you have news about the educational
seminars held this summer for our principals and teachers. Many
topics were covered during these two weeks, but all, as you
might expect, had a common end in view —how best to educate or
train our youth.
To have the best education or training is a
concern not only for our principals and teachers but also for
our parents, who have this primary duty in raising their
children. Nor does this concern end with parents. In many ways
the training of youth concerns us all. These children will one
day be adults and take their part in society where they will
help or harm the common good. If they have not been taught how
to train themselves, which is the task of education, how will
they continue the self-training needed to lead good lives?
Thus it is good for all of us to occasionally
take a few moments and consider some important questions which
pertain to any scheme of training or self-training. What results
do we want our training to produce? What materials are available
to produce the result? And how can we best handle the material
to bring about the result?
The result we want from our training
is, in or out of school, men and women of the best and noblest
character possible according to capacity and circumstances.
Proper training seeks to produce men and women whose lives are
dominated by good principles, deeply rooted in the mind and
elevated into standards of judgment, taste, feeling, action, and
which are consistently referred to throughout life. To do this
an all-round development of knowledge, intelligence, judgment,
moral and religious uprightness, strength and stamina, energy
and enterprise, refinement and culture is needed. Such lives,
based on good principles, will be quite distinct from those
dominated by mere impulses from within and circumstances from
without. We only need to look around or maybe even within to see
how lives dominated by such impulses and circumstances create
anything but men and women of virtue.
Thus we need to lay before our children the
noblest ideals, with a proper subordination, so that we properly
construct in them the noblest character and do justice to all
that goes into perfecting them. To do this, we need to have a
solid foundation of natural virtue. Grace builds upon nature and
so this foundation of character must be firmly established to
support the building which is to stand upon it.
As the firm foundation is being established
we can already begin to build and we do so by the Christian
ideals or supernatural virtues which perfect and elevate the
natural virtues to a higher plane so that the child is capable
of living in harmony with God’s will.
To finish off our building, all that remains
is to add the trimmings. These trimmings, when speaking of
character, are the various other physical, mental and practical
qualities, which develop body and mind (e.g., knowledge,
judgment, manners, taste, health and every possible kind of
activity whether of business or pleasure.) Thus we seek to
produce proper Christian gentlemen and ladies of all-round
capability who, for the rest of their lives will act according
to the Catholic principles instilled in them.
Every kind of training contributes to
accuracy of observation and judgment, to judiciousness of action
and self-restraint in moral matters. He who is taught to act on
sound principles concerning things on a natural level, will also
acquire greater facility in proceeding on sound principles in
those things which pertain to the salvation of his soul. Natural
development may, it is true, be accompanied by neglect of
spiritual development and so lose all higher value. But, given
that spiritual development is not neglected, it will certainly
not be impeded but rather helped by every form of natural
In training we must also consider the
material we have available to work with and from which we
hope to produce the desired result. As man moves from infancy to
childhood, then on to boyhood, and finally to adulthood, he
passes through different developmental stages. In each stage he
reaches a level of development which gives us certain material
to work with. The main concern for the parents of a helpless
newborn babe is to see that plenty of food and rest is provided.
As the baby grows into childhood, the beginnings of judgement
and will are manifest in the child’s observations and impulses.
What parent has not had the question "Why?" put to them
by their little two or three year old?
As the child develops into the boyhood stage,
there is a consciousness of the power of choice, its proper use
and the duty of making the right choice. Here the training must
focus on the intellect and the will. In the training of youth
this is the real breaking point. Here the boy should be
considered as an incipient man and the girl as an incipient
woman and thus opportunities should be given for him or her to
develop by ruling them with adult methods as far as they are
able rather than with child methods. Motives of pleasure and
pain, reward and punishment, or the will of the parent must be
superseded by the idea of duty, which must be again elevated
into personal service of God, and this not just out of fear but
out of love. Thus ethical conduct will be placed on a sound
footing of religious principles and these must be cultivated
until they become habit.
In the training process, once again, let us
bear in mind that all real training is self-training; we have no
power to force the will. Success will be achieved only in so far
as we can induce the child to take his own self-training in hand
according to the lines laid out for him. For this purpose it is
important that we watch each child’s development so that we
neither hold the child back nor push too quickly.
Finally the means or method for
producing the desired result of our training must be considered.
These methods must consist of removing obstacles and providing
opportunities as well as providing incitements where development
is deficient and imposing restrictions where it is excessive
until the child is able to do so for himself.
The first means we can consider is the
training of the intellect, otherwise known as instruction.
Whether it be formal as in the set tasks systematically imposed,
or informal resulting from the interaction of such things as
conversation, sightseeing or reading, instruction concerns the
communication between the intellects of teacher and student in
order to convey thoughts and facts.
There is also the training of the will known
as discipline. Discipline is able to instigate and direct
actions and thus enforce principles, and, like instruction, has
also formal and informal parts. Rules and regulations make up
what we call formal discipline, while informal discipline, which
is just as important, comes from suggestion rather than law and
is derived from the tone of the circle, family or school in
which the child lives.
A final means to consider, for producing
character, is the influence or example of persons.
Example covers the whole ground of instruction and discipline
and is a more potent factor of influence than the other two. The
reason for this is that we humans, especially when children,
have a natural instinct of imitation. The possibilities of
achievement are revealed by example thus exciting our
aspirations and helping to form our ideals and focus our
energies down to a definite line of self-development.
This scheme, as I said, applies to any
training. Unfortunately in today’s modern world the result,
material and means have been changed. The result sought today
are men and women who will be useful to our industrial society,
able to make money or able to contribute to the pleasures most
As to the material, modern educators try to
force it to fit this same utilitarian mold. Instead of a
well-rounded education, given according to the normal
developmental stages of man, they try to force specialized
education upon children before they are ready. Children, like
vessels of clay, must be shaped slowly and given time to dry
before firing otherwise they will (and have) become warped or
burst apart when put into the fire, being unable to handle the
The means have suffered even greater attack.
Modern educators say instruction between two intellects is no
longer necessary. Children can teach themselves or machines can
better train them. Discipline or training of the will, what is
that? And the icons for imitation today are men and women
dominated by impulses or circumstances who seek to fit the
subjective result of the utilitarian society.
As Catholics, we know the result expected of
us: "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
We also know too well how faulty are the material and means we
have to work with. But too often we fall victim to the erroneous
thinking of the modern world, misusing this material or
destroying the proper means. However it is not too late for us
to change the trend. To make sure our children have proper
education we all must do our part. For most of us, as adults,
this can be accomplished simply by taking our own self-training
seriously. Let us start with proper instruction and
self-discipline. Then our example will give our youth something
to shoot for and we will all be working toward the perfection
God demands of us.
Sincerely yours in the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts,
Fr. John D. Fullerton