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Catholic Activity: Parochial School Dilemma


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Parochial schools should not replace the parents' role as instructor of their child.


In a recent discussion of the possible discontinuing of some elementary parochial schools in favor of greater emphasis on secondary schools, one of the reasons opposing the move was that children cannot afford to lose the early moral and religious training they receive from the sisters. One can say, without robbing the sisters of their due, that the child is supposed to receive his early moral and religious training from his parents, years before he goes to the sisters. Sisters were never meant by God or man — or sisters — to be substitutes for the teaching of parents. Children were never meant to go to school and return home "to teach their parents." Parents are supposed to teach their children. Parents are quite able to teach their children the same basic religious truths and practices that the sisters in the early grades are now teaching. If parents would teach as they might, these trained teachers could be released from the early grades and put into the junior high schools where young minds, formed in the faith at home, begin at last to question, challenge, to notice that abroad in society these truths of the faith are not the rules all men live by and to want to know why. How could this be safely done without risking the entire early religious training of the child?

It would take a long time to work out a plan that would not entail a certain risk for some of the children, but an immediate help for parents everywhere would be periodic parish courses of instruction for parents (like the inquiry classes for prospective converts) which would re-examine the basic truths that must be taught in the home. Where there are parish libraries, pamphlets and other readings for parents could supplement the courses. A policy successfully inaugurated in one parish (in Loveland, Ohio), where children were not eligible to receive First Communion until thoroughly instructed by their parents at home, could be followed and extended to confirmation as well.

With lay people inevitably drawn to a deeper understanding of their role in the mystical body through participation in the Mass, now beginning all over the country, the outlook for an increased interest in teaching religion in the family is promising.

"But untrained parents cannot teach theology," it has been, and may still be, protested. What else are the truths children learn about God? Parents are not theologians, it is true, but they must teach things which are theologically true. Otherwise, they are not teaching what the Church teaches. American parents are an ingenious lot. They can learn to do just about anything they put their minds to — build a house, strip down a motor, put it back together again, make a dress, upholster a chair. It simply is not true that they could not master the teaching of religion to their small children. By right and by obligation it is their job, not the theologians'. They are far better situated to do it than the theologians. God has seen to this. Together with their natural gifts, and the grace of their vocation, He has given them the children.

Activity Source: Teaching Religion at Home by Mary Reed Newland, B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis, Missouri, 1963

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