Friday, February 12, 2016

Parents as Primary Educators

Hardly a month goes by now without an email arriving in my inbox asking me to sign an online petition against some proposal in the EU or UK concerning sex education in schools. Perhaps, it is a matter of protesting a resolution calling for LGBT awareness classes, or introducing into primary and middle schools something equivalent to the Kama Sutra. Those asking me to oppose this invariably appeal to the principle of the parents as the primary educators, something they allege is being denied by the latest innovation.

It is well-known that the Catholic Church teaches that the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children. For a long while now, the focus of the defense of this teaching has been skewed towards the procreative end of the doctrine, with a necessarily detailed critique of contraception. Just remember, Pope John Paul II effectively dedicated the first five years of his Wednesday audience catecheses to this question, in what is now known as the Theology of the Body (1979-1984). In contrast, while he did address the educative element in Familiaris Consortio (1981), in the Charter of the Rights of the Family (1983), and in his Letter to Families (1995), we are talking of just a handful of paragraphs altogether. One needs to go back 86 years, to Pope Pius XI’s Divini Illius Magistri, to find anything approaching a systematic explanation of the doctrine.

And yet, in the meantime, the modern state ever more claims that it is the primary educator of youth, and, in not a few countries, parents are excluded from the process by force of law. It is not just a matter of the imposition of (often compulsory) questionable sex education in schools, but also the restriction placed in many countries on home education, and the prosecution of parents who insist on educating their children in this way—Germany being a notable example of this type of restriction. Twenty out of 44 European countries have made home education illegal. Even in countries that are more liberal, like Ireland (whose constitution protects it) and the United Kingdom, the attitude often seems to be that parent-based educational initiatives are a quirky sideshow, though still, perhaps, worth tolerating for the sake of upholding freedom of expression.  (more...)

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