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The Mandate of Catholic Parents

These are some more thoughts I am writing for a talk I am giving Saturday on an Introduction to Catholic Home Education. and you know how it goes - think it, write it, blog it!


Often times when the conversation turns to "homeschooling" the topic turns to, "do parents have the right to educate their own children?"

Catholic parents can rest assured that they not only have the right to educate their offspring, but they have a holy obligation to do so.

The Church has always affirmed the primary right and duty of parents to educate their children.


.you shall teach them to your sons (and daughters) when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.”  Deut. 11:18-19


From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2221 The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. "The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute." The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.

2223 Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited foreducation in the virtues. 

2225 Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the "first heralds" for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church. A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one's life.


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.

The Charter Rights of the Family issued by the Vatican in 1983 makes this statement: “Since they have conferred life on their children, parents have the original, primary and inalienable right to educate them; hence they must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children.”

A little over 10 years later, the late, great John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Families for the International Year of the Family in February 1994:   Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area:  They are educators because they are parents.

And just a few weeks ago the Vatican’s delegation to the United Nations called on the world to respect families, the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, and non-governmental forms of education. The Holy See’s representatives also called on governments last week to stop indoctrinating the youth.
“Parents have the right and duty to choose schools inclusive of homeschooling, and they must possess the freedom to do so, which in turn, must be respected and facilitated by the State.”   

So parents have the obligation and also the God given grace to educate their children, primarily for the life after this one, but also for the things they need to know in this life. Parents can opt to use the public and Catholic schools available to them, to help with the education of their children, but they must do so with the understanding that this in no way relieves them of the responsibility of educating their own children. What their children learn, or don't learn, still fall squarely on their shoulders. In many ways I think this is much more difficult - being responsible for things outside of your direct control always is. 


If we look at the great timeline, it's clear that some form of home education has been the rule and not the exception. Yet in our modern times it is considered to be somewhat odd.   Public education is such an established party of contemporary society and held with such high esteem that sometimes people are surprised to discover that there is no school system mentioned in the constitution of the United States. The Department of Education was only formed under President Jimmy Carter - a mere 32 years ago.  

Likewise, some folks speak of the "mission" of Catholic Schools as if spreading the gospel depended on their very existence!  Of course the church did very well spreading the gospel message before Catholic schools as we know them today came into existence - about 150 years or so ago.  After all, Jesus founded a church, not a school.  

A small caveat here - pastors are still responsible for making sure that each candidate for a sacrament is prepared for that sacrament. That is his responsibility and it may mean taking the parish PSR classes, or taking a test or just having the child talk to the pastor. When we were concerned about our children attending the parish's PSR program, Mr. Pete went in to talk to the DRE about it - and came out the new 6th grade PSR teacher!!  A job he still holds 10 years later. Since then our children also have participated in PSR and it has been a good experience for us, and I'm overall pleased with out it has worked out. My advice would be don't be afraid to share your concerns with your pastor. He may not even be aware that there are any concerns! 

 From time immemorial, children have learned how to love God and to be holy people and good citizens primarily from their parents. Jesus was taught the carpentry trade by his earthly father, St. Joseph.  

For the most part at the beginning of the United States, folks that were literate learned at home, and they learned quite well - well enough to be able to read and understand the King James Bible and the Federalist Papers - something that some modern high schoolers and adults find challenging. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams and George Washington were all homeschooled. Even the patron saint of Catholic Schools, Elizabeth Ann Seton, was herself, homeschooled. 

So from an historical perspective, homeschooling is the norm, not the exception and homeschooling parents should feel very confident that by homeschooling their children they are following a time honored, centuries old tradition.






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Comments

melody said…
Thank you so much for sharing this, Elena! It is rather timely for us right now. I was ready to start gathering and clipping this info and lo and behold... you have done it for me! Thanks be to God for your faithful generosity!