“Let the Children Come” – the Heart of Catholic Education

As parents, we decided early on that there was no way we’d be sending our children to public schools, and, not much later, that there was no way we’d be sending them to the Catholic schools available in our neighborhood. I’ve got a lot to say on this topic, but let’s, as they say, get back to basics:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

– Matthew 19:14

Several things to note here:

Jesus is attractive. His instruction to his followers is most definitely NOT ‘Make the little children come to Me’ – children, being people, are attracted to Jesus, and will want to come to Him of their own volition. Our job, as parents, teachers and fellow Christians, is to STAY OUT OF THE WAY.

The disciple’s natural reaction to kids trying to climb all over Jesus is to restore order – and Jesus rebukes them for it! We are similarly rightly rebuked if we think order  is the chief characteristic of solid Catholic education. As GKC says: children will learn what it is you assume, while doing their best to ignore what it is you say.

Catholic education consists first and essentially of being loved by good Catholics. Let me repeat that: Catholic education consists first and essentially of being loved by good Catholics. That’s how children, in the natural order of things, come to know and believe in a loving God. Only then does catechetical instruction work, and only by way of explaining and expanding on the experience of God made possible (secondary cause at work here!) by the example of loving Catholics.

So, what would a good Catholic school look like?

– Adults – teachers, parents, administrators, the custodian, the coaches –  who clearly and consistently love the children – as Paul says, patient, kind, enduring all things;

– a certain consistent disorder. This one is hard for most people to grasp. (John Bosco, for one, got it.) If the primary impression of school is, as is so often caricatured, of tidy little kids ruled with a ruler by a stern nun – well, that’s WRONG. The primary characteristic of a truly Catholic school – like any truly Catholic family, parish, or community of any kind – is joy. Joy tends to be a little messy – like little children climbing all over Jesus.

– DE-EMPHASIS of ‘academics’. See, for example, this post. Instead of learning from their teachers and families that they are unconditionally loved and infinitely more important in themselves than any particular honor they may achieve, many ‘high achieving’ kids from ‘high achieving’ homes are killing themselves – sometimes literally – over grades and test scores. A Catholic school would eschew homework (any interference in family life is flat out unacceptable) and denigrate tests, especially standardized tests meant to grade children like so much lumber. (There’s a very clear practical difference between, say, a test of French vocabulary or basic fractions meant to help the teacher and child see what needs to be worked on, and the sort of crap that makes up standardized tests. What this test is saying, for example,  is that a 7 year old is behind if they can’t translate tally marks into appropriate bar graphs. Really? What lunatic, using what insane methodology, decided that piece of information is critical – to a SEVEN YEAR OLD? In what alternate universe is that sufficient reason to label a kid ‘behind’? Behind what? JUST SAY NO!)

– Emphasis on the liturgical life. Again, children, being people, are attracted to the Church’s liturgy, because it is the primary place we meet Jesus – the place where we are not hindered coming to Him. Again, St. John Bosco understood this. Not only was Mass celebrated daily in his schools, but – ready? – kids weren’t forced to attend.  He knew that trying to enforce holiness was doomed – you can only invite, and show your own joy in the Church’s prayer. So, a Catholic school first and foremost lives the liturgy every day.

Let’s address a couple common objections up front:

1. Children need to be guided with a firm hand. We have to make them go to Mass and make them do homework and threaten them if they fail to perform ‘at grade level’ on tests or they will rot away as derelicts and ne’er do wells!

On the contrary, says who? Jesus? I think not.The problem here is not so much misunderstanding education as it is misunderstanding our faith.

2. No Homework?! Our kids won’t learn, they’ll fall behind, the sky will fall!

On the contrary, there is no evidence that homework contributes materially to academic performance k – 8. There is little evidence it helps very much 9 – 12. But what it does most certainly do is rob families of the quite enjoyment of each others’ company every night. If the phrase ‘quite enjoyment of each others’ company’ and ‘family’ don’t go together for you, then maybe your problem is bigger than anything school can help. Anecdote: We’re 2 for 2 at getting our kids who are college age into the colleges of their choices – and we never had a single argument over homework nor wasted a single evening doing busy work imposed by some little academic Napoleon. So, what, exactly, is the point of homework, again?

3. Ho Ho Ho! You really live in a fantasy world, there! How will kids ever get jobs and survive in the real world if we don’t toughen ’em up through a lot of dumb make-work and arbitrary control? *I* had to do lots of homework and take lots of idiotic tests designed to make me either feel like a failure or to justify me lording it over the other kids who didn’t do as well, and look at me! I came out JUST FINE. So fine that I’m willing to force my kids to relive the misery I went through, hardly see them during the week as they do extra curricular activities and homework, and ship them off to a good college once they’re old enough so that they can be just like me!

On the contrary, ’nuff said.

P.S. – I attended Catholic schools 1 – 12, and am grateful to the numerous loving nuns, priests, brothers  and lay people who showed me a Catholic life could be joyful and kind.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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