HE Declaration on Chris tian Education reaffirms the traditional teaching of the Church on Christian education without laying down any new principles. What is the purpose of the Catholic school?
The primary and principal educators of children are their parents, and where parents fail to fulfil this obligation no school is able completely to supply the deficiency. Education, as we all know, is not simply instruction or the passing on of information.
It is often described as education for life. In other words education is everything that enables an individual to develop fully his own unique personality so as to fit him adequately for his place in society, for his own benefit and for that of society as a whole.
Home instruction, schooling. the development of character, and the development of certain skills are all a part of education, but none of them is the whole. Education begins in the family and continues throughout life—in school, parish and borough.
The school takes its place in education as a complement to the family, helping children reach their proper status in the community.
The community referred to Is neither the civil nor the parochial community on its own. It is the community of the whole Church in which all other communities are (ideally at any rate) united.
The individual is first welded to the Church by Baptism. This sacrament effects a real change in the child by designating him as an active participant in Christ's redemptive work.
The education of the child as a Christian is to ensure that his sharing in the redemptive act will be fully effective both for himself and for others. This does not mean that the civil community and the knowledge and skills necessary for the well-being of society should be ignored. Far from it.
It is only through full membership of civil society that the individual Christian becomes fully Christian. This is an extension of the general principle that "grace builds upon nature".
No education can be a Christian education that does not enable a child to be fully integrated as a Christian into society (provided, of course, that such a society is not essentially alien to the Christian
It follows that the Catholic school must in every way measure up to the standards of the State school. It must offer as good academic opportunities and as good practical facilities as its State counterpart.
If it should differ in externals in any way (I include academic attainment in the term "externals"), it should differ only in its greater excellence. If it is
inadequate as a school it is all the more inadequate as a Catholic school.
Such comments should go without saying. It is equally clear that it is not necessary for a school to be a Catholic school in order to fulfil basic educational standards.
What, then, is the feature of the Catholic school that makes it such an important element of Catholic educational policy?
In the Declaration on Christian Education we read: "Its [the Catholic school's] own special characteristic is to create in the school community an atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity; it helps the young to combine personal development with growth as the new creatures that Baptism made them; in the end, it makes the message of salvation the principle of order for the whole of human culture, so that the knowledge which pupils gradually acquire of the world, of life, and of man, is enlightened by faith.
"Thus, while the Catholic school is open, as it should be, to the requirements of human progress, it educates its pupils effectively to promote the good of society on this earth, and prepares them for service for the extending of God's kingdom: by the practice of an exemplary, apostolic life they can become a salutory leaven in the human community.
We must attempt an analyse this more closely. It is not enough to talk of atmosphere, ethos and the Christian way of teaching things. These, though real elements, are abstract qualities and of themselves are not sufficient, in the minds of many, to justify an expensive system of Catholic schools.
One purpose of the Catholic school is to provide appropriate religious instruction. This is not its main function, but it is an important one. A great deal can be and is done in the home and parish, but the school has certain obvious advantages over both.
The way of life of a school makes it possible for instruction to be given in an orderly fashion, according to a planned syllabus and by trained teachers. If well done this is an important contribution to the religious education of the child.
It is true that instruction has often been inadequately given, but we are aware of some of the deficiencies of the past and there are now great improvements in evidence. The instruction, however, is but a means to an end, and it is true that it may be possible for adequate instruction to be given outside of school.
The Catholic school is the proper complement to the Catholic home. A school is a most powerful formative element in a person's life, possibly second only to the home in its influence.
For the development of a balanced individual the ideals of home and school must be in complete harmony. Where there is discord there is damage, and the more fundamental the discord the greater the damage done.
The right school for a child is the school which continues the education of the home. For the child of a Catholic family this is something that only the Catholic school can do properly. The Catholic school, with the co-operation of the parents, continues the education of children to an awareness of their Christian vocation in society.
In addition, the school has the same unity of purpose as the parish, and is more or less closely linked to the parish, in between home and parish, preparing the child for an active sharing in the life of the Church.
If we look at the school itself we see the unity of ideals accentuated in the relationship
between teachers and children. A teacher, whether he likes it or not, projects himself, his own personality, in the classroom; the most effective religious education is probably the witness of the Christian's life.
The identification of life and purpose within the school makes it possible to achieve some sort of unity and hence some sort of community. Growth to maturity within this small community is a stage in the child's progress towards full, active membership of the whole Church.
In short, it seems that the Catholic school, wholly dedicated to the development of the Christian life, is that society which is most apt to provide for the genuine needs of our children.
Not all Catholic schools are the ideal schools pictured above. In not every Catholic school is the unity of Christian living as evident as one might hope. Not all of our schools have that close relationship between family, school and parish that seems to be the very essence of Catholic education.
It is right to point out these deficiencies. It is not enough to build schools, and to fill them with Catholic children. The Catholic school will be effective only in so far as parents, parish, school, and indeed the whole community, work together harmoniously towards a common end.
In our concern for Catholic schools we cannot ignore the vast numbers of Catholic childrent who will never have the opportunity of a Catholic schooling. But let us recognise the value of the work done by those Catholics who see it as their vocation to teach in nonCatholic schools. By their way of life and their total service of self they do incalculable good, and provide an essential cornpletnent to the present Catholic educational system.