“You have more than the right; you have the obligation to see to it that your children get the kind of education you want.”
-Dr. John Senior
Our little Andrew came home from his first semester at Thomas Aquinas College for a Christmas visit. I guess he’s not little. He’s been looking down at me for a couple of years now. When I hug him, my face gets snuffled into that little pocket between the collarbone and the shoulder, and I have to stand on tiptoe to look into his eyes. So he’s not little, but he is in college. And after four months, he came back home for his first break.
We live in British Columbia, Canada, so California is a bit of a trek. And these days, any kind of a trek is wrapped in government mandates, border issues, and uninvolved neighbor’s commentary. All of these nearly led us into a state of complete doubt that our son would ever make it, intact, down south by his August start date.
We had decided, to the shock and horror of those who know us, that we would pack all eight Roy members, sleeping bags, a bike, a tent, and everything we would need to live away from home into our squealing van and “try our luck” at the COVID closed border. Most people thought we were crazy, but we were wrapped in prayer.
We arrived at our regular Sunday Mass time, loaded and ready to go. It was our parish’s feast, Our Lady of the Assumption, so we stayed for the picnic afterwards. It gave family and friends a chance to say goodbye to Andrew, and to express their doubts that we would make it across. We laughed as we waved goodbye, knowing that it was probably true that we’d be turned away, and have to return home in a few hours.
But getting into the U.S. was actually the simple part. They asked us why we considered the other five kids “essential” in getting Andrew where he needed to be. I had all kinds of prepared speeches, and logical answers, but my husband Scott honestly told the guard that the college was holding a family barbecue for siblings, and the kids just wanted to say goodbye to their brother. For some reason it worked. He smiled a bit, looked back into the van, as if to re-confirm that there were truly eight people stuffed inside, and told us to have a safe trip. I think that a family like ours, as most large families will understand, can be disarming. People get confused at the sight of us and forget that large families such as ours still exist.
So we got across, looked at each other in surprise, and headed south. After almost 30 hours of driving, a night at the Benedictine monastery in Oregon, an afternoon of fish and chips, ice cream, and beaching along the Oregon Coast, tenting at rest stops, and the indulgence of one night in a hotel with a pool and free breakfast, we arrived in Santa Paula, California.
With the help of generous financial aid, Andrew is studying liberal arts at Thomas Aquinas College. This happy decision came after years of the best possible formation at home with a homeschool education. This same education was a foundation for both the spiritual life and the study of the liberal arts. An important time of preparation, the homeschool system provides a common intellectual background and a common scale of values and priorities in anticipation for the best possible spiritual life and future study of the liberal arts. In other words, education is the transmission of culture and the long journey and sacrifices made by parents and siblings are well worth it!
Andrew, like all youth, has ambitious dreams for the future. With God’s help our Andrew would like to work in the movie industry, producing films. Or maybe work as a writer. God only knows where his path will actually end up. But some people ask the question why we would send him to another country for four years, where he won’t even be studying moviemaking? Why not get to the point right away? Why would we send him away at a time like this? What kind of parents would risk all of the “dangers” of our times when he could go to a local college, closer to home, and somehow be safer? These are fair questions, but I think the answer is more than fair. I think it’s beautiful.
Andrew wants to make movies that affect people, that make people think and that change people and society for the better. He wants to follow the Catholic intellectual and spiritual life that has been given to him, a sturdy foundation to help bring God to the world. But to change the world you have to know who you are, and of what the world is made.
The word liberal means (or should mean) “free.” Liberal Arts is the education of the “free man.” Its purpose is to help the student attain truth, logic, and critical thinking, to recognize error, to be truly free from the slavery of ignorance and animalistic living. They use the “great books” as their curriculum, contemplating what it is to be human, made in the image of God. The great books even include writings from some of history’s most controversial philosophers, training the student to detect error, contradiction, illogical conclusions, and the guaranteed consequences of modernism and humanism.
The free man guides his will against the tides of the times, even when it costs him. He will hear the news, the media, the celebrities and talk show hosts, and be able to critically dissect the noise and look for truth within it. When he finds none, he will neither be bullied into pretending it is there nor afraid that he won’t find the truth somewhere else. The carrot of comfort and inclusion will not entice him, and the stick of segregation and inconvenience will not sway his conscience. He will be a person fully alive and free from the slavery of our times: fear, “the most subtle and destructive of all human diseases.”
I guess that is all to say that Andrew has gone to continue learning how to think, to begin his journey towards true freedom. He will focus on who he is, rather than what he will be. It is anti-utilitarian, if that makes sense, to learn that you are something more than your career choice. And I think that is a beautiful answer to the question “Why?”
Our Christmas break together has flown by, and now he has returned. My heart will break a little each time he comes and goes, I’m sure. But, in times like ours, this education of the “free man” seems to be more and more worth the effort, and the pain. As the college says, his four years are only the beginning of authentic learning. But if these four years are spent making my son a man after God’s heart, and if he is seeking truth and is a man truly free, then he will be changing the world regardless.
Used with permission from the author.