“No school today for this lot?” The woman behind the counter peers curiously at my children. “Nope,” I sigh, “not today, not any day...” and taking my change I head out the door with my little brood behind me. I'm usually far more patient – honestly I am – but we are still 30 minutes from Seamus Heaney's grave in County Derry and have been driving for almost three hours in the rain. Today isn't the day to explain to every stranger perplexed by the sight of free range children during school hours how wonderful home education is: we're too busy living it.
|Heaney's grave, Bellaghy, Co. Derry|
At Heaney's grave, shared with his parents and brother Christopher, we read “Mid Term Break” (about his baby brother's death and funeral) and pray a Rosary in Latin for the repose of all their souls, ending with a sung Salve Regina. Heaney loved Latin: famously, his last words to his wife, by text message, were "Noli timere". Other visitors to the grave, local men who were Heaney's contemporaries, join in with our Rosary and thank us afterwards for praying., apparently very few people do. After signing the book of condolence in the church, St Mary's Bellaghy, we drive due North toward the coast, pausing briefly at Bushmills to consider the science of distillation, before arriving at the Giant's Causeway – a World Heritage Site and natural wonder of volcanic basalt eroded into astonishing hexagonal columns like a giant three dimensional honeycomb. In addition to the fascinating hands-on geology, we learn about the kelp industry, about Irish mythology and that you get more soaked standing on the Antrim coast in a blowing gale than you do by plunging into a swimming pool. Fish and chips a little further around the coast, then a long drive back in the dark, home to our holiday cottage. A good day.
Not every home education day is an adventure. For each day like yesterday, there's one where my children drive each other (and me) crazy. Where the house is a mess, where someone has fed playdough to the cat; where the dog has chewed the eyepiece of one of the microscopes, and we can't find the answer key for the Latin workbook.
That's when the September not-back-to-school doubts start to creep in. Will my children suffer or benefit from the choices that we, their parents make? Will they end up illiterate / happy / unemployable / holy / overspecialised / expert / only fit for employment in a circus? Are we doing the right thing? Can any parent ever answer that question with 100% certitude?
Nothing is perfect – no school, no home, no family. In choosing to home educate we do two things: the first is take full responsibility for our children's education, for better or for worse; and the second is to place our hopes and fears into Our Lady's hands. But really, no matter where or with whom their children spend their weekday hours, these are two things that every Catholic parent, as first and primary educator,should do. We are in the business of educating souls: Sede sapientiae, ora pro nobis!