The Parent is the Primary Educator

Have we outsourced too much of our critical duty as parents?

The default presumption in our culture is to believe that education is the realm of professional teachers. This is why we send our children away to school and, statistically speaking, almost nobody questions why we do this. It’s also why those considering homeschool often ask “am I qualified?” But the Christian understanding has always held that parents are the primary educators.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with sending your children to school, but parents should always consider those institutions and professionals as assisting them in their duties as parents.  

The Catholic Church has done a great job in articulating this for all Christians.

Parents are the primary educators. Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: They are educators because they are parents.

“Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: They are educators because they are parents.”

– Pope St. John Paul II, Letter to the Family, #16)

The responsibility of educating a child begins at birth and involves all aspects of the human person – body, mind and spirit. And even though schools or tutors, churches or  coaches can be valuable assets for parents, parents are ultimately accountable to God for the education and formation of their children. Parents choose the teachers. Parents choose what their children learn – not the schools, not the teachers, not the state.

“Education requires the help of society as a whole” but it must not be forgotten that the original right of education belongs directly with the parents. Society may “aid” the parent but not usurp a parent’s power to educate.

– Vatican II #3 of its Declaration on Christian Education)

We are told “… above all, let them [teachers] perform  their services as partners of the parents.” Teachers help parents; they are not to usurp the parents’ rights. [#8 of Vatican II’s document on education.] 

Find more explanation on these quotes at: https://www.setonhome.org/archive/home-schooling-based-on-catholic-church-teaching/

To many, this may seem like a radical statement. We have kids and then we send them to school at a certain age like everyone has done forever. That’s just what is done, right?

Well, yes, it is, but few, I’d argue, do so with the conscious decision to cede all authority to the schools. And yet, in reality, that seems to be what’s happening.

Private faith-based schools are no exception. Many parents who have the means, or otherwise make great sacrifices to do so, send their children to private schools thinking it’s a safe harbor for their little ones. Maybe it is, although that seems increasingly like a 50/50 kind of bet. Nonetheless, their obligations as primary educators remains the same.

I want to make a clear distinction here: When we discuss various school systems and options for education, we are not talking about the achievements or failing of individual teachers. We are talking about overarching methods and environments.

It takes a special heart to become a teacher. Truly. There are a few professions which require so much sacrifice and a compassionate disposition. Those who enter these fields are truly magnificent souls who also make great sacrifices for the little ones in their care.

In fact, according to a recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, 94 percent of teachers spend their own money to stock their classrooms with the necessary supplies and resources. On average, a teacher will shell out about $479, although 7 percent spent more than $1,000, according to the survey. 

The average median income of all elementary teachers is only $57K. 

But this is what I mean: $1,000 is just about my total homeschool budget! So teachers are spending, from of their own salaries, what I spend for one family’s total education per year. In 2015-2016, the U.S. spent $706 BILLION on elementary and secondary schools. And teachers are spending money from their own pockets for their classrooms?


We can take a look at the results in another post, but, spoiler alert, they’re not great.

Anyway – you should get my point: this isn’t about individual teachers. This – our mission – is about the horrible system we’ve come to accept as normal.

So, once we realize that parents are the primary educators, does anything change? Well, it might. To be somewhat blunt: if you’ve been treating your kids’ public school as a sort of daycare, then you might want to check in and see what they’re learning.

If you’ve always valued education and you have kept tabs on your kids’ education, great! But do you maybe feel powerless to do anything about the questionable or less-than-ideal elements in it? If so, just reflect on your duty as parent and primary educator. Remember that YOU are the boss here.