Catholics Were Strongly Against Compulsory Public Education – in the 19th Century

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As the general culture in the U.S. declines, so does, it seems, the state of American public schools. The Catholic Church has long maintained a parallel Catholic school system, and homeschooling has been quickly gaining popularity in the last few decades.

But today’s concerns about public schools are not new; they are at least as old as the American public system itself.

When the state of Massachusetts passed the country’s first compulsory public education law, a recent article at Intellectual Takeout explains, many Catholics were worried. Here’s what the editors of Boston’s Catholic newspaper had to say about the law:

The general principle upon which these laws are based is radically unsound, untrue, Atheistical… It is, that the education of children is not the work of the Church, or of the Family, but that it is the work of the State… Two consequences flow from this principle… In the matter of education, the State is supreme over the Church and the Family. Hence, the State can and does exclude from the schools religious instruction… The inevitable consequence is, that… the greater number of scholars must turn out to be Atheists, and accordingly the majority of non-Catholics are people of no religion…

The other consequence… leads the State to adopt the child, to weaken the ties which bind it to the parent. So laws are made compelling children to attend the state schools, and forbidding the parents, if they be poor, to withdraw their little ones from the school… The consequence of this policy is… universal disobedience on the part of children… Our little boys scoff at their parents, call their fathers by the name of Old Man, Boss, or Governor. The mother is the Old Woman.

Their concerns rest on a few principles that remain vital to Catholic Social Teaching today.

First, a proper understanding of the world, and thus a proper education, is centered around God. God is not something “extra” that religious people add to the world as it suits them, as though a secular view is neutral. Rather, God and religion must be at the center of any true view of the world. Anything else leads to atheism, or a rejection of God, they argue.

Second, children are, in the first place, the responsibility of their parents. The family, as the modern Catholic social thought says, is the “vital cell” of society. It is prior to the state, both chronologically and ontologically. The state may offer aid to the family but can never supplant its basic structure or integrity.

The editors warn of a culture-wide rejection of God and of a decline in family relations. Do you think we have that in our society today?

[See also: 7 Reasons This Mother LOVES Sending Her Kids to Catholic Schools]

[See also: 7 Reasons This Catholic Mom LOVES Homeschooling Her Children]