My husband and I were hanging out a few days ago with another Catholic couple here where we live in South Asia. They’re from the US and have one wee one with number two on the way. They’re great company indeed.
We got talking about their plans, most likely to move back to the US in a few years when the kids are ready to start school. We got onto the question of the kids schooling – what the options are in their area. All four of us went to public, non-religious primary schools for various reasons.
Where we live, despite Christians being less than 2% of the population, the Catholic primary schools are the best in the country. The reality is that almost none of the students in those Catholic schools are Catholic because by and large Catholics in this country are dirt poor. The schools are filled with mainly Muslim students who can afford it (which isn’t to say there aren’t millions of dirt poor Muslims here too). I’m not sure what the RE classes are like in a Catholic school where 95% of students are Muslim…that’d be interesting.
Anyhow, I digress a bit. All of us went to Catholic high schools and all agreed that we’d want the same for our kids – a good, solid, faithful Catholic community during those potentially turbulent, hormonal, ‘I’m-figuring-out-who-I-am’ years. In the US, this is a lot easier to do where the probability of landing on a faithful and orthodox Catholic high school is much higher than in New Zealand. I had one too many RE classes that started with, “This is what the Church teaches, but…”.
However, we were all a little less certain on the question of primary school. In the case of our friends, the Catholic schools in their home city are prohibitively expensive in all cases (and limited scholarships are only available to those under a certain income threshold). We’re talking more than the cost of a Bachelors degree per year. If they had to make the choice between a Catholic primary school or a Catholic high school, they’d take the latter, and even that will require enormous financial sacrifice. We were all in admiration for those who manage to home school too but they weren’t sure they’d be capable of that. Finally, we weren’t convinced that sending your child to a Catholic primary school would automatically eliminate those typical schoolyard issues – bullying, negative peer pressure, academic challenges. But then, we all went to public schools, so we haven’t got a lot to compare with.
In any case, we all recognised that of course, the family life, the ‘domestic church’ is the most importance place where children learn the faith, and agreed that as parents we’d have the primary responsibility to bring our kids up in the faith with charity, hope and love (see the Catechism 2223).
Keen to make sure we didn’t head too much further without checking in with the Church on this one…regardless of our own childhood experiences…we headed to the Catechism to know what the Church teaches on making decisions for your kids’ education:
2229 As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.
As is frequently the case in Catholic teaching, the Catechism doesn’t impose concrete, black-and-white requirements upon parents – e.g. “You must send your children to a Catholic school or home school them if there is no Catholic school available.” She lays out the principle and leaves it up to the individual faithful to, with a well-informed conscience and a pure heart, make the decision they believe will best support them in raising their children in the faith. The Church is very wary of imposing obligations or non-negotiables – only those that are absolutely essential to salvation (reception of the Eucharist at least once a year, Sunday Mass, sacrament of reconciliation once a year, baptism, all that which protects the sanctity of life and the conjugal bond etc…). My understanding is that the Church recognizes the diversity of concrete day-to-day life in terms of the options available to Catholics, and to Catholic parents. The more ‘absolute rules’, the less space there is for individual persons to exercise free will and choose, engaging their reason and conscience, to do something out of love for the Lord. Unfortunately, a quick internet search made it clear that some Catholics thought there was no ‘choice’ on the question of public/Catholic/home-schooling (like this one that call it a ‘sin’ to send your kids to a public school). To be frank (since this is Being Frank), is it really wise/necessary/appropriate to speak in such black and white terms when the Catechism clearly states that parents have the fundamental right to choose a schooling option that corresponds to their convictions and that will best aid them in the faith (which may not be the local Catholic school if it’s prohibitively expensive/elitist/unfaithful/a combination of all those three or more)?
What do you guys think? Especially those who went through Catholic primary schools and/or are sending their kids to one now…