People often speak of places of sanctuary, where they feel most free and where they can “breathe.” One such place for me—a former high school teacher—is within the walls of a school. There is something invigorating and God-inspired in having people of different ages, backgrounds, and experiences exercise their minds around common subjects and principles, learn the facets of the world, and seek answers about their place in it. Whether in the context of a public or private educational institution, this wide-open breath of a school community has always provided me a true sense of freedom.
Presently, however, the air seems to be thickening within our schools.
Its suffocating effect might come under seemingly friendly labels such as “Teaching Tolerance,” “Welcoming Schools,” or “Anti-Bias Education,” and because it uses these carefully chosen words, Christian parents may not even take notice. Because these programs supposedly advocate for social justice or inclusion of all students, parents might take these labels at face value and make a few generous presumptions.
For instance, they could presume that any welcoming, tolerant, and unbiased school would simply echo the Christian principle to love one’s neighbor as oneself. They might also presume that because schools were originally created, in part, to instill children with moral values derived from a Judeo-Christian tradition, these programs would at a minimum respect the Christian perspective—which finds it possible to uphold the dignity of all human people without encouraging sin along the way. Or they might presume that any so-called anti-bias education would work primarily to minimize destructive biases or discriminatory practices that result in emotional and physical harm to children.
Unfortunately, these presumptions would be misplaced because many of these modern programs actually adopt a secularist philosophy that, in effect, inhibits the formation of a traditional Christian conscience.
To understand the impact these programs have on children, it’s important to remember a child’s conscience doesn’t just develop without direction and moral instruction. Instead, it must be properly formed so that it learns how to recognize which judgments are directed toward God and which are directed toward the world. As Section 6 of theCatechism of the Catholic Church states, a well-formed conscience “formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator.” The Catechism further recognizes that the education of the conscience is a lifelong journey:
From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.
While the entire Christian community plays a role in helping to form a child’s conscience, Pope Paul VI’s decree Apostolicam Actuositatem affirms that parents play the preeminent role, stating:
It has always been the duty of Christian married partners but today it is the greatest part of their apostolate to manifest and prove by their own way of life the indissolubility and sacredness of the marriage bond, strenuously to affirm the right and duty of parents and guardians to educate children in a Christian manner, and to defend the dignity and lawful autonomy of the family.
Since their beginning, both public and private schools have instilled universal morals that leave room for parents to help form their child’s Christian conscience. Encouraging such virtues as forgiveness, love, respect, honesty, and self-control has allowed schools to provide students with the discipline they need to respect each other without interfering with parents’ rights to direct their children’s specific beliefs. read more