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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Solving the Education Problem: Part I

For the last three weeks, we’ve looked at the problem of Catholic education. What must we, as parents, do in order to keep the Faith alive in our children?

At Home
First, don’t despair. God ordained us in the sacrament of marriage to deal with exactly this problem. We have the grace, we just have to figure out how to use it. Remember, the Magisterium doesn’t require us to do much actual formal instruction: we have to prepare our children for the sacraments and teach them common prayers. That’s it. You and I are under no obligation to homeschool in all subjects, or even to formally school our child beyond the areas just mentioned. If you want to do more formal schooling, that’s fine, but don’t let anyone bully you into thinking you have to. You don’t.

For at-home sacramental preparation, keep in mind that your child only needs three things to be properly prepared. (1) the child must know enough about the ritual to move through it successfully, (2) he must know how the sacrament changes him, and (3) he must desire that change.

That’s it. Really. The rest is just window-dressing to make the curriculum look imposing. So, for reconciliation, your child needs to know an act of confession and the prayers that will likely be assigned for penance: Hail Mary, Our Father, Glory Be. For the sacrament of Confirmation (which is an obligation, not a choice), know that it perfects the gifts of baptism and it empowers you to tell others all about Jesus. For Eucharist, know that the species is Jesus: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, present entirely in the host and present entirely in the cup, and be able to make a sign of reverence prior to receiving. Read John 6 with your child to show them why Eucharist is important. Make sure they know their Sunday obligation to attend Mass.

For all three, the child needs to be aware of the liturgy surrounding the sacrament, that is, he should know when absolution takes place, what words are used at confirmation, when consecration takes place and the two major parts of the Mass. Your seven-year old can master this and receive all three sacraments the same year, if you want. By the way, the decision on when to present your child for confirmation is yours, not the bishops’. He may set the time by which the child must be prepared (“must be ready by high school,” for instance), but you can present the child earlier (in second or third grade, for instance), if the child is prepared and you feel it is best for him. As long as the child is of the age of reason and prepared, confirmation cannot be denied solely on the basis of age.

Still concerned about sacramental preparation? Contact Catholic homeschooling parents in your area and tap them for advice. They’ve done it before, they’ve been just as scared as you, they’ll know how to help. The Pope encourages families to band together to accomplish things. It’s good advice.

For parents of grade/high school children
Your local parochial school or high school may be a very fine private school, even if it is not good at transmitting the Faith. There is nothing wrong with sending your children to a private school. Just remember that it is only a private school, despite the pleasant “C-word” in the title. As long as you (1) know this, (2) have an adult grasp of the Faith, and (3) are careful to correct the inevitable mistakes that good but misinformed people will make as they attempt to teach the Faith, you’re fine. Learn the Faith on an adult level, live it in front of your kids, and discuss the instructional problems frankly both with them and with their teachers. Honest teachers know they aren’t qualified – they’re doing the best they can, just like everyone else. They will appreciate support from home.

As the parent, you have both the right and the duty to decide what is best for your children in regards to schooling – no one else has the right to interfere, not even your pastor or bishop. You are the primary educator of your children, not them. Point this out to them if they start implying that you are a sinner for not sending your kids to “Catholic” school. If you think the local parish school is teaching too much heresy or is oozing with too much hypocrisy to be a safe environment for your child’s soul, pull them. On the other hand, if the public schools in your area pose an even greater threat to your child’s safety, by all means, keep them in the parish school. This is your decision, no one else’s.

If you choose to pull your children from the school, write the principal, copy the pastor and/or bishop. Do exactly the same thing the parents of college students are doing (see below). Describe in your letter exactly why you are pulling your children and exactly how much money the school will lose. Write a separate letter to the pastor and/or bishop asking them to show their solidarity with Catholic families by joining you in recommending to all Catholic families that these unfaithful schools be avoided.

If the pastor or bishop accuses you of harming community life, point out our Holy Father’s words, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, as the family goes, so goes the Church!” You build community by safeguarding your family. Pastors and bishops build community by supporting Catholic parents. They should appreciate your work, and encourage others to put family before parish school. To the extent that pastors do not encourage and support parents in this, they are the ones attacking the community, not you. Depending on how your state law is written, a pattern of heterodox teaching in the school might be grounds for malpractice and/or fraud lawsuits. This would not look good in the local papers (diocesan papers tend not to print this kind of thing, since the editors like their jobs). Although pastors don’t like to discuss it, they know this is a real possibility. Point out that you know it, too.

If you choose to keep your child in Catholic school, keep a close ear to the spiritual practices and the teachings. Get involved the minute heterodoxy is alleged. First, meet with the teacher. Children have a habit of mis-characterizing what teachers say, especially if the teachers are not well-liked. If that doesn’t resolve it, meet with the pastor and teacher together. If that doesn’t resolve it, bring it to the bishop’s attention. If this is likewise fruitless, you still have several options. You can appeal to the apostolic nuncio for the United States, you can sue the school for malpractice and fraud, or you can let the secular newspapers in on the conversation, or any combination thereof.

For parents of college students:
Here is a list of schools that require the mandatum . If you had considered a college or university, but had to reject it due to the lack of mandatum, then write the president of that university and copy the bishop of the diocese in which it resides. Point out to the president that you would have encouraged your children to go there, but faculty unwillingness to proclaim the Catholic Faith changed your mind. Take the university’s yearly tuition, multiply it by four and add 3% - that’s the minimum amount of money they lost from a faithful Catholic because of their unwillingness to be faithful. Point that out in the letter. All faithful Catholics are going elsewhere, along with their money.

This is a boycott. As people who advocate social justice, Catholic university presidents will certainly appreciate it why it is necessary. To be honest, more many bishops will be quietly cheering you on from the sidelines, even though their public face may be neutral. Encourage the president to join you in this boycott and tell all the Catholic parents they know to stay away from their school, just as you will inform all the Catholic parents you know to do the same. Write a separate letter to the bishop, urging him to warn Catholic families to avoid this university. According to the Magisterium, all segments of the Church are desirous of displaying solidarity with the Catholic family so you know they’ll be interested in assisting you spread the message.

Then write a letter to the president of the college you will be attending, thanking him for his school’s fidelity. Copy the bishop of his diocese and the bishops and presidents of the colleges you won’t be attending. We want to show them that we don’t just denigrate the negative, we actively embrace the positive, as good Catholics should.

And when you are considering places of higher education, don’t forget to check out secular schools with great Newman centers! Newman centers, like Catholic universities, are of varying quality, but some of them are absolutely stellar. One case in point is the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. It is the largest, most active Newman Center in the country with one of the best college retreat programs in the nation. Its current director, Msgr. Stuart Swetlund, is renowned for his orthodoxy and vibrant ability to transmit the Faith. The Sisters of the Contemplative Life who assist there are marvelous at spiritual direction. Don’t be put off by their lack of habits. It is the only order of order of profoundly orthodox consecrated women I am aware of that was founded without a habit. There are other marvelous Newman Centers across the United States. Investigate them. Look for kneelers in the chapel, proper central placement of the tabernacle, and interrogate the pastor of the center about his position on abortion, contraception, women’s ordination, and the like. Look at their library. Investigate.

If the Newman Center isn’t orthodox, write the pastor, copy the bishop and copy the university president, telling them why you had to choose against their school. Point out to the university president that the bishop is always open to input about what kind of pastor best suits a particular environment. If a secular university president gets enough of those letters, he’ll write the bishop himself to ask for a new priest at the Newman Center. That’s the kind of thing that carries weight.

If your child is already in a heterodox university and the administration won’t respond, document instances of heterodox teaching or practice, then follow the methods outlined above. If you don’t get satisfaction, investigate the possibility of suing the school for malpractice and fraud, and make sure the suit is well-publicized. They want to be secular institutions – fine. We should give them the same respect any secular entity gets.

Be bold. Make a nuisance of yourself. Jesus did.

Next week, we’ll discuss how to address the adult formation problem in the parish. We’ll also provide some links to help you get the job done.

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