Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
Our Lord was and is the perfect model for teachers. He taught not only by word but also by example. He commissioned his apostles to, “Go into the whole world, make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” (Gen. 26:19-20) So teaching has always been a top priority in the Church.
This teaching is done primarily and most effectively in the family. The family is the child’s constant school; it is the child’s world. Family life far beyond any other external influence molds lastingly the tastes, attitudes and personality of the child. It is in the family that the child first learns about God, Jesus and prayer. Children learn best by example and the parents are the most constant and most powerful examples in their lives. Parents are, therefore, not only the first but also the greatest teachers. And children need grandparents as much as grandparents need the children.
Education is a life long process. The child comes into this world completely dependent on the two people who brought it into the world. At the end of the process the adult is completely independent on these two people. Education comes from the Latin world educare which means to draw out of. The child comes into the world with a definite, unique potential. The parents must discover what this potential is and help them develop along those lines. Children are not clay in the potters’ hands to be molded as the parents see fit. Parents are not to superimpose on their children some preconceived image of what they should be. For example, a surgeon cannot insist that his son will be a better surgeon than he is when with the clumsy hands the son has he should be laying bricks and not carving on human bodies.
The first and perhaps the most important thing parents must teach their children is that they are loveable and valuable. Psychologists tell us that in order for a child to grow into an emotionally mature adult who accepts himself as someone of value it is necessary that the parents love him unconditionally, in spite of everything, simply because he is their child. But there is no love without discipline. Human nature, being what it is, discipline is what we need most and want least. Original sin is the only dogma we can confirm with our own personal experience. We do not have integrity. The lower faculties are not under complete control of the higher faculties. Each faculty goes out after its own proper object heedless of the others. Parents should learn to say no and not think that their children should have all of the things they did not have. We talk today about the problems of the underprivileged but perhaps far greater are the problems of the over privileged: too much, too soon.
Parents must teach their children that free will is not only their greatest dignity it is also their most awesome responsibility. Freedom and responsibility go together. The only way to raise responsible children is to give them freedom to exercise responsibility. It is a risk but there is no other way. We can’t avoid problems. We meet problems, confront them, solve them and grow. Parents must realize that there is only so much they can do. Their children are not machines; they are persons with a free will and their own life to live. And come hell or high water they will use their free will and live their own life. They are bound to follow their own honest conscience, not yours. And if they do they will save their soul. Salvation is not determined by the beginning or the middle of life but at the end.
The school is simply an extension of the family. The parents delegate some of their authority to the school. Ideally, the school continues and reinforces the teaching of the family. Just as the parents are not to superimpose on this child some preconceived image on this child neither is the school. It should recognize what that potential is and help them develop along those lines. The school offers many opportunities for the discovery and development of this potential. Besides the regular curriculum there are the extra-curricular activities such as sports, drama, art, music, forensic and scientific clubs and social service programs.
At school the discipline begun in the family is intensified. Getting to school on time every day, paying attention in class, doing the homework and passing the exams require much self discipline. At school the interaction with other students of different ethnic, social and economic levels help them to identify themselves and grow into socially mature adults. In this interaction they experience each one as unique yet sharing the same human nature. And in the give and take of this interaction they learn by experience that free will is our greatest dignity but also our most awesome responsibility.
A Catholic school adds to all of this the knowledge and the love of God. Students learn that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. The school insists on formation as well as information. It teaches not only the proximate causes of science but also the ultimate cause of theology. They learn that evolution and creation are not contradictory but complementary. Together they give a fuller and more beautiful view of reality. They are taught not only how to make a living but how to live. They learn where they came from, where they are going and what they are doing here.
Catholic schools are even more important today because of the deterioration of the family which we have seen is the primary educator. Add to this the culture in which we live. Extreme individualism and unbridled capitalism produce people who function as autonomous, competitive, consuming beings. Getting ahead is the essence of life and profit is the measure of success. Freedom is guarded so closely that every commitment is seen as a threat to independence instead of an expression of personality.
Catholic schools, of course, come with a high price tag. Catholics have to pay taxes to support the public schools and then pay tuition to send their children to Catholic schools. But Catholics have always been willing to pay the price and still are today. We should thank those who have endowed these schools not only with their money but also with their blood and sacrifice of their lives.
We learn not for school but for life. School ends with the Commencement, a word which means beginning. Now we have the tools for a life long education. We live in a culture that is definitely not Christian. Every value once held dear is being vigorously challenged and often ridiculed. We have to reflect again and again on these truths lest we lose our Christian identity, lest we forget who we are. There is, therefore, the constant need to return to the over-all view of reality, the big picture, to return to our basic belief system not only to maintain perspective but also because it is our basic belief system which pervades and influences our every thought, word and deed.
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