Dear Parents & Guardians:
The evolution of Catholic education in our own country and Province reveals a particularly strong interest in ensuring that young Catholics have had access to good Catholic elementary and secondary schools. Historically, we know that Catholic elementary schools were funded even before the days of Confederation. Secondary schools which developed more slowly came into existence as religious orders dedicated to teaching made their way into English-speaking Canada. Both the Catholic hierarchy and parents were the driving force behind the establishment of Catholic schools here, and more especially in the United States where Catholic schools still represent to this day the largest private school system in the world. At least until recently it could be said that Catholic parents demonstrated a deep concern for the education of their children. This is no longer necessarily true today as Catholics in general are less engaged in the life of the Church at various levels.
Second Vatican Council and Catholic teaching previous to it, has always emphasised the pre-eminent role parents have in the education of their children. Parents have, and must continue to have, a significant role in both the faith development and academic education of their children. While it would be interesting to trace the views of the great minds of the past and present with respect to the role of the family in the education of the young, its inclusion in this theme would render it too lengthy. Suffice to state though, that most thinkers – Christian and non-Christian, seem to agree that since the family represents the most ancient form of society, it is also the most natural and logical. Moreover, in the Christian tradition for centuries the rights of the family against the state were defended on the basis of the belief in divine law. Seemingly, only Catholics and Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews and Moslems continue to have such an understanding of the origin of law. The family, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, even more than the state is of divine origin. This is the reason we continue to believe as Catholics that for the state to interfere in the relationships between parents and their children or between husband and wife which fall under divine law would be to exceed its authority and to act in violation of rights founded upon a higher authority. In Kant's the "Science of Rights" he argues that from the mere fact of procreation there follows the duty parents have in preserving and rearing children. This includes the care of their children's education. Conversely, the guilt of the neglecting of this education also falls on parents.
We are fortunate then as Lasallians, that our Founder saw in his time that parents needed help in avoiding possible culpability and, therefore, sought to provide a means to remedy the situation. John Baptist de La Salle was deeply moved by the way in which "the children of the artisans and poor" were abandoned and left to themselves. Obviously, things have changed considerably since the Founder's times but it is still true that for centuries now the most common practice has been to place children in schools and keep them there during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. I, here, again recommend two of Neil Postman's books: " The End of Education " and "The Disappearance of Childhood" to help us arrive at fuller understanding of the "ends" of education and what needs to be done during childhood to help children grow into mature adults. No educator can afford not to read these two important works.
Naturally over the course of time, but especially since the foundation or imposition of a public and state education systems, educators and parents have collaborated with government or private institutions in the education of the young. I think it is somewhat safe to state that the degree to which parents have been actively involved in their children's education has depended largely on socio-economic factors, and to a some extent, on their religious convictions. Today, this seems to have changed.
Many more senior educators routinely identify the most significant change in school life as being the deteriorating relationship between the school and parent, eclipsing even the advances in technology. In the past the values and expectations on the home front did not differ significantly from the school and society in general. It may be surprising to some that it is a rather recent matter that something like the reciting of the Lord's Prayer has been eliminated in the public school system and at the various political levels. Today, diverse menacing laws threaten the freedoms and rights of Christians. Regrettably, many who claim to be Catholic today or those who have simply fallen aware from the faith, identify more with the secular climate than they do with Church teaching. Sometimes this is the result of sound formation and ignorance and other times just plain dissent. This kind of parent may indeed value education but in a limited and self-serving way which excludes a real faith dimension or sees it as peripheral. Such a view of education endangers the very nature and mission of the Catholic school.
With not a little nostalgia do I recall my mother receiving our report cards and rather routinely skipping over our marks to see what grade we had been given in Conduct! She would say that it was more important that we had tried our best but there were no excuses as to getting anything less than a satisfactory grade for our behaviour. I do not think my experience was that much different from others of my generation and previous ones. My father was not terribly interested in our grades at school except to know that the modest fees that we paid at the high school level were not a total waste of money. Were they not interested in our education and welfare? Of course they were. However, in those days not so long ago really, parents who in many cases had a limited education and who were recent arrivals in this country understood instinctively the importance of equipping their children with the necessary skills for life. This meant taking public transport on our own; getting to hockey or altar boy practice on our own; and finding part-time jobs when we were old enough. (This meant before our 30th birthday!) Most importantly though it was understood that the parental role and that of the teacher were complementary but not the same. Parents supported teachers and the school in various positive ways but did not cross the line into intrusiveness. Likewise the school respected the rights of parents to determine how their children were raised at home. Although there were and are legitimate instances when the state may need to intervene to protect and safeguard children at home or at school, the state generally left parents to raise their children according to their traditions, religious beliefs and personal or political convictions. The concept of "in locus parentis" that applied and still applies to school administrators was taken seriously. We know this is no longer always respected. The complementary approach between the home and the school to which I have referred has eroded significantly in recent years. Much of this I suspect is due to what has become a very litigious and adversarial society at so many levels. Whether it be politics, the media, or religion, there exists in each area of life an unhappy and paralyzing polarization. This unfortunate tendency has poisoned families, school environments, and other kinds of relationships. Little wonder then that parents and teachers too often regard one another as adversaries rather than extensions of one another. It would be a very daunting task to examine more thoroughly the reasons for the disintegration of trust between the home and school. It is though sufficient to say here that this situation exists and is detrimental to the education of young people.
While the art of good teaching has not entirely disappeared, respect for the profession has. Educators and their unions must accept some of the blame for this situation. On the other hand educators often express their discouragement about what has happened to good parenting. The saddest part about this new climate is that it is contrary to the welfare of the young. Increasingly so, young people and, perhaps, even those not so young, are unable to handle the ups and downs of everyday life. As I have said many times, not every scrape and cut requires stitches. Teachers and parents provide care not cures.
Common sense dictates that working together is better than working at odds. We are fortunate in our school community in that although there are occasionally troubling incidents of parents being too aggressive and too unreasonable in reaction to the legitimate rights and responsibilities of administrators and teachers to exercise what they believe is best for their students and the school, most parents are respectful in observing appropriate boundaries. These boundaries are formalized in the Parents' Association and the other various committees that may assist, support and encourage those who actually run the school day-to-day. In a school such as ours which inherits its mission from the Catholic Church and a long-estasblished pedagogical and philosophical base, i.e. our Lasallian heritage, all stakeholders such as board members, administrators, teachers and staff are expected to accept the principles upon which our school is built. It is the responsibility and duty of administrators to exercise their right to act with resolve when dealing with parents who do not demonstrate their support for the overall mission of the College. Unity of purpose applies as much to the parental community as it does to the teaching staff. Constructive criticism, respectful debate, and disagreement have their place but must not to be allowed to diminish the fullness of the fiduciary nature of a school community and the ability of its administration to exercise its responsibilities.
The Catholic school, Catholic parents and other believers face many obstacles and issues these days. We are in this together. And it is only together that we can overcome the challenges before us and in so doing more faithful to the sacred trust given to us in our service and love of the young.
Brother Domenic Viggiani, fsc