by Rev. Fr. George A. Kelly, The Catholic Family Handbook
THE most important assignment husbands and wives have from God is to see that their children are properly educated. This is a prime and basic purpose of marriage itself. And while the process of education goes on for a lifetime, it does require today a certain amount of schooling, particularly during the formative years.
When parents, therefore, choose a school for their children, they delegate to the teachers a large part of their responsibilities and a significant portion of their child’s education. It is important that they realize the implications of that choice.
If you choose, you send your child to a public school, to a private school, to a parochial school. You hire a private tutor, even keep him home and tutor him yourself, since the State merely establishes minimum standards of achievement.
As a practical matter your choice usually lies between the parochial school and the public nonsectarian school. Before making such a choice you should first determine what purpose you intend his schooling to serve.
In a general way, persons holding all shades of religious belief agree that the school should help prepare a child for life as a responsible adult. But since all men do not agree on the purpose and meaning of life, they obviously cannot agree on the type of school which can best prepare the child for it.
As a Catholic, of course, you take the position outlined in one of the first questions in the catechism–that your child was born to know, love, and serve God in this world in order to be happy with Him in the next. You either believe this or you don’t. If you do, his schooling must help him achieve this goal.
This existence and eternal presence of God is the most important fact of our lives. On this truth all other knowledge is built. The work of the school, like the work of parental education itself, is to make the child see this truth and all other truths which flow from it–truths about the world, himself and other people.
All of his experiences–intellectual, social, moral–must be so guided that nothing is wanting to his training as an intellectual, a man and a Christian. The child must be taught religion, not merely for information but to strengthen his ties with the Heavenly Father, Redeemer and Sanctifier.
He must be taught social studies to give him that understanding which will tie him more closely to other human beings. He must be taught science to help him appreciate and use with care the creatures of the material world.
While bringing ideas and facts to the child, the teacher must relate these to basic Christian principles and our American heritage. The child should be educated to hold sound convictions about the dependence of all men upon God, the rights and duties that belong to every man because of his human dignity and his social nature, the sacredness of the family, the great worth of human work, the obligation of men and nations to share material and spiritual goods with others.
By its very nature, then, knowledge of God and His divine plan cannot be a thing apart. Rather it must be the guiding light which illuminates every other subject that we learn.
Justice Robert H. Jackson of the United States Supreme Court in 1948 said this about religion and education: “It would not seem practical to teach either practice or appreciation of the arts if we are to forbid exposure of youth to any religious influences.
Music without sacred music, architecture minus the cathedral, or painting without the scriptural themes would be eccentric and incomplete…. Certainly a course in English literature that omitted the Bible and other powerful uses of our mother tongue for religious ends would be pretty barren….
The fact is that, for good or ill, nearly everything which gives meaning to life, is saturated with religious influences…. One can hardly respect a system of education which would leave the student wholly ignorant of the currents of religious thought that move the world today…for a part in which he is being prepared.”
When your child attends elementary school, his teacher probably influences him for more hours each day than you do. What he learns from her will have a powerful effect upon his character.
Simple prudence dictates, therefore, that the influence to which he is exposed at school should intensify and reinforce your own teachings.
This is possible only in a school which recognizes God, because your child will learn to be truthful, honest and just in his dealings with his fellow man and to respect authority only as he understands God. The only true motive for these and all other virtues is the knowledge that we are dependent on God for everything and that He requires obedience to His law as a test of our love for Him.
Supporters of nonsectarian education often object when Catholics characterize public schools as “Godless.” But the cold fact is that they are Godless in the literal sense of that word.
Inasmuch as our society consists of citizens with every conceivable gradation of belief and those who profess no faith at all, it has been deemed necessary to eliminate such a controversial subject as God from the public school curriculum.
One need not look far for graphic illustrations of this fact. In some areas, even attempts to start the school day with a prayer to the “Supreme Author of Life” have met with rebuffs from those who advocate “separation of Church and State.”
Some schools prohibit the observance of Christmas as a religious feast. The children may sing harmless jingles, but they may not learn that this great feast celebrates the birthday of Jesus Christ.
Ironically, attempts to teach even the simplest facts about religion are hemmed in by so many restrictions in most public school systems that such education becomes tailored to the wishes of the tiny minority of citizens who oppose every religion and even God Himself.
As Monsignor Carl J. Ryan, superintendent of schools of the Cincinnati archdiocese, has pointed out, these persons are truly a privileged class.
“When the out-and-out secularist pays his tax money, he gets exactly the kind of school his ideology calls for–one from which God and mention of God is entirely excluded.”
No less an authority than Thomas Jefferson, speaking on the teaching of religious truth, said, “The relations which exist between man and his Maker, and the duties resulting from those relations, are the most interesting and important to every human being and the most incumbent on his study and investigation.”
How can your child recognize the pre-eminence of God and the necessity of religious faith for his salvation if these facts are completely ignored by one of the most important influences in his life?
Even a young child will tend to question the religious beliefs and moral lessons taught to him at home when they are considered of such little importance that they go unmentioned at school.
No Christian parent could maintain that a knowledge of geography–or music or dancing–is more important to a child’s development than his religious training; yet public schools, by their very ignoring of God, can subtly create this impression.