It is not unusual to meet Catholic parents who have decided to send their child to a public school or a private “Christian” school. Sometimes the reasons are practical – school start times, babysitting arrangements, location etc. Other times the local Catholic school does not offer programs suited to the special needs of a particular child. On a few occasions the parents have had a negative experience with the local Catholic school and have chosen to transfer their child to a new environment. Nine times out of ten, the decision has already been made before the question is asked, but the parents feel guilty about not supporting the Catholic school.
The Church has always held that “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2223) This means two things:
1) It is up to you to decide what is the best way to educate your children (see Catechism 2229). You know your children better than the pastor or the bishop, hence you are the one who is best able to decide what will foster their growth as persons. This can mean sending your child to a non-Catholic school, if this is what you judge is best.
2) You have a responsibility to ensure that your children understand the faith, grow in virtue and are protected from harmful ideas or influences. If your children are not receiving Catechesis at school, you will need to ensure that they receive it, either through personal instruction or through other classes provided by the parish. You need to be aware of what your school is teaching your children which may be contrary to the faith.
Here are some questions that are important to ask when choosing a school for your children:
In a private “Christian” school what sort of doctrine is being taught? Particular areas of concern are the interpretation of scripture, sin, other world religions, the Church, the sacraments? Is there anything contrary to Catholic doctrine? What is lacking? How will you supply what is lacking?
What is the schools attitude towards the world and culture? Is it un-critically accepting of trends contrary to Catholic faith and morals? Does a private “Christian” school encourage children to engage the world, transforming it from within as “leaven”? Or is it suspicious of all things worldly, encouraging a retreat from the world?
What is the schools program of sexual education? Is the program age appropriate? Does the school promote chastity? Is the atmosphere of the school conducive to growth in virtue? What will you children learn about masturbation, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, pornography?
Will the children pray at school? Will they be asked to participate in the prayer or worship of non-Christian religions? Will children have the freedom to pray privately, according to their own convictions, if they so choose?
To what extent are parents allowed to participate in the governance of the school? How will complaints or concerns be addressed? Are parents allowed to remove children from particular lessons (ie. Sexual education) if they chose?
These questions may seem irrelevant when your child is entering Kindergarden. Nevertheless, you will need to deal with them at some point and it is difficult to transfer a student once they have begun at a particular school.
Not all parents have the luxury of sending children to a Catholic school, and no school is perfect. Whatever school parents send their children, Catholic or not, one must be actively engaged in their education, and particularly in their formation in Christian doctrine and morals.
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