Educating in freedom

On 10/12/2011, in Features, by Mark

The human person is marked by the capacity of self-determination: each is free to “construct” who one really is through one’s own free decisions. Freedom is not merely the possibility to choose one option over another, but the capacity of self-dominion in directing one’s actions towards the true good.

Therefore a central aspect of educating children is forming them to exercise their freedom, so that they truly want to do what is good—not because it is commanded, but because it is good. Children are often taught more effectively by what they see and experience in the home—an atmosphere of freedom, cheerfulness, affection and trust—than by what they are told. Hence, more than in instructing, the parents’ educational mission consists in “infecting” children with the love for truth that is the key to freedom.[1] In this way, with the help of God’s grace, the children grow up with the desire to direct their lives towards the fullness of Truth, who alone gives full meaning to human existence and satisfies the deepest yearnings of the human heart.

Educating a person in freedom is an art, and often not an easy one. As Benedict XVI said: “We thus arrive… at what is perhaps the most delicate point in the task of education: finding the right balance between freedom and discipline. If no standard of behavior and rule of life is applied even in small daily matters, the character is not formed and the person will not be ready to face the trials that will come in the future. The educational relationship, however, is first of all the encounter of two forms of freedom, and successful education means teaching the correct use of freedom.”[2]

In striving to reconcile discipline and freedom, it is important to keep in mind that faith and morals are the key to human happiness. Living as a Christian can often be demanding, but far from being oppressive it is enormously liberating. The goal should be to help children, right from a young age, to experience in the family home the reality that it is only by sincerely giving ourselves to others that we can be truly happy.[3] Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.”[4]

Without using threats and by giving positive reasons and good example, parents can form their children interiorly for the exercise of their freedom, helping them understand why what is being asked of them is something good, so that they really make it their own. Thus their personalities are strengthened and they become mature, secure and free persons. They learn to rise above passing fads and to go against the current when necessary. Experience shows that when the children are older, there is nothing they thank their parents for more than this education in freedom and responsibility.

[1] Cf. Jn 8:32.

[2] Benedict XVI, Letter to the Diocese ofRomeon the Urgent Task of Education, January 21, 2008.

[3] Cf. Vatican Council II, Pastoral Const. Gaudium et spes, no. 24.

[4] Benedict XVI, Homily, December 8, 2005.

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