Bernardo M. Villegas
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Parents Still the First Educators (Part 1)

             Now that children and the youth at the basic education level are once again meeting their teachers face to face in the classroom, it would be useful to remind parents that they are still the first ones most responsible for the education of their children.  Teachers come only as second most responsible, especially as regards character formation or values education.  It is possible that during the more than two years of lockdowns at home during the pandemic, many parents were obliged to be at the forefront in educating their children, even actively involving themselves in home schooling.  Now that their children are back in the classroom, there could be a backlash in the sense that some of parents may decide to completely delegate to the teachers the task of educating their children.  This would be unfortunate, especially because of the more inhospitable environment facing the young as a result of what Pope Francis called “ideological colonization”— values that are anti-life, anti-family and anti-religious faith are infecting Filipino traditional ways of life, especially through social media.

            Once again, I would like to share with my readers some very important guidelines on how to educate their children in freedom taken from some meaty articles from, especially one that is precisely entitled “Educating in Freedom,” by  J. M. Barrio.  Good character, virtues and values cannot be forced down the throats of children.  The task of raising children comes down to getting them to “want” to do what is good, providing them with the intellectual and moral resources so that each one is able to do what is good from his or her own conviction.  As early as possible, the child should be taught that freedom does not mean “doing whatever one likes.”  That is called license.  Freedom is the ability to choose what is good.  Parents can only follow the example of God Himself.  God decided to create free beings, with all the consequences.  As any good parent would do, God has given us some guidelines—the moral law—so that we can use our freedom correctly, that is to choose what is good.  In doing so, God took a risk with our freedom.

            As a “plantito”, I fully realize that a plant does not grow because I externally stretch it, but because the plant makes its nourishment its own.  In the same manner, a human being grows in humanity in the measure that the model initially received is freely assimilated.  It is incumbent upon parents that after giving their advice and suggestions, they should step tactfully into the background so that nothing can stand in the way of the great gift of freedom that makes man capable of loving and serving God.  Parents should always remember that God Himself has wanted to be loved and served with freedom and he always respects our personal decisions.  God did not treat us like what He did with plants and animals who are programmed to do what the Creator has willed them to do.

            Parents, before teachers, are the first to make sure that they guide their children to make good use of their freedom and placing certain requirements on it.  Parents should know how to invite their children to use their capacities in such a way that they may grow into persons of worth. For example, when they ask for permission for plans that they have made themselves, it would be advisable to reply that is up to them to decide for themselves, after a due consideration of the circumstances.  They should be encouraged to ask themselves whether the request they are making is really appropriate, helping them to distinguish between a true need and a mere caprice and to understand, for example, that it would not be fair to spend money on what many people would not be able to afford.   This would help them to avoid the vice of “consumerism.” 

            The respect for freedom requires fostering moral demands that help one to overcome himself, to say no to even legitimate but superfluous desires.  The task of raising children can be reduced to getting them to “want” to do what is good, providing them with the intellectual and moral resources so that each one is able to do what is good based on his or her own convictions.   Respect for persons and their freedom does not mean accepting as valid everything they think or do.  Dialogue is very important.  Parents should talk to their children about what is good and what is best.  It would be necessary to correct with necessary energy what is inherently an evil behavior. Love is the least tolerant or permissive force found in human relations.  True, we can and should love people with their defects.  We should, however,  not love them because of their  defects.  One who truly loves strives to get others to struggle against their deficiencies and shortcomings.  Therefore one who truly loves strives to get others to struggle against their deficiencies and longs to help them correct them.

            Each person has always both positive features and defects.  Potentially, the good qualities outweigh the defects.  Parents must keep in mind, though, that they should love not the positive qualities but the whole person who possesses them, even if he or she has other qualities that are not so positive.  “Correct” behavior is usually the result of many “corrections” which must always be presented in a positive way, always emphasizing that one can improve in the future, that no one is hopeless.  A  positive response to correction is facilitated by an atmosphere of trust.  The trust others show us spurs us to act; whereas the feeling that others mistrust us is paralyzing and depressing. This is especially crucial in the case of young people and adolescents, who are still shaping their own characters and give great weight to the judgment of others.

            Knowing how to trust children, even if at times they betray the trust given them, is the key to educating in freedom.  Trusting involves having faith in someone, giving credit to him or her, considering that person as “capable of truth—of expressing it or protecting it, as the case may be, but most importantly of living up to it.  If we trust someone, he feels grateful because he knows he has received a gift.  At the same time, a sense of responsibility is engendered in the person trusted.  When a person makes a request of me, I appreciate the confidence being shown to me.  The person is expressing a high opinion of me.  Then I feel moved to meet his or her expectations, to be responsible for my acts.  Freedom and responsibility are inherently intertwined.

            To be the first educators of their children, parents in particular need to win the trust of the children, after having given it to them in the first place.  Trust is given, is won, is attained.  It cannot be imposed or demanded.  One becomes worthy of trust by giving an example of integrity, leading by example, already having given first what one is now asking of others.  This is the only way to acquire the moral authority needed to require something of others.  Thus, educating in freedom makes possible the educating of freedom. To be continued.