When my husband and I decided to homeschool our children, one major concern we had was about their socialization. I do not mean that we were worried about our kids making friends or learning character traits like kindness. Our concern was more about how they would learn to care about people different from them, people of different races and creeds, certainly, but also people with different worldviews and values.
As homeschoolers, we have an extraordinary amount of control over whom our children enter into relationship with, and it would be easy to raise them with the assumption that our family’s worldview is the only way of seeing the world. This problem of socialization, however, is not just a homeschooling problem.
While we live in a time characterized by social connectivity, we also live in a time of increasing social alienation. Author Bill Bishop’s language of the “big sort” has entered common parlance, whereby we recognize that people have become increasingly clustered in like-minded communities. We are having less and less contact with people who think differently from us.
This has important and perhaps detrimental implications for Catholicism, which insists that the human person is relational, made to be in community with others, and not just the “others” of our choosing. The more Catholics cluster into minisocieties of people who tend to think alike and who have similar needs, the more we fail to appreciate the implications of our social nature, namely that every person has an inviolable dignity and that we are “all responsible for all.”
As communities become less diverse, it is easy to mistake the common good for the individual good. In other words, it is easy to assume that what I want is what the whole community needs. I was reminded of this when I heard a Catholic friend repeat the tired argument during the health care debates, “Why should I, a middle-aged man, have to help pay for someone else’s prenatal care?” Without an adequate grasp of the social nature of the person, the rest of the church’s social teaching crumbles.
The practices of our faith play a key role in this socialization process.
One example is tithing. In my parish, a major percentage of the budget goes to the school, a school I do not use. The practice of tithing, though, is a reminder that I have a responsibility as a member of the parish to promote its good even when it is not directly related to my own individual good.
For my own children, the more we have embraced homeschooling, the more we have intentionally sought out relationships in our parish community and beyond that challenge us to consider different ways of thinking and people different from us. We meet weekly with a group of mothers, many of whom homeschool and who hold quite conservative political and religious views, while our involvement in the social justice committee and particularly its Meals on Wheels program puts us in relationship with those who embrace more progressive values and, less directly, those in a very different socioeconomic situation from us.
My hope is that by being intentional about entering into nonhomogenous communities my children will learn to love and respect all kinds of people and in time will come to accept their responsibility to promote a truly common good.
This article also appears in the August 2017 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 82, No. 8, page 10).
Image: via Wikimedia Commons