Twelfth in a Series on Catholic Marriage and Parenthood
Fr. Thomas J. Gerrard
The science of education is still young. What is known as "method" in education has made its best development in comparatively recent years. And one of the chief characteristics of this new science is that the best teachers should be appointed to the youngest children. It used to be thought that any one who knew figures and letters could teach the same to a class of babies. But now it has been discovered that the teacher must not only know all about letters and figures, but also all about babies. He must be skilled in the psychology of the child mind. The young intellect may be made or marred forever, according as its first operations are well or ill directed. The boy is the father of the man. The results of child training reach out into youth, manhood, old age, and life eternal. Hence the greatest importance is to be attached to the education of children. Thus it is that educationists are realizing ever more and more the rich content of the principle, "Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it."
If this is true of education in general, it is eminently true of Catholic education in particular. The future of the Catholic Church in any country depends on the Catholic education of the children. "Give me the children of England and I will make England Catholic." That was one of the favorite sentiments of the late Cardinal Manning. And as so much concerning Catholic education pertains to family life, all Catholic parents ought to know the leading principles. In the field of politics, the education of the people plays a very important role. And in scarcely any country of the world does the Church have its full desire in the matter. It nevertheless continues to work for its ideal, a completely Catholic education for every Catholic child.
Education, in the best sense of the word, is the formation of habits. The formation of good habits is good education. The formation of bad habits is bad education. Education is not merely the acquisition of knowledge. The necessity of examination, especially competitive examinations, is largely responsible for the impression which equates erudition with education. Mere erudition, however, is only a small part of education. It pertains to the faculty of memory. Now, the memory must be trained, but not only the memory. All the powers of the child must be brought out to the highest perfection possible. Its intellect must be trained to perceive the truth. Its senses, internal and external, must be trained to perceive what is beautiful. And, above all, its will must be trained to do what is good. Moreover, since the soul, while in this life, depends on the body for its due operation, the body also must be so trained as to keep in a healthy condition. "A sound mind in a sound body" is an axiom as old as the hills. A training in the fundamental laws of hygiene, therefore, is ministrant to the training of the child's intellectual, aesthetical, and moral faculties.
Further, since man is destined to an eternal life and must attain that eternal life through a life of the spirit in this world, all his natural powers must be made ministrant to this spiritual life. His bodily health, his habits of memory, feeling, taste, intellect, and will must be so trained and directed as to bring forth the best possible fruits in the spiritual life. The supernatural is that which is built on the natural, not that which is built up in mid-air above - separated from the natural. The two merge, one into the other, in such a way that the natural becomes supernaturalized, the psychic becomes spiritualized. In modern parlance, the training of the natural faculties, without regard to their supernatural destiny, is called secular education. It is an education adapted merely to the affairs of this world. On the other hand, the training of the natural faculties with a view to their supernatural destiny, is called religious education. It is an education adapted to the life of the spirit both here and hereafter.
From the foregoing fact, certain principles follow which have an important bearing on presentday educational questions. If man is destined to an eternal life, then he cannot be satisfied with a merely secular education. If grace is ever playing around nature and spiritualizing it, then, under such circumstances, nature will not be satisfied with merely natural occupations and interests. Being spiritualized by a supernatural gift, it must seek a supernatural end and live a supernatural life. A father, then, who leaves a child to choose its own religion, and make its first efforts in spirituality, does the child a grievous wrong. What should we say of a father who only taught his child to walk and did not teach it to use its hands, on the assumption that it would learn that better in its age of discretion? Yet that, and something worse, is what the father does when he leaves the child to choose its own religion. He leaves its spiritual limbs undeveloped, rudimentary, useless. And since to the Catholic, the Catholic religion is the divinely appointed means by which the spiritual life is developed, the Catholic father does his child a grievous wrong if he does not provide it with the best Catholic education possible.
Again, if, on the one hand, secular education ought to be spiritualized by the Catholic faith, on the other hand Catholic education should avail itself of the advantages of secular subjects. The Catholic religion, being the revelation of Truth itself, must appeal to the faculty which has truth for its object. Being a reasonable religion, it must appeal to the reason. The more the reason is cultivated, therefore, the better is it able to apprehend the divine revelation. If, as some educationists hold, Euclid and Latin composition are the best means of making a boy think, then proficiency in Euclid and Latin composition must be a help in giving the boy a grasp of his religion.
Again, the Catholic religion is the religion of the highest morality. It is the religion which is marked out above all others by its fruitfulness in moral goodness, its production of Saints. It must, therefore, appeal to that faculty which has goodness for its object. It must appeal to the will as affording it the widest arena for its exercise and satisfaction, nothing less than the striving for the perfect imitation of Jesus Christ. It must appeal to the will also, as affording it the strength to arrive at moral perfection, the strength which comes through the grace of the seven Sacraments.
The stronger, then, a man's will is, the more perfectly it is exercised in the natural virtues, so much the more fitted is it to avail itself of the helps to supernatural action. Once more, the Catholic religion is a beautiful religion. It must, therefore, appeal to the faculty which has beauty for its object, the aesthetic sense. All sound training in the fine arts, therefore, whether in music, painting, or literature, may be used for the development of the finest and most difficult of all arts, the art of saintliness, the art which absorbs at once all the power of intellect, will, and feeling, the art which expresses the greatest inspirations of truth, goodness, and beauty.
Much too often do we hear people talk as if piety and intellectual proficiency were incompatible accomplishments. Ability in the arts and sciences is supposed to be an occasion of intellectual pride. So it is. The piety, however, which affects to despise these gifts of God is the occasion of a worse sin, the sin of spiritual pride. The natural as well as the supernatural is the creation of Almighty God. And if the Catholic school is to fulfill its mission, it must aim at proficiency in the natural as well as the supernatural, in the natural for the sake of the supernatural.
The high aim and nature of Catholic education postulates some important principles in its administration. We come now to consider, then, the relationships between the school and the family, the school and the Church, the school and the State. The schoolmaster, the parent, the bishop, and the statesman, all have something to say in the matter of the conduct of the Catholic school. The question is complicated, admits of different opinions as to details, and, therefore, cannot be solved off-hand or dogmatically. There are, however, certain leading principles about which the Catholic can have no doubt, and which he must keep clearly before his mind in his efforts to adjust the various claims.
The first and most important principle is that the children belong to the parent under God. They do not belong to the State. Certain States, or rather certain statesmen, claim this right of possession. The Catholic can never admit it. The parents are the authors of the child's body and the parents' wills are the occasion of the creation of the child's soul. The parents, therefore, have confided to their care the nourishment and the education of their children. The mother is fitted by nature for the bearing, the nursing, and the education of children in their earliest years. The father is fitted by nature for providing for the maintenance of all during these years, and providing for the continuance of the education in after years. The State has nothing whatever to do with the possession of the children.
The State exists for the welfare of the temporal interests of the nation. If, therefore, the temporal interests of the nation demand a certain standard of education in the youth of the nation, the State has the right to require such an education from the parents. And in default of the parents fulfilling this obligation, the State has a right to administer such education itself. In doing so, however, it must respect the higher interests of religion.
The children belong to the parents under God. The parents, therefore, have the right to dictate to the State as to the religion in which the children are to be brought up. The parents, moreover, if they are Catholics, have the duty of submitting to the guidance of the Church in the adjusting of the religious and secular claims.
The conditions of present-day society make it generally convenient that the State should provide at least the elementary, and, for the most part, the secondary and higher education of the country. The fact of the government being democratic or monarchical makes no difference to the Catholic principle. Both are compatible with it. Whether as a representative body carrying out the will of the people, or as an absolute monarch carrying out his own will, the ruling body has only the right to administer secular education in so far as it is compatible with the religious education of the children. So long as this principle is saved, there may be much give and take on both sides. The parents must reserve to themselves the right to say what religion shall be taught to the children.
The parents, however, are not absolute masters of their own children. The Power who created all men has the possession of all men. The parents, therefore, must educate their children according to the will of God. To the Catholic, this means that he must be guided by the Church. Governments, however, do not treat with individuals, but with representatives of all. Individual members of Parliament or Congress treat with individual Catholics at election time. That is the opportunity for the Catholic's action, but even then it must be according to the advice of the Bishop. But when it comes to a conference between the State as a body and the Church as a body, then the Bishops assume their right to say what are the Church's requirements. Catholic statesmen have no right whatever to make terms with governments, except with the consent and under the direction of the episcopate.
Owing to diversity of religions and diversity of races, nearly every country in the world holds a different arrangement between the Church and the State. So the Catholic teacher often finds it difficult to adjust the claims of the various parties which in different degrees he represents. He may be engaged directly by the parent, as in the case of a private tutor or governess; or by the State, as in the State schools of the United States; or by the Church, as in the parochial schools and colleges of higher education in this country; or by both State and Church combined, as in the denominational schools in England. And when he enters into his engagement, he is bound in honor to keep to the terms of his engagement.
In most cases, however, he is allowed a certain amount of freedom. It is the head teacher of the school who gives the tone to the school. It is well, then, that he should keep before his mind the ideal at which he ought to aim in so far as is consistent with the terms of his engagement. It is well that Catholics who have a vote in his appointment should have this ideal before their minds. And it is well that non-Catholics should have the Catholic ideal set before them.
Now, the chief characteristic of this ideal is that the teacher, whether he be paid by the parents or by the Church or by the State, is primarily and essentially continuing the work of the parents and not directly that of the Church or of the State. The very existence of the teacher depends only on the assumption of the parents not being able to carry out the work of education themselves. Of course, in so far as the parents are bound to act under the direction of the Church or the State, so is the teacher. But directly his ideal is to carry out the work which essentially belongs to the parents and which they cannot conveniently perform without him.
The Catholic school, therefore, since it is merely a continuation of the family life, and exists merely to help the family to fulfill its destiny, will have its spirit and tone and plans arranged accordingly. Its first principle will be to aim at training the children for future family life.
Schools taught by religious or clergy are not primarily schools for religious or priestly vocations. Doubtless, it is the duty of such religious and clergy to watch carefully for vocations, and to see that no hindrance is put In the way. But they must ever remember that a vocation is an extraordinary gift, whilst marriage is a Sacrament and intended for the generality of men. A school, therefore, whether fitted for elementary, middle, or higher education, whether taught by religious or laity, should be characterized by its likeness to family life. When St. Ignatius conceived and formulated his idea of Jesuit colleges, he did not intend those wonderful boarding establishments, such as Stonyhurst and Beaumont, Georgetown and Fordham. He wished to have day colleges so that the pupils should remain as much as possible under the direct influence of parents and home.
But boarding colleges and convent schools are now a necessity. There is, however, a more stringent obligation on them of approximating as nearly as possible to the family ideal. This is more especially necessary in the schools for girls. The prevailing spirit of these schools should be that of training the future mothers of Catholic families.
The mother is the priestess of the home. She it is who holds the home together. She is the all-important factor in developing the ideal of Catholic family life. Personal piety will be her first accomplishment. Then will come the ordinary school subjects, with "extras," according to the future social status of the child. Then she must be taught how to play. We have hardly yet begun to learn the gospel of Froebel: "Let us teach our children to play." Cricket and tennis and drill have their place, and so has the doll and the doll's house. Then, as the school years draw to an end there are the important subjects of cookery and housekeeping. The Catholic school that neglects these fails to grasp one of its grandest opportunities of furthering its noble aims; that is, of strengthening the family life, of making the nation more Catholic, of hastening the coming of the kingdom of God.
From the foregoing principles there follow some practical conclusions. Parents will first strive to realize that, since the education of children primarily belongs to them, and only by delegation to the teachers, they, the parents, have the obligation of seeking out the most suitable school for their children. The nearest school is not necessarily the most suitable. Nor is the cheapest. The school must first of all be Catholic. Then, in the case of elementary education, the school of the parish or mission will generally be found to be efficient. The elementary school of one's own parish, therefore, has the first claim upon a parent's consideration.
In the case of middle class or higher education, the parents will choose by preference a day high school or college. Then, if the circumstances of the family require a boarding-school or college, the idea of home life will receive the chief consideration. If the future circumstances of the children are such that they can dispense with examinations, then a school which is exempt from public examinations is better than one subject to them. The majority of children, however, require paper qualifications for their start in professional studies. The Catholic parent need have no fear whatever as to the proficiency of Catholic schools in securing excellent results at examinations.
Having used their utmost discretion in the choice of a school, the parents will do well not to meddle with the teacher. An obvious irregularity may arise, in which case it is the parents' duty to act. But, generally speaking, the head master or the head mistress of the school must be trusted to do what is best for the child. To change the school, even once, unnecessarily, is to set back the child's education. To be ever taking the child's part against the teacher is simply to ruin the child's character. Nevertheless the parent should exercise a supervision over the child's school career.
Lastly, if the children are to be educated by a private governess, then the parents must form the habit of mind, and the children and the governess herself must feel it, that she is, as a member of the family, strictly in loco parentis, entitled to deep respect and consideration. She is not called in as a household drudge, but as one even more qualified than the parents themselves to fulfill their high vocation of forming the characters of children, of making them Catholic in mind and in heart, of leading them to their eternal destiny.
The same principle of parental responsibility holds good with regard to ecclesiastical authorities, who undertake the burden of providing a Catholic education for Catholic families. If the State so far neglects its duty that the Church has to provide elementary schools, then the parents ought to support these schools generously. It is not right to allow the priest to go and beg, beg, beg, to support a work which is essentially the work of parents.
So, too, with the high schools and colleges. It ought to be quite unnecessary to say it, yet under the circumstances one must say it: parents ought to pay their school bills regularly and promptly. The work done by such schools and colleges is infinitely more valuable than the money outlay for their material support. It is the least that parents can do to see that the work is not hampered by what so frequently happens: the accumulation of bad debts. The work is God's work, and those who are primarily responsible for it are the parents of families. They have received the Sacrament of Marriage. They have received the graces to bear its burdens. It is not an easy state of life. But with the graces which the Sacrament confers, the married pair are made strong for all exigencies, temporal as well as spiritual.