative only because the liberals are more liberal than they were 50 years ago. The only comparison for a Catholic is Christ, and His Blessed Mother. "What would Jesus do?" as cliche as it is, is the only question we need ask ourselves. "Would Mary wear these tight jeans?" or ..."use this kind of language, or watch this movie or read this book?" Catholics, because we follow He Who set the highest standard, are bound to aspire to the highest standard. We must strive to practice the "best" manners, the "best" behavior, hold the "most" virtuous opinions, dress the "most" modestly, and hold ourselves to the "highest" moral code. We cannot allow ourselves or our children to "level down" to what is most prevalent, mediocre, or common. We are followers of Him who was unlike anyone who ever walked the face of the Earth. We must emulate His example, and in so doing will be more like Him, and less like those, interiorly as well as exteriorly, who are not His followers. We may find others who are like us, but let it be because they too strive for the highest standards, and not because we have become lukewarm and settled for mediocrity.

Mrs. Fenner continues:

"Those who have had the advantage of being gently reared or have had more educational opportunities will have higher standards than those who have not. Children who are taught from infancy about morals and ethics will try harder to be good than those who never hear the subject mentioned. Explain that you are trying to teach them what you consider to be the very best behavior: the most honorable, the most courteous, the kindest. Admit that there may be people with higher standards than yours, and many with standards that are lower. But your standards are the ones that you are convinced are best for you and your family. You therefore expect your children to learn to live up to them, even though in so doing their lives will often differ in many ways from those of their friends. They should consider themselves fortunate that they have parents so devoted and so idealistic, and they will so consider themselves when they are older and know enough to evaluate such matters. They should never be afraid to differ from their comrades in doing that which they know, from their home training, is right.

"Caution your children, also, not to criticize the behavior of others. Explain that those fortunate enough to be taught at home to strive for the highest standards have an obligation to be kind and forebearing to those who have not had such advantages. If you are convinced of the truth of all this, your children will sense the weight of your conviction and will abide by your opinions."

She concludes by reminding parents that it is alright for children to be like others on morally neutral matters, but on matters of morals, modesty, and manners, they cannot strive for any less than the highest standards.

I found these insights, written in the 60's, to be very helpful and just as relevant today as they were 45 years ago, if not more so. I hope you find them as helpful as I did! In Sanguine Christi,

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