“And the final outcome of education, I suppose we’d say, is a single newly finished person, who is either good or the opposite.”
Plato, The Republic
Two and half years ago I wrote a piece “When a Child Leaves Home,” when my son left for boarding school. In it I shared a few of my wife’s and my thoughts in answer to the question—which we were already asking ourselves, and were also asked by others —How could we send our son away to boarding school? It never, by the way, became any easier, for him or for us, to say goodbye.
We have just returned from a weekend spent at his graduation in Pennsylvania, and I thought I would share, through a newly retrospective glance, two things I have learned from this whole experience. What my son has learned I am not now, and perhaps never will be, in a position to relate.
The first thing is something I should have learned long ago, namely, how I need to be more careful and nuanced in my judgments. How many times had I thought that I would never willingly send a child away to school, rendering therein at least an implicit condemnation of those who had?
Let me try to be clear: how we educate our children is a matter of the very first importance, a matter worthy of unceasing and careful reflection. And there are certain basic principles about education, knowable through the natural light of reason, by experience, or through the teachings of venerable custom, or all of these, which can and should form the basis for our deliberation. But this said, there is still wide room in how those principles should be best applied in the concrete circumstances of life.
Assertions, for instance, that home-schooling is always better or sending a child to an institution is always better are both patently wrong. Not that ‘all is relative’ in choosing the means of education. But in reality much is relative: relative to, for instance, the concrete dispositions of parents, siblings, and the individual child, as well certainly the character of the institutions that are available.
Regarding schooling outside the home there is a significant difference between day schools and boarding schools. This brings me to my next point.
The second thing I have learned is something about the limitations of what can be achieved in even an intentional household. This was quite an eye opener for someone who is convinced that as a rule we need to re-focus our attention and intention within our households, reclaiming for our homes much that has been stripped from us. This remains a principle for me.
Both my heart and my head are rather full on this point, and this short reflection is not the venue for a fuller consideration of it. Here I will simply share something that happened this past Friday at the last communal lunch of my son’s high school life. This is rather intimate, and I share it very briefly, with my son’s permission. It will be obvious how this pertains to my point, as I have experienced it.
By tradition at this lunch the rugby coach passes out jerseys with the number of the position that players have achieved on the school team. For this school, one should understand, rugby stands as one key way of uniting the boys by bonds of comradery and common trial and effort. Suffice to say, their team is consistently excellent, especially due to a very intentional approach by coaches ans students alike.
Each senior team member upon receiving his jersey at this lunch is given the opportunity to address the assembled body of the school. My son, as was later reported to me, did share a brief thought. The heart of his point was this: not until joining this community and competing in rugby had he ever been really motivated to work hard for something. This experience, so he shared with his fellow-students, has transformed his personal work-ethic across all areas of his life.
I need not relate the series of thoughts and interesting questions this initiates in my own mind. My point here is simply to share how I now have occasion to learn, with a deep sense of gratitude, of how what a child especially needs might come from unexpected—or in any case unexpected by me—quarters.
I think that I needed reminding that parenting is not about feeling as though I have gotten something done. Parenting is about something actually getting done: the good formation of our children.
You will please allow that I not make a number of caveats, such as that it was perhaps not necessary that my son go away to boarding school to learn this, etc. I plan on another occasion to write up some specifics, from my vantage point, of advantages and disadvantages of a good boarding school. (We need not even advert to the disadvantages of a boarding school that is not beyond reproach in its basic program and principles.)
Again, it is my desire here only to share two simple, but perhaps not so simple, things that I have had occasion to learn through my son’s going to boarding school for the last two and half years of high school.
Graduations are a good time to look back, and I am very grateful to all who have had a part in my son’s education through the years–a number of people, and in a most special way my wife. I congratulate my son, his classmates, and all who are finishing their high school education at this time of year, and I honor all those who lovingly labor to give such education.
The school my son attended is Gregory the Great Academy. It was a particular pleasure to be able to express my gratitude this weekend to the small group of men who have given so much to make this a truly remarkable place for boys on the threshold of manhood. There is a similar—though with its own charism—boys’ boarding high school called St. Martin’s Academy opening this year in Kansas. From what I know of Gregory the Great by much experience, and of St. Martin’s by knowledge of the founders, I recommend both of these as very worthy of careful consideration by parents of high-school aged boys.
Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.
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