Homeschooling: the Encouragement and Challenge of St. Emmelia (by Fr. Noah Bushelli)


“Of all holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” - St. Theophan the Recluse

“Father, please talk to my son, I don't know what to do....” I have heard this before but this was different this conversation renewed my perception of education.... The Teenager was feeling sheltered and struggling to be kind to his parents in the midst of the transition to college and adulthood. We had a deep, frank, and fruitful discussion. I wanted to end the conversation lightly, so I said, “If you feel sheltered with the way your parents raised you, I wonder how my home-schooled children will feel when they are your age.” Without even thinking about it, she replied, “They are not sheltered, they get to see the real world, because they have time to go on trips, field trips, spending time with each other. They are not stuck in the classroom with kids their own age, reading text-books all day long.” This, of course, left me rather encouraged and rather challenged. 

On the one hand, our home education provides the flexibility to broaden and deepen our children's ecclesiastical, intellectual, and cultural understanding. Indeed, home schooling can give the child a seemless and holistic educational context of the family, the Church, nature, and society in a developmentally appropriate, academically rigorous, spiritually tranquil, and individually-suited manner.

On the other hand, if we are lazy, fearful, selfish, prideful, or unwise parents, our home schools can pass on our insecurities and passions. We could end up stifling and isolating our children socially, academically, and spiritually.

How does a family stay on track and ensure that their home schools are the best place for everyone's salvation? Here are some principles:

1. Family Dynamics can be sanctified and utilized educationally. 
Look, for example, at the Patron (or Matron) Saints of this Conference, St. Emmelia... In this saintly family, five of ten children are canonized saints, we see that the stereo-typical bossy eldest daughter (Macrina the Younger), the ambitious eldest son (Basil the Great), the athlete (Navcatrius), the dreamy middle Child (Gregory of Nyssa), and the youngest child, the baby of the family (Peter of Sebaste) can all bring glory to God in their own way... St. Emmelia was able to orchestrate a beautiful symphany of education (Bible, Classics, Philanthropy...) with her children harmonizing their own particular parts such that her children had the foundation for excellence in their various enterprises.

2. It is possible to be in the world, but on of the world educationally.
Again, looking to St. Emmelia and the saints that she raised, we a very rigorous classical (contemporary for the time) education erected carefully on the foundation of the faith that the children picked up from their parents. If Orthodox Christianity is the very essence of our life, they we confidently and honestly introduce our children and let them encounter different religions and world-views. Indeed, St. Emmelia and her husband, Saint Basil, were brilliant strands in the tapestry in Holy Tradition shining citizens; we can, too by God's help, can weave ourselves into that same heavenly embroidery and display the divine threads of Orthodoxy in a world-engaging way. 

3. The Home is the Micro-Church. 
As such, a home is a way-station, a hostel on the journey to Heaven. Our children are really God's children that are our long-term house guests and we must prepare them to complete their journey to the home-land of their heart's desire. How can we give them a nostalgia for paradise that will tune into God's grace? By making our homes little paradises: joyfully, authentically, simply celebrating the feasts of the Church year and the milestones of life; provide a loving, God-honoring and God-glorifying home; Experience Orthodoxy in Action- Pilgrimages, Camps, Homeless Shelters, Feastday Services, Visitations, Service Projects. The worst thing that we can do for our children is to be Dour Pharisees and Joyless Hypocrites. 

4. Isolation leads to demise; busyness to disintegration. 
Unless we are constantly growing by our contact with other homeschoolers, parishioners, family members, the vibrant waters of our family will become murky, stagnant swamps.

Kh. Elizabeth and I are thankful to have to opportunity to undertake the holy task of educating our children; we hope to fulfill it joyously, rigorously, faithfully, and successfully, by the support of the Church, the prayers and example of St. Emmelia, and the grace of God. 

Reprinted from The Word magazine.