“It is within the family where children are raised and formed as human beings. The parental role in this human formation is governed by love, a love which places itself at the service of children to draw forth from them (“e-ducere”) the best that is in them and which “finds its fullest expression precisely in the task of educating.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church 239)
Parents are the first educators of their children. This process begins, in many cases, in the womb as often expectant mothers sing or tell stories to their unborn child. Subsequently, in infancy, a child’s development is the overwhelming responsibility of their parents. Even as a child grows and develops, few would dispute that the parents have the primary responsibility for their child’s education and development. The family is the “first school.”
The parental duty to educate children comes tied to a right. Parents are the “original and primary” educators of their children, and their duties as well as their rights are “irreplaceable and inalienable.” (Compendium, No. 239) The duty is non-delegable.
As a child ages, this responsibility increasingly becomes a shared one, and other stakeholders, beyond the family unit, become increasingly significant to the child’s development. Nevertheless, the role played by parents in the education of their children is always a pivotal one and must never be underestimated. In fact, by the time a child even reaches nursery school, s/he has already developed more than they will in their entire school experience.
The parent is ultimately responsible for his or her child. Though the parent may obtain the help of other persons or institutions, these always remain in loco parentis, in the parents’ place. Importantly, this is a task shared by both parents, and so “the role of the father and that of the mother are equally necessary.” (Compendium,No. 24)
Few would dispute that among all educational instruments, a school has special importance. Schools are designed to develop the intellectual faculties, but their role extends far beyond being centres of academia.
The task of a Catholic School is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian. (The Catholic School, 37)
A school has a duty to help children learn how to make moral decisions, hand on the cultural legacy of bygone generations, foster a sense of values, and prepare students for college and the workplace. Those who exalt neo-traditional teaching methods are displaying a gross misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of education. Children are not empty vessels waiting for a teacher to pour knowledge into them or economic fodder to be prepared for the world of work but are human beings deserving of a holistic education that caters for all of their needs. To focus merely on academics and preparedness for adulthood is to undermine the dignity of a complex human person.After all, the aim of Catholic education is not merely the attainment of knowledge but the acquisition of values and the discovery of truth. (The Catholic School 39)
Moreover, a school should be a melting pot of children with different gifts and talents from different backgrounds that promotes friendly relations and fosters a spirit of mutual understand and respect. To meet these lofty goals, a school must become a centre whose work and progress are shared between families, teachers, associations of various types that foster cultural, civic and religious life, civil society and the entire community.
Thus in order to be effective it is essential that a school:
- Recruits and retains outstanding teachers who can deploy a range of pedagogical styles that engage students and best develop their intellectual qualities.
- Has excellent Professional Development to enable teachers to grow and develop.
- Has strong academically rigorous programs that challenge all students to achieve their full potential, whilst promoting transfer of learning between subjects, and recognising that each subject should be taught according to its own methods.
- An authentic curriculum that is broad in its scope reinforces the school’s vision and mission whilst promoting equal opportunities, equality, respect, social justice, peace and reconciliation, cultural awareness, rights and responsibilities, human dignity, solidarity, and eco-literacy.
- Develops support structures for students with additional needs — including the less able, those who speak English as an additional language, and the gifted and talented.
- Designs values-based programs that foster a sense of morality and focus on developing the whole child: socially, morally, physically and spiritually.
- Builds and sustains secure relationships with parents and other stakeholders.
- Has a focus on preparing students for life beyond school.