Catholic parents often identify themselves – and each other – based on how their children are educated. The labels “homeschooling,” “Catholic schooling,” and “public schooling” are, however, somewhat limited ways of understanding parental responsibility with regard to education.
Without a doubt, whether one educates their children at home or in Catholic or public schools is an important and often ongoing decision for Catholic parents. Factors such as financial means, local availability of quality education, parental ability and others certainly affect these deeply personal decisions. But regardless of which option or combination thereof is chosen, a responsible parent never fully outsources the formation of their children’s hearts and minds to others. The Church is quite clear about parental responsibility in education. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule” (CCC 2223).
Francis Cardinal Arinze has often stressed education as one of the five pillars on which a Catholic family stands. Pope Benedict XVI recently made education a key point in his homily at the 2012 Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God:
“Only a solid education of their [children’s] consciences can protect them from these risks and make them capable of carrying on the fight, depending always and solely on the power of truth and good. This education begins in the family and is developed at school and in other formative experiences. It is essentially about helping infants, children and adolescents to develop a personality that combines a profound sense of justice with respect for their neighbour, with a capacity to address conflicts without arrogance, with the inner strength to bear witness to good, even when it involves sacrifice, with forgiveness and reconciliation. Thus they will be able to become people of peace and builders of peace.”
The Holy Father (and Blessed John Paul II before him), Cardinal Arinze and several other major figures of the Church have over the years called for the education of children to begin in the home, in the “domestic church.”
But with Church teaching on the subject so consistent and clear, how should Catholic parents approach the daunting task of forming their children’s hearts and minds? To answer this question we might need to adjust the way we think.
We are all homeschoolers. Some of us may seek more outside help to cover English literature, calculus, or social studies, but the crucial education of our children in truth and virtue begins at home, and begins with parents. This means it is our responsibility to form our children in the principles of a culture of life.
That is a very high sounding ideal, but what are the practical nuts and bolts components of raising children of faith and virtue? First and foremost, parents can show their commitment to the dignity of every child when they are open to the gift of life and welcome each new family member as a manifestation of God’s love. Supporting a culture of life must be a family activity and can be accomplished through both corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
It is wonderful when you send a check to the local crisis pregnancy center or to the diocesan pro-life ministry, but are your children really aware of your monetary donations? Consider a family sacrifice like abstaining from meat on Fridays. Then let the children know you are sending the money you would have spent on a more lavish dinner to support women who need help taking care of their own children. Make buying diapers for the local crisis pregnancy center a regular part of your shopping then take your children with you when you deliver your donation.
When my own children were in elementary school, I told them that we would no longer buy General Mills cereals because of their corporate sponsorship of Planned Parenthood (General Mills no longer supports Planned Parenthood). We became a household without Cheerios. As a result, we did not participate in the public school’s Box Tops for Education campaign. It was challenging because this family decision made them different from their peers, but it was an early lesson demonstrating that being pro-life meant being willing to stand firm in our principles even when it was a minority view. My personal boycott was probably unnoticed by General Mills executives, yet it had a lasting impact on my children.
Don’t miss an opportunity to show love to the elderly. Whether it is a constant modeling of patience and charity with grandparents, visiting an elderly neighbor or shoveling snow for an elderly or disabled neighbor on a “snow day,” there are many opportunities to demonstrate a respect for the dignity of our elders.
Finally, do not underestimate the power of the spiritual works of mercy. Say a family rosary for the end to abortion. Make a family holy hour offering pro-life intentions in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Include a prayer for all pregnant women in bedtime prayers. And we all have a chance to share in prayerful public witness for life: the next 40 Days for Life campaign begins February 22, 2012.
We all homeschool because our children learn from the examples we set. The challenge is to be intentional teachers. As parents, we are responsible for consciously building a home-based curriculum that forms our children in truth and virtue. To do this we must make the principles of the culture of life part of the very foundation of everyday family life.