Becoming ‘The First Educators’ of our children

Dads organize speaker series for parents at St. Mary's Parish in Littleton

Seeing the need for a renewal of Catholic culture in families and society, and desiring to fulfill their vocations in the process, six dads from St. Mary’s Parish in Littleton set out to implement the great treasures of Catholic thought in their own families, and help other families do the same, through a series of monthly talks titled “The First Educators,” which began Sept. 14 and will continue through October and November.

The Catechism states that parents “have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule.” Thus, they create a home “well suited for education in the virtues” (CCC 2223). They have the “privilege” of evangelizing their children and should educate them in the faith from the children’s “earliest years” (CCC 2225-2226).

“We started asking questions about how we can make our kids’ formation more authentically Catholic, where we fit into that, how we fulfill our vocation as parents, and how we can harness the power that we have on our God-given role,” said Bryce Carson, once of the six organizers, parishioner at St. Mary’s, husband and father of five. “We were also looking at what the future looks like in terms of middle school and high school … It’s easy to get critical about whatever schooling option you are part of, but, what are we doing in our own home to really fulfill our role as first educators of our children?”

Supported by their wives and the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the Madrid-based religious congregation at St. Mary’s Parish, the six men — Bryce Carson, David Holman, Ashely Lessard, Tim Truckenbrod, Tyler Kolden and Chris Meyer — put together a series of talks with world-class speakers to help parents obtain practical strategies to raise saints in today’s culture and maximize their role in their kids’ education, teaching them to love the pursuit of love and virtue, as stated on their website, thefirsteducators.com.

“We’ve had great help from our wives and the Disciples, [who] have fostered this. They’ve met with us, they’ve hosted us and also pressed us spiritually and intellectually on what does this look like and who is our audience,” said Holman. “[Although], most immediately, the fruits of this project will be intangible, I think parents reading to their children, parents maybe teaching catechism to their kids and leading an active prayer life, will help parents begin educating their kids in an authentically Catholic way.”

“I’d like to see the highest principles of the Church — philosophical, theological — translated into practical things that we do in our homes,” Carson added, “whether that is prayer or reading aloud great works of literature at an appropriate level, listening to music and performing music in our own home — just things to make our home more beautiful and reflective to Christ in our family.”

Handing down an authentic education

Christopher Check, President of Catholic Answers, initiated the series Sept. 14 with a talk that centered on the meaning and purpose of true education and the role of storytelling in the process of its communication.

Quoting Father Edward Leen’s book What is True Education?, Check said: “A man is educated when he understands human experience as the Divine Author of human experience understands it. When he appreciates the beauty that comes from the Creative Mind and Supreme Artist, he’s better educated. When he can express with reverence and eloquence the truth and unity of the beauty he has grasped, he’s highly educated.”

“In other words, the purpose of education is a human person who understands his relationship with his Creator and the unity with his Creator that he seeks. Everything else is in the service of this end,” Check explained.

“There is no proper understanding of education outside of the context of the Incarnation or, as Pope Pius XII puts it in Divini Illius Magistri, ‘There is no education that is not Christian education,’” Check continued.

The purpose of education is a human person who understands his relationship with his Creator and the unity with his Creator that he seeks. Everything else is in the service of this end.”

This is because all things, even non-Biblical works of literature and history, such as those of the Greeks, are part of salvation history, since all things were tending to the Incarnation and, after the Incarnation, all things come from it, Check assured.

Thus, the great classic works of the West, which served as pillars of the same civilization, allow Catholics to understand who they are as heirs and citizens of the West, citizens of Christendom, by grasping the rays of truth about morality and the human person that were in its foundation, he explained.

The stories that shaped the West are also key in the education of the next generation and its virtues, Check continued. Storytelling itself helps a kid not only to understand a concept or virtue but to embody it. Check also emphasized the importance of literature, art, music and poetry in an authentic education, for they all are key to achieving its end.

Practical insights

Check concluded by giving parents a few tips as to how to provide an authentic education for their children.

He said the first step was to “turn off the noise,” which would allow parents to be more present at home.

Secondly, he encouraged parents to “guide the love and practice of reading, silence, study and meditation” for their children.

Thirdly, he encouraged them to engage in “thoughtful” family conversations that touched on these topics.

Furthermore, he said that “pulling out the guitar” and practicing poetry by praying the Divine Office were other ways of handing down an authentic education to their children.

Check urged parents not to be discouraged by the difficulty of providing this type of education for their children in our society. “There’s a lot of ground to recover,” he told the Denver Catholic. Nonetheless, he says the best way to accomplish it is to look for a community with the same goal, for education is meant to be communal.

“I hope that parents are inspired to lead, that they take an active leadership role and show their children that leadership even if they are sending them to school or using a home-schooling program,” Holman said. “To the extent that both the father and the mother together can pursue an authentically Catholic education for the kids, kids are going to see that… That’s the only way we’re going to turn this culture around — it’s by starting in our own families and building that beautiful Catholic culture at home, and the best way to do that is through education.”

“I would really encourage people to come to the next event, we have amazing speakers here. We are incredibly blessed to have Rich Moss come next month and he’s going to get into more of the practical side of things,” Carson concluded. “I think that’s what our speakers are really going to focus on that is useful to parents. It’s taking those high-level principles and turning them to practice.”

The First Educators Series

Oct. 19:     Rich Moss – The role of technology in our homes

Nov. 17:    Dr. Andrew Seeley – Directing the education of our children

To RSVP, visit thefirsteducators.com

COMING UP: What is Classical education?

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We celebrate Catholic Schools Week beginning January 28th. That day also marks the feast of the patron of Catholic schools, St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote that “whoever teaches the truth enlightens the mind, for truth is the light of the mind” (De Veritate, 11). The student, however, does not receive this light passively, Aquinas says, but, with their teacher as guide, should actively seek to realize their potential to know.

As so many students have lost their love of learning, some schools have returned to the wisdom of the Catholic tradition for new inspiration. In particular, classical education has taken root across the country, with one entire diocese and over two hundred Catholic schools adopting it. The Archdiocese of Denver has two classical schools, Our Lady of Lourdes and Frassati Catholic Academy, as well as a classical track at Bishop Machebeuf High School.

But what is classical education? Some think it must be an advanced curriculum only for elite students. Rather, classical education takes us back to the basics: how to read, how to think, how to speak. These three skills are often referred to as “the three ways,” the trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Classical education focuses on inspiring students to read more, think about what they read, and communicate effectively about it. It is called classical, as it looks back to Greco-Roman civilization and the Christian culture of the Middle Ages for inspiration, both in approach and in content matter, such as classical language.

This approach does not focus primarily on practical outcomes as the goal, but the formation of mind. Ironically the approach has proven that it does prepare students well for their future. No matter what students will do for their careers, classical education gives general preparation through deep thinking, problem solving, and creative expression, which help them to excel. It has been proven that as children become more immersed in technology, they fail to develop these skills. As the workforce becomes more automated and computer driven, classical training will be more in need and will not be replaced by machines like other practical skill sets.

There are a number of books that can help us to learn more about the classical approach and the Christian tradition on education. First, An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents by Christopher Perrin (Classical Academic Press, 2004) provides a short, basic introduction. It leads the reader through a short history of classical education, the key approaches of the trivium and quadrivium, the importance of classical languages, and the general stages of learning.

Second, Gene Veith Jr. and Andrew Kern provide a more in-depth introduction in Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping the Nation (Capital Research Center, 3rd ed., 2015). The authors offer an ecumenical perspective, but also note that “Catholic education has always contained a classical element, and today there are a variety of classical forms within the orbit of Catholic education, including home schools, home school cooperatives, parochial schools, and private schools” (59). As they note, the classical movement has started small and has been building steady momentum.

Third, for those interested in a more substantial treatment, Fr. Francis Bethel, O.S.B traces the power of classical education through the life of one impactful teacher, John Senior (John Senior and the Restoration of Realism, Thomas More College Press, 2016). Senior co-founded the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas with the goal of awakening wonder and helping students to open their eyes to reality. Fr. Bethel summarizes Senior’s education philosophy as “poetic” in that we “must ground all intellectual and effective life on the experiential and imaginative level. This concrete way of nourishing Realism underlay everything he taught and the way he taught it.” Senior’s approach provides a model for classical teaching in grounding education in a direct experience of what is taught.

The classical approach provides Catholics an opportunity to rethink education in a time of transition. As many public schools experience failure and Catholics schools continue to close, it may be time to look back into our own tradition in order to move forward in a fresh and creative way. The Catholic tradition offers the light of wisdom, described by Aquinas, that can enlighten the minds of our children.