This is the fourth in an ongoing series of columns on the importance of giving all Catholic kids a Catholic education. (Part one, Part two, Part three.) In this column, I'd like to offer some ideas on educating children in all things Catholic while they are enrolled in non-Catholic elementary and middle school systems.
Keeping in mind the primary responsibility we have as Catholic parents to see to it that our children are taught heart, hand, and head knowledge of the Catholic faith, it is important to understand that in this regard, all non-Catholic school systems are essentially similar. No public, private, preparatory, charter, or any other non-Catholic system will partner with us in educating our child in the ways of the Catholic faith. Some of these systems or teachers within the systems will be supportive of our faith. Some teachers may even share our faith, but they will not be permitted to share it in the classroom. Some schools and teachers will be tolerant, some will be openly hostile, and some may actually see it as their duty to "broaden" our kids' horizons with relativism and moral ambiguity. Most, however, will be ambivalent, and, for that reason, whether intentionally or not, will submarine the life of our children's souls by elevating the life of the mind and the body.
When we had children in the public elementary school, time and energy were the chief family assets we had to invest in the children's education order to keep it Catholic. We accomplished this by focusing on three distinct areas of their schooling.
First, teachers and curricula. We paid special attention to our children's teachers' attitudes toward the Catholic faith. Teachers are powerful influences. When our kids were in public elementary school, we found it helpful simply to tell the kids' teachers that we were Catholic and to thank them for being respectful of any way this fact might come up in the classroom. This tactic helped our kids on many occasions. To do this takes a certain type of boldness — but remember, you are the parent. Ask God for courage and know that most people respect religious convictions even if they do not share yours or have any of their own.
Second, parish programs. We made sure to enroll the kids in CCD classes at our parish, and my husband taught each of their First Communion classes. Rather than join scouting groups or 4H, we joined a non-denominational, Christian kids' club where the kids earned patches for memorizing verses of Sacred Scripture. There is brand new organization specifically for Catholic kids ages 5-18 called Totus Tuus Catholic Youth Organization. Founded in 2003, this organization offers Catholic, virtue-based clubs that focus on "virtues, lives of the saints, catechesis, scripture, apologetics, and theology of the body (teens and adults)."
Lastly, home life. When the kids were in public school, we began a tradition of dinnertime devotions to help us follow the Church liturgical year at home, many of which remain. For example, during Advent we begin all our dinners by singing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" in complete darkness, then lighting our Advent Wreath, and eating by candlelight. A good friend takes her son to 7 a.m. Mass on First Fridays before driving him to his private school. Taking visits to regional shrines, getting Catholic newspapers and magazines instead of secular ones, and inviting priests and religious persons over for dinner are some more ways to learn about the Catholic faith as a family.
Please believe me when I say we have never had the time or energy to add to a lineup of already existing family activities even half of what I've just mentioned. The key for us has been not to add the Catholic-focused activities, but to replace non-Catholic activities with Catholic-focused ones. I know that this is a high expectation and may be greeted with grumbling from the kids if we've never done it before, but if we have decided that a non-Catholic school is best for our family, then we are going to have to squeeze time and energy from somewhere other than the school day to see that our children are still able to receive a Catholic education. This will take "remembering what we really want for our child's education" — which is how I defined having "discipline" in the first column of this series — but I believe God will multiply every good choice we make.
In the next column, we will look at Catholic homeschooling.