MANASSAS, Va. – Pope Francis yesterday made a forceful plea for parents to reassert their role as primary educators of their children, an argument that has great significance for Catholic schools and homeschooling families and puts education in the spotlight as the Church prepares for the World Meeting of Families in September in Philadelphia and the Synod on the Family in October in Rome.
Pope Francis began by expressing his joy at seeing so many families gathered with their children, according to Zenit’s translation of the address. He noted that the “essential characteristic of the family” is its “natural vocation to educate the children so that they grow in responsibility for themselves and for others.” Speaking directly to parents, he encouraged them not to shrink away from this unique and God-given role in education.
“Jesus himself went through family education,” Pope Francis explained. “In this case also, the grace of the life of Christ leads to fulfillment what is inscribed in human nature. How many wonderful examples we have of Christian parents full of human wisdom! They show that a good family education is the spinal cord of humanism.”
Dr. Dan Guernsey, director of K-12 education programs for The Cardinal Newman Society, said that the Holy Father’s recognition of the parents’ special role is important to the Church. “You have to know and love the sheep you shepherd,” Guernsey said. “You have to be with them where they are and lead them to truth in the light of faith. No one knows (or should know) the young sheep better than its mother and father.”
But, the Holy Father observed, family education is not without its difficulties in today’s culture. “It is difficult for parents to educate their children when they see them only in the evening, when they return home tired from work,” he said.
“Many parents are ‘kidnapped’ by work – father and mother must work – and by other preoccupations, hampered by the new needs of the children and the complexity of present-day life – which is like this, we must accept it as it is – and they feel paralyzed out of fear of making a mistake,” the pope noted. However, the educational mission of the family is essential, “parents must not exclude themselves from the education of their children,” he said.
Pope Francis emphasized that a spiritual education and awareness must also be present in the family. “[W]e should ask ourselves: do we try to understand ‘where’ the children really are in their journey? Do we know where their heart really is? And, above all: do we want to know it?” he asked.
The Holy Father expressed concern over the tensions that have arisen between family, education and society. The relationship between family and school must be harmonious and teach the same values if the children are to grow up to be faithful Catholics who positively impact society.
Pope Francis stated:
In fact, a rupture has been opened between the family and society, between the family and school; today the educational pact has been broken. And thus, the educational alliance of society with the family has entered into crisis because reciprocal trust has been undermined. The symptoms are many. For instance, relations between parents and teachers in the school have been damaged. At times there are tensions and mutual mistrust and the consequences naturally fall on the children.
On the other hand, the so-called “experts” have multiplied, who have taken the role of parents even in the most intimate aspects of education. On emotional life, on personality and on development, on rights and duties the “experts” know everything: objectives, motivations, techniques. And parents must only listen, learn and adapt themselves. Deprived of their role, they often become excessively apprehensive and possessive in dealing with their children, to the point of not correcting them ever: “You can’t correct your child.” They tend increasingly to entrust them to the “experts,” even for the most delicate and personal aspects of their life, putting themselves in the corner, and thus parents today run the risk of excluding themselves from the life of their children. And this is very grave!
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Parents should not be left alone in this battle, Pope Francis said. “Christian communities are called to offer support to the educational mission of families.”
Dr. Jamie Arthur, who manages The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll, said that the Holy Father’s words are especially relevant today. “Parents in today’s world need assistance in combating the negative impact of secularism on youth,” Arthur said. She noted that “the success of Catholic education is centered on a partnership that serves the needs of the family and supports parents in the growth and development of their children.”
The solution is for families to take their primary, intimate and formative role and work with the schools in mutual support of that effort. Effective and faithful Catholic schools understand this partnership. Catholic educators also understand their students are not just commodities or cogs in a machine dedicated to producing only college and career ready workers. Catholic educators understand that their students are unique and unrepeatable gifts from God with eternal destinies who are loved by their parents, and much more so by God. Our educational focus, like that of the parents and in service to them, is one of integral formation of the students in mind, body and spirit and to assisting them to become saints.
Additionally, when teachers, administrators and parents come together and share the same moral foundation grounded in the teachings of the Church, Catholic education becomes a joyful thing to witness, Arthur said. “How comforting it is for parents to know the constituencies (parents, faculty, staff, administrators, religious) that make up a Catholic school are integrated into a community who share, respect and live the same values they espouse, all centered on the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Yet there are still those who oppose a faithful Catholic education. “‘Critical’ intellectuals of all kinds have silenced parents in a thousand ways, to defend the young generations from harm – real or imagined – of family education,” the Holy Father continued.
The Cardinal Newman Society has consistently expressed a similar concern over the years, encouraging parents to exhibit caution, care and discretion when it comes to significant changes in Catholic education, including Common Core State Standards, religious freedom issues and hiring practices—and encouraging dioceses to listen to the needs and concerns of families.
Pope Francis concluded with a prayer:
I hope that the Lord will give Christian families the faith, the freedom and the courage necessary for their mission. If family education rediscovers the pride of its leadership, many things will change for the better, for hesitant parents and for disappointed children. It is time that fathers and mothers return from their exile – because they have exiled themselves from the education of their children – and reassume fully their educational role. We hope that the Lord will give parents this grace: not to exile themselves from the education of their children. And only love, tenderness and patience can do this.
Published with permission