Deciding where one’s kids should be educated can be a difficult task, especially in areas where there are so many good public, parochial, and charter schools. Many parents also choose home-schooling, and do a wonderful job. There are certainly a myriad of choices, but perhaps our values hierarchy should help us choose.
Many Catholic parents, exposed to decades of an increasingly secularized society, have learned to compartmentalize the values in their lives. The days Monday through Friday are for earning income. Friday and Saturday evenings are for entertainment. Sunday, or at least an hour of it, is for God. Family is mixed in throughout. Out of 168 hours in a week, many of us find time to give God only 1 hour in return, with a sprinkling of prayers here and there at meals, before bedtime, and times of need. Many of us have unwittingly pushed our faith aside, and it is no longer integrated into our daily lives, as much as we may desire it to be. Broken into a percentage, that hour represents just .596% of our week, or roughly half of one percent. I say this not to criticize, because this had been my life as well. I bring this up merely to point out that due to this unfortunate compartmentalization, and the other busyness of life, we may be failing in evangelizing our own children (not to mention ourselves) simply due to time constraints.
Discerning Where to Educate Our Children
I have many Catholic friends who send their kids to good public and charter schools, and they have their reasons for doing so. I also have friends who home-school their kids while immersing them in their faith. I respect these choices, as many of them are very devout, and many made their choices for financial reasons. However, for those who can send their kids to Catholic schools and are not otherwise providing their kids a full Catholic education, I think they are making a mistake. I have concluded that educating my kids anywhere but in a school grounded in the Catholic faith can only limit their education. If you are a parent who believes God is the most important person in our lives, above all else, how then could we make any other decision than to send our kids to a school where not only can they learn about Him daily but also openly praise Him? Without Him, is not an education incomplete?
In comparing some Catholic schools to other schools, there can be some weaknesses, admittedly. Some schools are able to direct their focus toward certain things that are different from a Catholic school’s focus. And frankly, some are just much better funded. Some might have a better science program, or art department, or better sports facilities. Some might give all of their kids iPads. Home-schoolers certainly have the best student to teacher ratios. But kids educated outside the faith do not have what my kids have, and to me that is a huge void that is difficult to later fill.
Benefits of Catholic Education
When kids walk into a non-Catholic school, they do not get to sit at a desk and look up at a Crucifix, and realize someone died so that they may live. They do not get to see a picture of Mary on the wall, and know that She looks down upon them with love. In some schools, they are not able to even say the Pledge of Allegiance because the word “God” offends some people. They are not able to pray both morning and afternoon prayers, and say Grace aloud before lunch. They do not have a nun or a priest – people who have devoted their lives to God – standing before them teaching class. And the rest of their teachers probably are not identifiably Catholic. They certainly do not have any religion classes, nor textbooks for other subjects taught from a Christian perspective. I dare say they do not ever gather outside together on certain days to say decades of the Rosary aloud with the rest of the school. They do not prepare for the Sacraments in non-Catholic schools, let alone even discuss what they are. They probably are not allowed to say the word “Catholic” in class, and are likely taught to shy away from mentioning Jesus. Kids attending a non-Catholic school are not protected from the predators promoting secularism, and who teach sex “how-to” courses whilst handing out condoms. They do not attend Mass one or more times per school week with their 500 schoolmates, pastor, teachers, and many parents. They may not hear, let alone learn, Latin. They do not get the privilege of being altar servers and lectors, and reading the word of God during school hours. They will absolutely not receive the Body of Christ, ever, on their campus. Tragically, they spend eight hours each day in their classroom, nine months of the year, and never hear about God, Jesus, the communion of saints, the Holy Spirit, Mary, Heaven, the catechism, the Bible, angels, or prayer.
Are all the things I mentioned above important to everyone? No, but they should be to parents raising children to be Catholics. We all want our children to grow up to be financially stable and “happy.” We must ask though, how can they really do either of these things successfully outside their faith? I know a lot of wealthy people who are miserable. They put a misguided understanding of success before what matters most. We want our kids to get the best grades, go to the best universities, and become doctors or scientists. But if our kids do so, and they never have a meaningful relationship with God, and are never prepared for Heaven, have we really succeeded as parents?
Parenting and Vocation
Parenting as Catholics is a vocation. We have a responsibility far beyond providing our kids’ meals, an education, and comfortable homes. We have an obligation to introduce them to Christ, and to help build that relationship. We are called by God to prepare their hearts, minds, and souls. Catechism classes certainly help many kids without access to Catholic education learn the basics about our faith. And many parents do a wonderful job sharing their faith on a constant, daily basis with their children. But if you are like me and are not the best teacher of the Faith, or cannot provide a Catholic home-schooled education, then I implore you to look into Catholic schools. There is often financial assistance through scholarships and other agencies available to many parents who may have financial barriers.
I can hear some saying now, “but our Catholic schools are not very good, or very Catholic or (fill in the blank).” Perhaps that is true but think of how much better they would be if Catholic parents refused to accept mediocrity. If Catholic parents demanded the best of their local schools from their Bishops, pastors, and administrators, would they not improve? Moreover, think about the potential good you could be doing for an entire community of kids by exposing them to genuinely devoted Catholic kids and parents. Helping to improve your Catholic school, if it is in need of help, is a very charitable act – one that could leave a legacy for generations. Having served five years on my kids’ school’s advisory board, I can assure you it is very rewarding, so much so, that I am seeking other opportunities to serve.
My kids are getting a superior education, but more importantly a full and complete education, steeped in the richness of our faith. And while Catholic schooling is no substitute for the proper, daily witness by parents, they are being fully prepared for life, and all that lies ahead. Further, they know that they can turn to God and prayer at any time to help them through rough times, and also show gratitude for their multiple blessings. And it is not just their dad telling them this and doing his best to be a witness (which is essential of course). It is an entire community of Catholics – pastor, other priests, nuns, teachers, parents, and fellow students. They may not have all the things many kids enjoy at some other schools, but I submit they are getting much more. If possible, I hope your kids will join them.