Two weeks ago, I wrote about some of the abusive teachers that I had at the Catholic grade school that I attended during the 1960s. Last week, I wrote about how the behavior of those teachers wasn’t much different than the behavior of other teachers in the 1960s. I wrote that at that time, there were some parents and teachers who believed that abusing and humiliating boys was a necessary part of transforming them into real men.
I also wrote that in today’s society, too many of our teachers and parents are encouraging their boys to get more in touch with their feelings and to be more sensitive to the feelings of others, instead of channeling their ambition and aggression toward developing and practicing greater initiative, self-reliance, competitiveness, and hard work.
These same parents and teachers also allow their boys to get away with blaming others for their problems and deficiencies, which turns them into victims who never learn how to take responsibility for their own actions and bad behavior.
Over the years, I’ve come to believe that what my early teachers did to me helped me later in life in making decisions that were of significant benefit to me and my family.
Early in my legal career, a devout Catholic mentor repeatedly told me that anytime something bad happened to me, I should adopt an attitude that what occurred was the best thing that could have happened to me. At first I argued with him about embracing this particular belief, but he adamantly defended his position. Every time I gave him reasons why he was wrong, he came up with positive things that could arise in the future as a result of my bad experience.
I eventually came around to my mentor’s point of view and I applied his theory to my experience with my grade school teachers. As a result, I began looking for reasons why what I experienced was “the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Georgette and I had our first child, Harry, in 1981. When Harry was three years old, I read about a new movement in the United States where parents were keeping their children out of the school system and educating them at home. At that time, there was a homeschool program that had been developed by Mary Kay Clark, a Catholic educator who had established Our Lady of Victory School.
Part of the first grade curriculum included a phonics reading program. Because I had problems learning how to read when I was in first grade, I asked Georgette if she would be willing to teach Harry how to read. At that time, he was four years old. She was excited about the idea because she had also had problems in grade school.
When Georgette started grade school, she didn’t speak fluent English. Her parents had immigrated to the United States when she was a baby and up until the time she started first grade, she was primarily around family members who spoke Lebanese. When she was in first grade, Georgette and one of her cousins were singled out and mistreated by their teacher. To both of them, the classroom was a scary, unpredictable, and unwelcome environment.
Our initial plan was that Georgette would teach our son how to read so he would have a head start when he entered first grade. I purchased the phonics reading program and Georgette taught Harry how to read when he was four years old.
In an attempt to give Harry a big head start, we purchased the first grade homeschooling program from Our Lady of Victory School. Georgette completed the first grade curriculum with Harry when he was five years old. After that, we thought that if she put him through the second grade program, he could skip a couple of grades when we enrolled him in school. He did so well in second grade that we decided to continue to teach him at home. We ended up educating all of our children at home, until they entered college.
This all began in the mid-1980s when most people had never heard of homeschooling. Over the years, we received a lot of criticism from family members, friends, and acquaintances. There were also numerous occasions when we met people for the first time at various social functions and after they found out that we were educating our children at home, they would give us their unsolicited opinions as to why we were severely harming our children.
We were repeatedly told that our children would be social misfits and would not be able to function in the real world. Little did they know that in addition to Georgette teaching our children what they would ordinarily be taught in school, we were teaching them the foundational beliefs of the Catholic church, as well as virtues that they would need to survive and thrive in the real world — virtues such as faith, hope, charity, humility, purity, patience, mortification, self-reliance, resilience, patriotism, a strong study ethic, and a strong work ethic.
Georgette also placed a strong emphasis on the importance of practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. She taught our children all of the popular songs from the 1940s and 1950s. She then arranged for them to perform for elderly residents at nursing homes throughout Central Illinois. After each performance, our children were encouraged to walk around and visit with each of the residents who came to see their show.
Our children’s experience from performing at nursing homes led them to become interested in Community Theater. They eventually were able to get lead roles in several plays at Cornstock, Peoria Players, and Eastlight theaters.
If I had not been abused by some of my teachers in grade school, I would have never pushed for and gone through the sacrifice of keeping my children at home rather than enrolling them in the local school system. What I went through in grade school turned out to be the best thing that could have happened in me because it gave me the desire, courage, and determination to protect my children from the type of abuse that I experienced.
I’m not in any way criticizing anyone who is associated with a school or whose children are in school. Every parent has to make their own choice as to what they think is best for their children. In my opinion, the parish that I am a member of — St. Philomena — has one of the top Catholic grade schools in the state of Illinois. If I had young children today and wasn’t going to keep them at home, they would be receiving their education at St. Philomena.
We all have situations that occurred in our past that we could use to justify the fact that we were cheated or victimized. The point I want to get across to you today is that any abuse, betrayal, or humiliation that you suffered from in the past should be used as a catalyst for personal and spiritual growth, rather than as an anchor that pulls you into an abyss of anger, hatred, and revenge.
Everything that happened to you in the past that was outside of your own control was allowed by God for a good reason. It’s up to you to discover why He allowed it to happen. The discovery can be accomplished through prayer, reflection, and by adopting the attitude that whatever it was that occurred to you was “the best thing that could have happened to you.”