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Father Nick Nelson: Parents are the primary educators of their children

Now that Lent is over, I started to listen to sports talk again here and there. One morning they were doing “Shutdown Shoutouts.” People were to call in to affirm and compliment and recognize those who have been handling the current situation well.

Father Nick Nelson
Father Nicholas Nelson
Handing on the Faith

The producer of the show gave his own “shout-out.” He said, “To those parents out there. Moms and dads. You are teaching your children, doing distance learning while still trying to work from home. You bring home the bacon, you put food on the table, and now you are tasked with teaching your children, juggling limited attention spans and seeing to the education of your children …. Bless you moms and dads for being heroic!”

I agree that many parents are indeed heroic during this time. They are doing so much. But his comment belies a common fallacy today. He may not have meant it, but his comment expresses the common attitude that ordinarily I am not responsible for my children’s education. It says that this COVID-19 situation is a little inconvenient for me because I have to concern myself with educating my children.

And while this idea is common, it is not right. It is not Catholic. The church’s Declaration on Christian Education says this: “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators. This role in education is so important that only with difficulty can it be supplied where it is lacking” (Gravissimum Educationis, 3).

I think many parents, even many Catholic parents, have outsourced and delegated their responsibility for educating their children elsewhere. This is especially troublesome when we consider the state of public schooling. The public school system has become an institution of secular and atheistic indoctrination. There are many good teachers, many good Catholic teachers in public schools, but they are hamstrung by curriculum, rules, and regulations. These teachers are heroic missionaries seeking to bring truth, goodness, and beauty to these children.

But even with great teachers, public schools are inadequate for our children. Our children are taught atheistic evolution. They are taught sex education which says, “If it feels good, do it. Just make sure it’s consensual and safe.” Public schools tell us that our kids have a right to privacy and that there are things that parents are kept in the dark about. Our kids are around other kids who come from families that don’t have the same values and expose our children to things that are spiritually and physically harmful. And if Jesus isn’t allowed in the school, it simply isn’t good enough for our children.

Some will argue that our children can be missionaries, just like the good teachers. But that isn’t the purpose of school for a child. They don’t go to school to be a missionary. They go to learn the truth and to be formed in virtue. They are simply not mature or well-formed enough at 12 or even 17 years to be a missionary.

Whatever model it is, we as pastors, parents, and Catholics at large must work to provide Catholic education from first grade to 12th grade. Whether that be an actual school, homeschool or co-op, or a one room school house. All of these have been done before successfully. They can be done again. There are more and more great examples of this throughout our diocese. Two lesser known examples are Mater Dei Apostolate for ninth through 12th grade in Duluth and the homeschool co-op in Crosby. Models such as this are possible where there aren’t enough numbers for your typical school.

I used to think, just 10 years ago, that if the family is strong, then they can overcome any deficiencies in the public school. I don’t believe that anymore. When your child is immersed for seven hours a day in a culture that is diametrically opposed to us, the battle is almost impossible.

Call me “opportunistic,” or not “allowing a crisis to go to waste,” but many of you are currently doing distance learning at home. And yet, you have yet to go to the loony hospital. You are not duct taped to the ceiling by your children who have staged a mutiny. It is challenging, but you are doing it!

So even if there is no Catholic school option near you, you can homeschool or do some sort of hybrid. Why not never return your kids to the public school? This is a perfect time to transition. It may mean adjusting the budget, sacrificing the annual cruise, or driving the old van for a few more years. But this is that important.

Parishes need to offer resources to support parents in this endeavor. Because it’s the entire church’s responsibility in passing on the faith. But it’s ultimately up to the parents. It’s the parents who got Mater Dei Apostolate and other Catholic education options going.

I think too often we don’t think big. We aren’t magnanimous. We say, “I’m powerless. This is the way it is. We just got to go along with it.”

Baloney! We are the church. You are your children’s parents. You have the responsibility to see to their proper education in truth and you have the power to make it happen. Be not afraid!

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of St. Mary, Cook; St. Martin, Tower; and Holy Cross, Orr. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected]