Educational Philosophy, Home Education

Encountering Opposing Ideas: A Catholic Reads Westward Ho!

February 22, 2016 by Kathy Wickward
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] am not a fan of the book, Beautiful Girlhood by M. Hale. The author comes across like a chiding great aunt, who has long forgotten what it’s like to be a girl herself, priggishly declaring that girls don’t have the perspective to know what is good for them. She may be right, but she is a dreadful companion. The book’s saving grace is a chapter called “Making Friends of Books” containing this sage observation: “What is true of personal friendships is also true of book friendships.”

While we who educate our children at home can’t choose our children’s friends, we try as much as possible to associate with families who share our basic values. In the same way, we surround our children with books that reflect who we are, and who we want our children to become. We want those books to teach them what we ourselves know, what we ourselves believe, and perhaps those things we once knew but have since forgotten.

As our children mature, they will inevitably encounter people who don’t believe as we do, and yet they may find enough in their shared humanity to form a basis for a friendship. Think for a moment of our own relationships. As adults, we have a wide variety of associations, and like the late Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it is not impossible to develop close friendships with those who hold fundamentally different positions from us. The same is true of books.

Why one mom decided to expose her homeschooled daughter to opposing views ... and why you might want to do likewise.

We are a Catholic family. My daughter was 14 when we started Year 8 of AmblesideOnline. As Year 8 covers the Reformation, it wasn’t surprising that the literature selections would include Kingsley’s Westward Ho!, a novel that contains ideas like this:

And now began that great sea-fight which was to determine whether Popery and despotism, or Protestantism and freedom, were the law which God had appointed for the half of Europe, and the whole of future America. (Kingsley, Charles. Westward Ho!, or, the voyages and adventures of Sir Amyas Leigh, Knight, of Burrough, in the county of Devon, in the reign of her most glorious majesty Queen Elizabeth, Kindle Locations 9320-9322).

and this:

But in justice be it said, all this came upon Eustace, not because he was a Romanist, but because he was educated by the Jesuits. Had he been saved from them, he might have lived and died as simple and honest a gentleman as his brothers… (Locations 945-947).

Ouch! Why would I give that to my daughter to read?

In 1936 F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” While confident of my daughter’s intelligence, and open to any change of denomination this book might inspire, I was a little concerned she might feel personally attacked by Kingsley’s apparent bigotry. Now the end of the book justifies the entire work, but as I decided to give it to her before I read the end, my reasoning didn’t account for it. So no spoilers here.

The context of Westward Ho! is the post-Council of Trent Church, the birth of the Jesuit order, the Spanish Inquisition, the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, which played a central role in the Spanish conquest of the New World and eventually touched off a vicious competition between Spain and England over the new territory, and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs published in 1563, which detailed Queen Mary’s bloody repression of English Protestants.

My daughter’s context is the post-Vatican II Church, which lives and breathes ecumenism (to a point), mercy, care for the poor, respect for diverse cultures, and an abhorrence of war as anti-ethical to the culture of life. For 13 years, my daughter’s primary experience of the Church was within our positive, nurturing parish community.

Difficult ideas are most easily introduced at a distance. My daughter knew about the Reformation through the historical and biographical storytelling of Our Island Story and Trial and Triumph. Westward Ho! was an opportunity to experience raw history, to feel what Catholics in England felt, to understand the complex motives of the new Protestant majority. I wanted my daughter to examine all of the motives critically, in terms of history and in terms of what has always been true of human character.

The author of a living book will create a complex character, not a one-dimensional hero. My daughter found she did not personally identify with the main character, Amyas.

Now this young gentleman, Amyas Leigh … being (on account of the valor, courtesy, and truly noble qualities which he showed forth in his most eventful life) chosen by me as the hero and centre of this story, was not, saving for his good looks, by any means what would be called now-a-days an “interesting” youth, still less a “highly educated” one; for, with the exception of a little Latin, … he knew no books whatsoever, save his Bible, his Prayer-book, the old “Mort d’Arthur” of Caxton’s edition, which lay in the great bay window in the hall, and the translation of “Las Casas’ History of the West Indies,” which lay beside it, lately done into English under the title of “The Cruelties of the Spaniards.” He devoutly believed in fairies, whom he called pixies; and held that they changed babies, and made the mushroom rings on the downs to dance in. (Kindle Locations 151- 158).

Hence she realized that she wasn’t obliged to take the point of view of the protagonist, even though she was to spend 12 weeks with him. She was, however, obliged to hold on to her belief in a good Church while at the same time understanding how evil within the Church motivated the actions of the nations in the late 16th century. It is not unlike how evil wears religious clothing today. This is what I wanted, and she did not find it difficult.

There is a difference between a book containing ideas that contradict your own and a book that argues in their favor. It’s the difference between your Catholic girlfriend who explains the doctrine of the Real Presence, and the one who tells you that your take on the Eucharist is all wrong. The second friend is attacking your faith, while the first is making herself vulnerable to you. My daughter recently read a book that made a cogent argument against free will. Having never before encountered the idea from a safe distance, she was not prepared for it to confront her directly. Horrified, she threw the book away.

We read books and make friends with people despite differences of opinion because good people, like good books, are multifaceted. It’s also important, I think, to understand that wrong ideas can still be powerful. Where my daughter has been well grounded and supported in her own beliefs, and has been introduced to difficult ideas first at arm’s length, she has been able to wrestle with deep challenges more closely as she approaches adulthood.

 

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18 Comments

  • Reply SS #12: Close Encounters of the Other Kind | Scholé Sisters October 7, 2016 at 2:01 am

    […] Kathy’s Guest Post on Afterthoughts — Encountering Opposing Ideas: A Catholic Reads Westward Ho! […]

  • Reply Becky Beck March 12, 2016 at 7:25 am

    Mater Amabelis is a catholic Charlotte Mason program that is very similar to ambleside. It utilizes many of the same books and provides references to the difficult sections. It also gives many historical book references that are beautifully catholic and living books! I would highly suggest that if you are concerned about teaching history to read Seven Lies About Catholic History by Diane Moscar. She gives many references to delve deeper into history. Wasn’t it Neumann that said something like, to be deep in history is to become deeply Catholic

  • Reply Sara McD February 23, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    We’re not even Catholic, but so far I always skip the anti-Catholic sections of Pilgrim’s Progress during our yearly read-aloud. We’ll have to tackle it at some point, but I’m just not ready.

  • Reply Melissa February 22, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    I appreciate your open mindedness Kathy. I believe it shows character and a certain quality of strength in your faith. I was raised Catholic, though no longer practicing. However, some of my dearest friends are firm in their Catholic beliefs. We totally respect each other and I believe have that vulnerability you mentioned.

    Thanks for the post,
    Melissa

    • Reply Lynn February 24, 2016 at 7:37 am

      Melissa,
      That is wonderful. I was also raised Catholic and although I go to a Protestant church, I know enough about the Catholic Faith to respect it. I just removed myself from a FB group that considers themselves Christian Homeschoolers but attacks Catholics at every turn. Its very ugly Christianity and it saddens me greatly . I appreciate your attitude…

  • Reply Amber February 22, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    Hmm… I’m sticking with my Y8 line-up – Dante’s Divine Comedy, 1491, Churchill and Characters of the Reformation (along with others, of course – but these are my backbone books for the year).

    But I agree with you in general, that it is better to encounter difficult ideas and troubling incidents at arm’s reach before being confronted with them up close and personal. And believe me, we’ve done lots of arms reach encountering in the books above!

  • Reply Brandy Vencel February 22, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    Kathy — I read the most interesting thing today and immediately thought of your post! I started CAP’s Giants of History book on Milton, and the first chapter is a biography. I can’t remember the year off hand, but before the deposing of King Charles I, Milton — obviously staunchly Puritan — took a three-year trip to the continent. I don’t remember if he spent that entire time in Italy or not, but what I found interesting was that he spent time WITH THE JESUITS! And in THAT era! The author says “not normal” for Puritans. I should say not! But it reminded me all the more that it was Milton who said that magnanimity is the goal of Christian education… ♥

  • Reply Kimberly February 22, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    I appreciated this topic immensely! I am Protestant, yet I want to reach my arms across the Tiber to join the hands of my siblings with all respect and good will, knowing there is much to be gained and much to be grieved on BOTH sides of the chasm.

    We have so much to share and so much to gain by supporting one another against our common Ancient Foe. May we ALL learn today from the painful errors of yesterday’s vessels of clay. The world will know we are Christians by the love we have for one another even, and especially, in the face of our opposing viewpoints. Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God… ❤️

  • Reply Jane February 22, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    Thank you. As a Catholic, I love AO, but I totally ignore their history recommendations. We do rchistory.com. Not all CM but solidly Catholic.

  • Reply Dawn February 22, 2016 at 11:33 am

    I really enjoyed this, Kathy. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply Angelique February 22, 2016 at 8:56 am

    I hope this reply doesn’t sound too angry, but my respect for AO has been decimated by its choice of anti-Catholic propaganda of only middling literary value.
    You call it an opposing viewpoint, but you do not talk about how you present the Catholic viewpoint. I really hope that it doesn’t amount to, “Oh well, now that we have V2, Catholics are nice, look at our parish!” I hope that both Catholics AND Protestants that use AO will truly try to tell the Catholic side. I highly recommend “A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland” by William Cobbet, a Protestant Englishman from the 19th century who fought for the rights of Catholics. Hilaire Belloc’s “How the Reformation Happened” is also good, and easier reading, if less thorough.

    • Reply Kathy Wickward February 23, 2016 at 6:52 pm

      I think the books you recommend, and the idea of Kansas Mom to introduce the Reformation first from the Catholic side, are a fabulous way to put even more distance between your child and the opposing view. I was introduced to the idea of evolution by reading a creationist book as a young teen, before I met the idea in a public school science class. If there is reason to worry that the topic will be a faith killer, I think that’s what you have to do. However, I would not write off the 13 years my daughter spent in our parish so lightly. Context matters. And I would not discount the work of Churchill and the biography of Thomas More, which my daughter also read in Year 8. If you want proof that it worked, my daughter was confirmed 3 years later! I don’t quite think that the AO readings quite stoop to the level of propaganda (although I did sub out Tozer), but you may find that joining the yahoo group “CatholicAO” will help you find subs for the more problematic books, or you could look into Mater Amabilis, which is a Catholic CM curriculum.

      • Reply Angelique February 24, 2016 at 9:29 am

        Well, it bashes England’s traditional enemy with a lot of wildly inaccurate accusations in order to advance British imperialism, so if that doesn’t count as propaganda, I don’t know what does. I am not really trying to protect my children from an opposing viewpoint because I’m worried that it will kill their faith. I think I owe it to my ancestors not to slander them unnecessarily. I have no problem whatsoever with presenting an opposing viewpoint grounded in what actually happened.

        • Reply Amber February 24, 2016 at 11:13 am

          I had some serious doubts about the historicity of several of the AO books – Westerward Ho! among them – which has made me not interested in using them as scheduled in AO. Some I move to free reads (like Ivanhoe), and some I ignore.

          When I look at the books, I ask myself, “Is this the best book I can offer to my child for this year in this category?” And some of the AO books just don’t make the cut, again Westward Ho! being one of them.

          • Amber February 24, 2016 at 8:05 pm

            You know, just so I don’t sound like a complete wing nut, I thought I would clarify what I was saying about Ivanhoe… it isn’t the Robin Hood/King Richard aspects that I’m objecting to when I’m talking about historicity, but rather the complete lack of virtuous (or even neutral!) church/religious figures and a world that is supposed to be 12th Century but just isn’t that accurate of a depiction of that time period. I think it is worth reading as a free read, but not for the better part of a school year. Anyway… now my conscience can rest easy. 🙂

          • Brandy Vencel February 26, 2016 at 4:17 pm

            I don’t think you sound like a nut, Amber. 🙂

  • Reply rebekah February 22, 2016 at 8:52 am

    This is great. I’m still deciding what to do about Trial and Triumph–we will be starting Y1 in the fall. We are Orthodox, and a lot of Ambleside Orthodox replace it with a book on saints or a much earlier church history, but I’ve always thought I will keep it, and we will discuss, and I will also add an extra Orthodox book. I was reformed my whole life until I was 27 years old–staunchly reformed, someone who loved and studied the reformed faith, and I want my children to know that history, even though we disagree theologically. And when they encounter the protestant ideas on their own someday, I want them to already know the ideas and know why we are not protestant.

  • Reply Kansas Mom February 22, 2016 at 6:25 am

    Thank you for sharing this post. We are also Catholic and one of the things I try to do with my children is provide Catholic books that openly discuss some of the evil done in the name of the Catholic faith. It is much better, I believe, to encounter these ideas within the faith from others who acknowledge the problems and offer support and solutions to them as much as is possible rather than to be shocked and horrified learning of such things from Protestants or other sources in high school or (worse) college (when they no longer have our direct and immediate support).

    My main problem is finding books (Protestant, Catholic, or secular) that don’t present the opposing side as inherently evil, and delighting in it. Most people in history act out of a desire to do a good, even if they are mistaken in what is good or what is moral in attaining that good. So that’s where our discussions usually end up.

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