The Church and Education

The rise of libertarianism among conservative Catholics in the United States is, I suppose, not altogether surprising given the appalling usurpations of the modern secular State. But we must be careful. It is possible that libertarianism might be the best solution for a given set of circumstances, but as Catholics our job is to work towards improving those circumstances. So, while a Catholic might advocate libertarian policies as a matter of prudence, because the times are evil, he cannot embrace a theory of the State which opposes Catholic doctrine.

In the homeschooling community, one often encounters the sentiment that the State should have no involvement whatsoever with education. While I’m highly sympathetic to the idea, this is not ultimately the vision of the Catholic Church. Far better, says Pope Pius XI, for the State to embrace its true obligations:

“In the first place it pertains to the State, in view of the common good, to promote in various ways the education and instruction of youth. It should begin by encouraging and assisting, of its own accord, the initiative and activity of the Church and the family, whose successes in this field have been clearly demonstrated by history and experience. It should moreover supplement their work whenever this falls short of what is necessary, even by means of its own schools and institutions. For the State more than any other society is provided with the means put at its disposal for the needs of all, and it is only right that it use these means to the advantage of those who have contributed them.

Over and above this, the State can exact and take measures to secure that all its citizens have the necessary knowledge of their civic and political duties, and a certain degree of physical, intellectual and moral culture, which, considering the conditions of our times, is really necessary for the common good.”

One thought on “The Church and Education

  1. In general the FIRST duty of the state is to support the educational role of parents. In being a support, it will refrain from taking over aspects that belong to parents fundamentally, and instead try to give parents the help, tools, etc that they need in order to fulfill their OWN roles. After that, (and only after that), the state should offer to make up for whatever parents cannot provide: but in offering, the state cannot force, cannot impose, and cannot decide for parents whether the child should receive that offering from the state.

    In all of this, I distinguish child abuse or real child neglect from parental choosing not to utilize the state’s offers of support. This means that we must claim the right and capacity to distinguish between real child neglect and a parent’s proper role of choosing to forego state assistance. We are gradually losing out ability to make this distinction culturally: a state that cannot see that Wicca is no religion has deep problems.

    But in principle, the concept is simple: properly, parents not only have the right but the DUTY to decide to what extent other educators are to assist them. This implies that it belongs to the parents to decide what schools, and what curricula, best meets the child’s needs. If the state wants a place in that discussion, the PROPER place for the state to make its claim is to the parents: educate and convince the parents that the state’s curriculum is good, and then the parents will willingly choose it for the child. Imposing it on the entirety of the population presupposes (a) that all children ought to be educated in the same methods with the same curriculum, and (b) that the state selecting the “best” such method/curriculum is better for the family than letting the family make a “mistake” about the matter. Such assumptions are contrary to what the Church says about the parents’ proper role in child-rearing.


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