Catholic Activity: The Public School
Parents who send their children to public schools must be aware that they need to take additional measures to teach that the Faith should embrace every aspect of their lives.
There are, however, parents who cannot send their children to parochial schools, and they need not despair that sending them to public school is abandoning them to the tides of faithlessness. Not unless they intend to relinquish their role as teachers of the Faith. It will involve more work for these, a constant application of Christ's teaching to school life as well as the awareness that godless teachers can do great harm; but there is a special joy reserved for those who will turn to it with all their energies. There is the joy of discovery. Even for parents well grounded in the Faith, learning to see it in a fresh and simple light, to apply it for children, can be the beginning of falling in love with God.
The danger for public school parents lies in disinterest in their obligation to teach. Having no parochial school, they may shrug and say, "No parochial school — what can you do?" — and let it go at that. There will be catechism once a week, Christian Doctrine classes weekly for the high-schoolers, and the burden of making the children attend. There will be the nuisance of fitting catechism lessons in with homework, once a week "hearing their catechism." But for many, that is the whole of it. What more can parents do?
Parents can teach it all, if they want to. There is no shortage of doctrine to teach or grace to help with the teaching. There are the Gospels to read and apply, discussion groups to attend, pastors and nuns and libraries and literature within reach of a phone call or a postage stamp. There is the Mass, the sacraments, the prayers of the universal Church offered for all her members, the love of God and the help of the Holy Spirit. There are the tremendous graces peculiar to the vocation of parenthood, given especially to help with this most important duty of all. We are not in this thing alone. God is in it more than we are. All that is necessary is to understand that it must be taught, and to pray for the grace to do it.
We send our first-graders off to school in the fall of the year, scrubbed, dressed, and shod outwardly, and inwardly resplendent with the virtues of faith, hope, and charity infused in their souls at the moment of Baptism. Our knowledge of this, and the end for which God created our children, can be the focus through which we see the relationship of formal learning to the whole of a child's life.
We need not stir up in very small children declarations of great faith. They possess faith. When they reach the age of reason, we must help them make a habit of acts of faith, for belief in God is the only way to make sense of the world. And when they go off to school for the first time, it is as easy as pie for them to understand that now they are going to use the mind God gave them to learn things they must know in order to do the work God has laid out for them. This sounds like such a simple thing that it should not need putting down in a book. But so many times we know these things ourselves, and do not think to point them out to our children. A five-year-old, learning this, understands why it makes such good sense to pray to the Holy Spirit every morning as he goes out the door to catch the bus.
"Please, Holy Spirit, help me in school today."
Even children attending public schools can learn to mark their papers with a tiny cross to remind them they belong to Christ, Whose love, shared with His Father, is this same Holy Spirit. No teacher I ever knew objected to the little cross on the paper, even though it was an addition to the accepted heading. Several commented that it might be good if more did it more often. And teaching this, we can also teach them to say a prayer to the Holy Spirit before their reading, recitations, work sheets, and test papers. Thus, in many small ways, faith becomes the vessel in which school life is contained.
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961