With the school year beginning, it is fitting to focus upon the wisdom of the Church with regard to education. Fifty one years ago, the Vatican II Council approved its Declaration on Christian Education entitled Gravissimum Educationis. In that declaration, the Council praised the increasing availability of education to all social classes in many nations, and encouraged the promotion of educational opportunities across the board. But it also challenged modern education systems in two related ways.
First, the Council emphasized that education is not merely a matter of learning about subjects, but rather is primarily about the whole person, intellectually, socially, morally, and spiritually. Second, building upon that notion, the Council affirmed several times that parents have the right and responsibility of being the primary educators of their children. With regard to the second point, both parents and students are often surprised by the notion that parents should be the primary educators of their children, given that most parents have their children in schools, whether public, religious or private.
However, when one thinks of education in the broader sense, that of developing the whole person, one can more easily see how that development must begin and be completed in the family. Even with regard to the study of general subjects, such as math, science, history, and literature, the desire to learn, the encouragement and discipline needed for education, and the wisdom to unify all subjects together begins and ends in the family. Where the family is solid, teachers can build upon this foundation and know that these efforts will receive continued support; without that background, they are building largely upon sand. But, even more importantly, we should consider education to be not only a matter of learning about various subjects, or being more able to get a higher paying job in the world.
Rather, as the Vatican II Council emphasized, education is concerned with helping people to develop harmonious in all ways, for themselves and for their society. Schools can and should assist in the full and harmonious development. And Catholic schools and religious education programs are crucially important to teach the faith and to provide deep spiritual training. But it is parents above all who have that role of making the first society that children will know an atmosphere of love, wisdom and virtue that will make all education progressive in the deepest sense of the word, growing as individuals and nations in the ways of truth, goodness, and the glory of God.