THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION
Definition of Education
An essential duty
Childhood is the future in promise and in hope, or, as Bishop Dupanloup so nicely put it, “humanity in bloom”. “The child or adolescent”, explains His Holiness Pius XII, “is a hope full of promise for the family, for the fatherland, and for all human society; he is also a hope for the Church, for Heaven, for God Himself, Whose son he is and must be”.
“What an one, think ye, shall this child be?” – Quis putas, puer iste erit? (Luke, I, 66) – they asked, as they gathered around the cradle of Saint John the Baptist. This same question spontaneously comes to mind each time a new child is born. And no matter how often this question is asked, the answer will be the same: “This child shall be whatever his parents help him to be”. There is hardly a father or (especially) mother who, contemplating their newly born, does not feel the heavy responsibility of developing the treasure of life which has been confided to their care.
One such parent – the Frenchman Frédéric Ozanam, founder of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul – expressed this delicate and profound sentiment in the following moving terms: “…A new gift has come to reveal to me what is probably the greatest joy a man can experience on this earth: I am a father!
Sir, what a moment it was when I heard my child’s first cry, when I saw this little creature – an immortal creature, nonetheless – whom God placed in my hands, who brought me so much sweetness, but also so many obligations! We will start his education early, just as he will start our re-education – for I see that Heaven has sent him to teach us many things and to make us better.
I cannot look on this sweet being, full of innocence and purity, without seeing there the sacred mark of the Creator, less obscured than it is in us. I cannot think of this immortal soul for which I will have to render an account without feeling more imbued with the sense of my duties. How will I be able to teach him, unless I first put into practice what I want him to learn? Could God have chosen a more lovable means of instructing me, of correcting me and of placing me on the path to Heaven?”
“Children”, Foerster observes, “are like the bells of Easter – they are the signal of the resurrection for man’s most noble aspirations”. By his mere presence, the child reminds his parents of their right to raise him, as well as of their first and most important duty.
“The family”, teaches Pius XI in his encyclical on Christian education, “holds directly from the Creator the mission and hence the right to educate the offspring, a right inalienable because inseparably joined to the strict obligation, a right anterior to any right whatever of civil society and of the State, and therefore inviolable on the part of any power on earth”.
More concisely, but just as clearly, Canon Law requires parents to always remember that they have “the very grave obligation to do all in their power to attend to the education of their children”.
A sublime undertaking
Three words, equally rich in meaning, describe the goal which parents must pursue in their task of developing the life of their children. They must form them, educate them and raise them.
- FORM THEM
In everyday language, “to form someone” means to cultivate one of their aptitudes using the most appropriate and efficacious methods available. We call a “master” someone who initiates us to a particular area of expertise.
Every trade or profession, whether it be that of electrician or engineer, requires an apprenticeship. No man, no matter how exceptionally talented, can do without the experience of others if he wants to succeed in his chosen profession. Regardless of how much he applies himself to mastering a science or skill, the self-taught man or amateur will never be a “professional” instructed in all the secrets of his art.
To form a child is to teach him his first and most essential occupation: that of being a man. In Divini illius Magistri, Pius XI tells us that education consists essentially in the formation of man. Before being a builder, an artist, an architect, an engineer or a physiotherapist, a man must behave as a man. It is up to parents to teach their child how to do this. Left to himself, he will never master his most important trade.
- EDUCATE THEM
This formation of children is an “education”. The word comes from the Latin “educere”, meaning to “draw out” or “elucidate”. It consists in freeing up and bringing to fruition the riches, beauty and potential which are hidden in the heart and soul of the child.
The acorn which is planted today is already the oak of tomorrow. To become the majestic tree whose curled-up branches are capable of resisting the onslaught of the mighty wind, all that is needed is for its life forces, enclosed in that tiny acorn, to be gradually developed through the action of the sap, the sun and the air.
The oak “rises out of”, “draws itself from” (educitur) the acorn. Similarly, the complete man is already present in the child in the form of a seed.
Another comparison, borrowed from the art of photography, illustrates the same idea. Individuals and landscapes captured by the photographer only appear on the film when they have been “developed”. In the same way, education must, little by little, “reveal” those invisible treasures yet hidden in the soul of the child.
- RAISE THEM
“Formation” and “education” understood in the sense in which we have just outlined necessarily result in “growing” or “raising” the child. It is unfortunate that the English language allows us to improperly assimilate the “raising” of animals such as horses, dogs and cats with the entirely different “raising” of children. Even though such use of language is not altogether incorrect, neither is it exact, since, strictly-speaking, only human beings are “raised”.
To raise a child is to get him to attain his stature of man and son of God; it is to raise him above the level of the animal to the level of man – even more, to the level of Christ, to that of Heaven, and to that of God.
Despite the inspiring perspectives opened up by the word “raise”, the term nevertheless has a serious drawback in that it does not sufficiently emphasize the child’s collaborative role in the process. Even in the moral sphere, “raising” a child has nothing in common with the familiar, charming image of a father taking his son in his arms and lifting him up into the air – rather it means helping the child to raise itself. Education must be accomplished from the inside – exterior pressure and direction are not enough.
Let parents never forget: education is a two-way matter – it is at least as much the work of the child as it is that of the parents. The entire art of the educator consists in awakening in the child the desire and ambition to grow and perfect himself. Nothing is done so long as the child does not aspire to development of self.
In short, “forming”, “educating” and “raising” a child means helping him to become what he is (in potency), to acquire the fulness of his personality, to bring to fruition all his hidden qualities, and finally to secure for him the very possession of God, in Whom our happiness resides.
We can, therefore, define education as the science (set of theoretical principals) and the art (set of practical techniques) which grant the child not only the possibility, but the facility of “becoming himself”, by developing his entire being from its current embryonic state in such a way that, having reached adulthood, he may live his life to the full and in all its beauty in the splendid blossoming of his personality for the happiness of others and the glory of God, his Master and Creator. A great and noble task, indeed!
In fact, there is no more important or more essential one. “What can be greater”, exclaims Saint John Chrysostom, “than directing souls and forming children in virtue? Molding souls (fingere animos) is the art of arts, more excellent than that of the painter or the sculptor”.
Consequences and evaluation of this definition
The definition of education which we have just outlined gives us a mere glimpse of the scale and complexity of the undertaking at hand. It actually includes a double objective. For the sake of clarity, we must deal with these two aspects separately, but, in reality, they constantly intertwine and need to be accomplished simultaneously.
This double objective consists firstly in forming in the child the man, the whole man; secondly, it is a matter of forming in him this particular man.
“It would be nice if the ‘work is play’ stage lasted longer than it does. Children soon discover, however, that the wary in this world shy away from work, and now begins the real struggle…” An excerpt from Mary Reed Newland’s book ‘How to Raise Good Catholic Children”.
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