This article originally ran in Sword & Spade, a magazine for Catholic fathers, leaders, and mentors.
There are few issues in our modern-day society that get me more wound up than education. My frustration doesn’t stem from us not being able to see the forest for the trees, rather that we couldn’t care less that there might be a forest because a picture of trees is all we seem to desire. Memorization of facts and scores on standardized tests have replaced almost all quests for knowledge and learning about anything of real importance. The goal for almost all education is to simply get to the next level and then eventually get off or get moved off the assembly line. And maybe some individuals leave their education in the background with enough know-how to do something that will enable them to be a productive member of the market. There is little, if any, emphasis on learning to think and almost total belief that education is most effective in a controlled environment and directed by an individual the state has qualified and licensed. Fathers, we bear the blame for this mess because we have allowed this transfer and freely given up our parental responsibility to be educators of our children. The results of education being almost wholly removed from the family are not good.
I believe that both misplaced fear and concerted effort, by some, to break down the family have caused each of the past several generations to fail our children a little more than the previous. Education has become something that is more paid for by and received outside of the family, with almost no real connection to the family. Parents now work to ensure that children can attend the “best” schools, work to save money for “education,” work to afford tutors, work to help sell fundraiser candy bars, work to find test preparation courses, work to get children to practices and tournaments, work to be at all the meetings, etc. We work so hard with the best intentions, yet we are failing miserably at actually providing a true education for our children.
My wife recently shared a quote that she came across from the Venerable Elisabetta Tasca Serena, in which she elegantly stated, “My children are my most beautiful flowers, and I thank the Lord that He wanted them to grow in my garden.” I’m pretty sure she didn’t follow that with, “so I dug them up and put them in my neighbor’s yard because he must be a better gardener, but I work hard to make sure they have water and fertilizer.” Yet this is what parents are doing when we are not the leaders of our children’s education.
I’ll make no bones about it, I believe that the bulk of children’s education should be directly provided within the family, most especially for anyone who acknowledges that a Catholic education is important. It worked well for most of human history, certainly better than this system we’ve adopted over the past 150 years, or so. My experience teaching in public school, the substandard education provided in almost every school (private and public), and the fact that schools constantly separate families consistently reaffirm that something has gone wrong. However, I do fully understand and appreciate that not every family is able to homeschool. Though, I also believe many parents never truly consider the option due to societal influence, challenge avoidance, or the belief that they are not good enough to fulfill their child’s needs. Homeschooling aside, the responsibility for parents to be the first and principal educators of their children (CCC 1653) remains.
I absolutely believe you should be intentional about teaching your child, and not something just every once-in-a-while (I know Mr. Craig believes the same). If your child is homeschooled, I believe fathers should be the teacher for at least one class at all times. Outside of “school,” teach skills (e.g. sports, baking, art, woodworking, plumbing, gardening, lawn care) have topical discussions intentionally, read articles together, tell stories, etc. Whatever you do, be intentional and focused about educating your child. It won’t happen by accident.
If you are not already doing this, you will be amazed at how much you can learn about your child when you focus on being a teacher. There is an intimacy that becomes possible via education and your heart and mind are opened to seeing more of the totality of your child. I can say unequivocally that I know my children better because education is part of our relationship. For example, I recognize how each of them thinks, how they process information, what their deep interests are, what their strengths are, why they are challenged in some areas, and how they perceive the world around them. Knowing these things helps me to be a better father because I have a more thorough understanding of each of them as a unique person. I am sure that I can communicate with them more effectively, and I know better when to push them or to give them extra support when they need it. Additionally, I think our relationship is also strengthened by them knowing me better through that same intimacy flowing the other direction.
I have a Master’s Degree in Education and that education is probably helpful to me as I teach my children, but that it is of little importance to me educating my children. That is not why I am qualified. The fact that I am their father and want to ensure that they are properly educated is really all that I, or anyone, need to acknowledge my responsibility and qualification to educate my children. God blessed me with children, and thus I am an educator; I cannot deny this responsibility. Truly taking on the mantle of education for your children, even just one part of it, can be daunting, but it is completely within your capabilities and vocation. Like anything else worth doing, the rewards are far greater than the struggles.