The Purpose of Education

December 6, 2021

Dale Ahlquist

Consider the following:

1. It is no part of the normal function of the State to teach.

2. The State is entitled to see that citizens receive due education sufficient to enable them to discharge the duties of citizenship in its various degrees.

3. The State ought, therefore, to encourage every form of sound educational endeavour, and may take means to safeguard the efficiency of education.

4. To parents whose economic means are insufficient to pay for the education of their children, it is the duty of the State to furnish the necessary means, providing them from the common funds arising out of the taxation of the whole community. But in so doing the State must not interfere with parental responsibility, nor hamper the reasonable liberty of parents in their choice of a school for their children. Above all, where the people are not all of one creed, there must be no differentiation on the ground of religion.

5. Where there is need of greater school accommodation, the State may, in default of other agencies, intervene to supply it; but it may do so only ‘in default of, and in substitution for, and to the extent of, the responsibility of the parents’ of the children who need this accommodation.

6. The teacher is always acting in loco parentis [“in the place of the parent”], never in loco civitas [“in the place of the state”], though the State to safeguard its citizenship may take reasonable care to see that teachers are efficient.

7. Thus a teacher never is and never can be a civil servant, and should never regard himself or allow himself to be so regarded. Whatever authority he may possess to teach and control children, and to claim their respect and obedience, comes to him from God, through the parents, and not through the State, except in so far as the State is acting on behalf of the parents.

Where did this list of principles come from? It was created by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales and promulgated on the eve of the General Election in 1929.

It was not just a document for Catholic parents, it was for all parents and all government officials. Issued in a country with a socialized compulsory education system, these principles articulated the proper relationship between School and State, and one that was profoundly different from what existed but was never stated.

The principles are a succinct presentation of how subsidiarity applies to education. The State is not supposed to be responsible for education. That is not a normal function of the State. The parent is responsible. Parents should be able to choose what kind of education their children should have. The State should not be deciding for them. On the contrary, if the parents are poor, the State should support the parent’s school choice. The State should make sure that the students are being taught to be good citizens—for instance, a school teaching anarchy and terrorism should be legitimately shut down, but a school teaching the Ten Commandments is good for everybody. And even if the State should have assurances that the teachers are competent, the teachers are working for the parents, not for the State.

Fr. Vincent McNabb, the great Dominican and Distributist, said that this “ecclesiastical manifesto ventures to challenge the first principles of educational State-supremacy.” He called the statement one of the most important social documents of the 20th century, and yet not only did the general press ignore it, the Catholic press ignored it. And it has been ignored since. It’s time to stop ignoring it and start promoting it.

The reason we may have been hesitant to do so is that we find ourselves up against the juggernaut of public education, which is perhaps the largest and most powerful force in our society. It has shaped the modern world more than any other influence and is directly connected to the crisis that is causing our country to crumble.

In America, public education is necessarily devoid of religion, and in not being able to teach the ultimate meaning of things, the basis of morality, and the foundational principles of our civilization, we have effectively emptied the minds of our young people.

They don’t know how to think. They don’t know how to use reason. They cannot tell right from wrong. They have only been trained to react to stimuli that barely startles them. The only thing they have in common are some unnatural political and social ideas that make them angry about something. What they don’t have in common is common sense.

We need a retrieval of common sense. If you don’t find the school that serves you as a parent, then you start one, as the founders of Chesterton Academy of Orlando have done. And then you will start to change the world.

Dale Ahlquist

Dale Ahlquist is President of the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton and co-founder of Chesterton Academy, the flagship of the Chesterton Schools Network.

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