This is a question all Catholic parents wrestle with: How to ensure quality education for my children, which also keeps them faithful? Catholic families have chosen a variety of options: Parochial schools, homeschooling and public options as well. What does our Church teach on these important issues? And what factors should parents consider? This article seeks to ground your education questions in Church teaching.
Catholic teaching on parent’s duties in child education
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks clearly and expansively about parental duties regarding education:
- The right and duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable. (2221)
- Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. (2223)
- As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have a right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. (2229)
- As far as possible parents have a duty to choose schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. (2229)
According to the clear directives of the Church, parents bear the responsibility for educating their children. If they choose to delegate that responsibility to others, they are responsible to choose wisely: The education must support their growth as Christians. A tall order in our current culture, no doubt.
Applying principles to practice
Our Church clearly teaches that as parents we are always responsible for the education of our children. The education must keep them in line toward heaven. That’s of first priority. Yes, educating them in the natural law and derivative texts and academic disciplines complements this. As we grow in reason, we should also grow in faith; the two cannot be separated.
We have the right to also homeschool our children. And fortunately, in the US, that right is protected. This is not true in some countries, as court cases in Germany attest. See what countries allow and prohibit homeschooling here.
We also have a right to choose what school our children can attend, if we have the means to afford this. Private education in the US is very expensive, and Catholic schools have also grown increasingly expensive. Public education remains free and accessible, but with a hidden cost.
Public schools have secularized education to such a degree that often observant Catholics must practice their faith only outside of school or in quiet. Catholic history is often biased in schools as well. It’s not an easy place for children to hold onto their faith. But fear not: many parents have been successful at subverting the school’s influences on their children.
What is best for my child according to the Church?
Our Church clearly directs parents: Raising children in the faith and encouraging a vibrant faith life in your domestic church are primary responsibilities. Not only do parents need to bring the children to Church and prepare them for the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, First Penance, First Communion and Confirmation), but they must create a home conducive to faith-formation. Home life must encourage a spirit of “tenderness, forgiveness, respect and fidelity….to educate them for the virtues.” Also, “parents have a grave responsibility to give a good example” to their children (CCC, 2223). Ultimately it’s what you do all the time, as well as what you teach with words.
Where the child learns mathematics, reading, writing, the liberal arts and sciences – the host of academic elements to education – can be done at home or delegated to schools. If their child’s education is delegated to others, parents must, “as best they can,” choose a school that helps their child’s faith formation.
Parents have a grave responsibility
Our current culture tells parents they must create an educationally rich home environment to prepare their children for academic success. Parents are encouraged to send children to pre-school even before they reach school age. Once they reach school age, parents are encouraged to let go, and allow the professionals to educate their children.
Beware of that promise and of the degree to which you entrust your children to others’ instruction. Remain watchful and involved. Even in Catholic schools one may face teachers or fellow students who express dissent from Church teaching. For that matter, even CCD classes can come with dissenters.
The message to parents: Keep watch over your children, no matter how you’ve chosen to educate your children. Their education remains your responsibility, no matter whom you delegate parts of their education to. Play a discerning and oversight role. And keep watch over their hearts.
Keep their life’s goal in mind: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” (Baltimore Catechism, Q 1)
The net result is this: You can never hand over your children fully to another when it comes to education. Ultimately, you are the one who will stand before God to give account for how you’ve handled your duties as parents.
I have an icon, given to me by some friends from the Orthodox Church, which I keep ever-before me. The icon includes a scroll which quotes St. Theophan: “Of all holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” A great reminder that our work educating our children – no matter where our children get their academic education – is a holy work we are called to.
May God bless you and your children!