The Call of Catholic Schools to Open the Child’s Path to God
COMMENTARY: Parents who send their children to Catholic schools must remember that they have the most important role in the formation of their child — nurturing the seeds of faith to a deeper level in the home.
Our family recently went through an educational transition. After 11 years of home schooling, we discerned that the time was right to enroll all of our children, grades 3, 5, 7 and 9, in our parish’s pre-K through-12 school. As I have been reading St. Edith Stein’s Essays on Woman, I have experienced a confirmation of my husband’s and my educational choices for our children and seen the value of a well-run and Christ- centered Catholic school.
When we set out to educate our children, we knew that we wanted to form them in the liberal arts with a classical education tradition but mostly to guide them into sainthood. St. Edith explains that, for parents and educators, “the most urgent duty is to open the child’s path to God” (Essays, p. 125). A truly Catholic education involves balancing our embodied lives with our spiritual call — as we are made in the image of God, our goal in education should be to help the student on the path to live in God’s likeness as in the world but not of it.
Unfolding God’s Image and Likeness
In St. Edith’s understanding, education is not something imposed upon us from the outside, but rather it is an unfolding of each individual human person into who he or she is meant to be. She explains that “all human educational work has the duty of cooperation in the restoration of man’s integral nature” from our fallen state (p. 180). While this is done through offering knowledge and the practice of the intellectual discipline, who we become through our education should be based on who we are to begin with. Within each person is a potential, a call, based on their given personality and gifts. The role of parents and educators is to draw this out of each student. For every child is in what St. Edith calls “the hands of human sculptors” in the home and in the classroom (p. 117).
In her understanding of a Catholic education, St. Edith was influenced by the Holy Father of her day, Pope Pius XI, and his encyclical on Christian education. He writes:
“Christian education takes in the whole aggregate of human life, physical and spiritual, intellectual and moral, individual, domestic and social, not with a view of reducing it in any way, but in order to elevate, regulate and perfect it, in accordance with the example and teaching of Christ” (Rappresentanti in Terra, 95).
St. Edith emphasizes that the education of a child is prescribed by one’s nature; that, ideally, an education will help each child unfold as a human, a man or woman, and as an individual (Essays, p. 182). A good Catholic school will then have formation that educates students as humans, as male and female, and as individuals with their own gifts and talents. This can be done through a curriculum that uses all subjects to teach the depths of true human experience, such as through the use the liberal arts and classical education. Formation as men and women can be emphasized in separating out the sexes for some of the class periods and promoting friendships in male-only and female-only community settings. And the teachers can take the time to reach out to individual students, help them in their particular needs, and really see them as unique persons.
All these goals for a child can only be met if both the parent and the school are working together. Parents who send their children to Catholic schools must remember that they have the most important role in the formation of their child — nurturing the seeds of faith to a deeper level in the home.
Education Happens in a Community
When my husband and I, realizing our role at our children’s primary educators, first made our plan for their education, we chose curriculum we loved, began home schooling, and made the work of educating the whole person a 24/7 task. School work occurred in the mornings. Quiet time and playtime happened in the afternoon. Dinner conversations centered on what they were learning. Further, we supplemented the school day by looking at art, listening to classical music, reading aloud classic literature, and family Bible reading.
Yet, as our children grew, it became clear that education in the intimacy of family life was not enough to meet the demands of their eager hearts and minds. Our capacities as parents to educate them were limited and we recognized we would need to bring in others to help. We experienced the truth emphasized by St. Edith that “education is necessarily a work of the community” (p. 199) and that the family “needs replenishment through contact with other educational groups” (p. 202). Education should be a cooperation between the family, the community and the Church.
Our family discerned between two options. One was to continue to home school and outsource through online instruction and educational co-ops — we know many families who use this option and love it. The other option was to send them to a school that had the curriculum and resources to educate them in the way we desired — but also to continue the lifestyle of learning outside of the school day that we established in our home-schooling years.
As it turned out, there are multiple great school options in our area, and we decided on the one that fit closest with our vision of Classical and Catholic education.
In reflecting on our first semester with our children in school, I am seeing more and more that value of a Catholic community of learning that extends beyond our home life. Our family life is enriched by the lives of those we come in contact with, and we are so blessed to know the many faithful teachers to whom we have entrusted our children’s education. Besides being instructed in a fully Catholic curriculum, our children are given opportunities for private prayer in the chapel daily, weekly Mass and liturgical living. We are so thankful for our school and also thankful that we were able to discern what was best for our family at each phase of our growth. I am so glad we established a foundation for our family life as home-schoolers and thankful to be where we are now. May the Lord bless us all with more and more faithful Catholic schools and communities to open the path of our children towards heaven.