(Slightly edited and expanded since first posted, but before any comments showed up.)
(This post is part of the series on postsecondary education.)
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I've spent a few posts now gathering facts and summarizing Catholic teaching with respect to education. In this post I'm going to try to synthesize all that into answers to the following questions:
Do parents have an obligation to help a child finish his education, to the point that he can fulfill the duties of his vocation, after age 18?
May they set conditions on that help?
Do the offspring have an obligation to accept the help (and any conditions set upon it?)
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In one recent post, I posed the question: "When is the child 'emancipated?' How do we know he is ready to be launched?"
I wrote about practical and legal definitions of emancipation here. In part because our legal system limits parents' control of their offspring,
...Parents can't guarantee that their offspring (even assuming normal intelligence and physical/mental health) will acquire all the skills that an adult human being should, not even if they throw all their best efforts at the task. That's because the young person is a person, with free will, and -- news flash -- persons with free will sometimes decide not to cooperate, or come up with their own lists of "necessary skills." So even if there comes no point when a parent can say , "You are done, I did my job" -- there must eventually be a point when a parent can rightfully say "I am done -- I did the best I could, and now it's your turn to finish your growing and education on your own -- if you choose to."
I further noted that morally speaking (as opposed to legally), a child is truly emancipated
- when he is accessing what he needs to know
- and is doing what he needs to do
- to fulfill the duties of his vocation,
- and has embarked on independent life.
(Remember that definition, because we are going to come back and unpack it.)
If a child is emancipated when he is doing this, then the pre-emancipation education properly includes all the preparation: learning what he needs to know to fulfill his duties (so he can access it when he needs to know it), and acquiring the skills he needs to have to fulfill his duties (so he can call on those skills when he needs to do them).
The final step to emancipation is independent living. Even if a person has the knowledge and skills to fulfill his vocation, he isn't technically emancipated if he is still living with significant material support from parents.
(Note that "prepared to fulfill the duties of his vocation" doesn't mean "qualified for the exact sort of job he wants" or "makes as much money as he wants." See here for my post on "what is the vocation for which education prepares us?" We are not -- yet -- talking here about whether parents have a duty to help their child get a graduate degree, or whether they have a duty to pay for an expensive private college.... we are talking about a "complete enough" education.)
As I noted here:
"Children should be so educated that as adults they can follow their vocation... with a mature sense of responsibility and can choose their state of life; if they marry, they can thereby establish their family in favorable moral, social, and economic conditions" [GS52] "The family must educate the children for life in such a way that each one may fully perform his or her role according to the vocation received from God" [FC53].
This kind of education is part of parents' responsibility:
Parental authority is "unrenounceable" and should be "exercise[d]... as a ministry..., a service aimed at helping [children] acquire a truly responsible freedom" [FC21]. The primary way that parents express respect and affection for their children is in the care and attention devoted to their upbringing and in providing for physical and spiritual needs; later, in educating them in the right use of reason and the right use of freedom [CCC2228].
I believe this implies that parents have a positive obligation, as far as they are able, to employ parental authority to help their child learn what he needs to know to fulfill the duties of his vocation; and help their child acquire the skills that he needs to acquire to fill the duties of his vocation.
Once a child attains legal majority, it is not possible for parents to force their child to submit to parental authority for education. But legal majority is arbitrary with respect to the determination of emancipation. So what if, at that point, the grown offspring is still not adequately prepared to fulfill the duties of his vocation or to live independently?
Let's consider two possibilities, and I will try to flesh out my personal conclusions:
1. The offspring requests help. If at the age of majority the offspring's education is inadequate, and the offspring requests additional help from parents (whose responsibility it is to prepare the child to fulfill the duties of his vocation), I think the parents are bound to continue offering help, insofar as they are reasonably able. In return, I judge that the offspring still owes filial obedience to parents, since he isn't emancipated and is still dependent on them.
In other words, the parents are perfectly free to set conditions on the assistance that they offer, as long as they remain within the moral constraints imposed by the responsibilities of parents toward their offspring. They also have a responsibility to offer help that is aimed at being, um, helpful. (If it's really no good, the legally-adult offspring is free to reject it, after all.)
2. The offspring declines help. If after the age of majority the offspring declines to accept the help that parents can offer towards preparing him to fulfill his vocation, then parents are no longer "able" to employ parental authority to continue educating him. In my opinion, that is when It's time for the parent to say, "I am done, I did what I could while I had the chance to do it."
Bear in mind that a grown son or daughter might well reject help at first, but come back later and ask for help then. I think that if the son or daughter is still not adequately prepared to fulfill the duties of his/her vocation, the parents still do have a responsibility to help prepare their child, insofar as they are able to help.
You could think of this argument as going like this: parents have a certain minimum education and preparation that they owe their kids; if they don't manage to do it by the time the kids are adults, the kids have a right to ask for more help; but adults who are continuing to receive help from their parents to continue their education, rightly continue to be subject to their parents as they were when they were minors (and parents owe them the same kinds of considerations as they did back then, such as love, a good example, and the freedom to choose their vocation and profession and a spouse without coercion.)
Two more notes:
Obviously there is a fine line to walk between illegitimate coercion, and legitimate use of parental authority to guide the child's education and preparation, e.g., to set conditions on the help offered. There are no clear rules here. It is going to be a judgment call that requires self-examination on everybody's part.
And a child asking for help to finish an inadequate education is a distinctly different situation from a child who has already been emancipated but who has fallen on hard times and asks for material help from parents. The parents have already fulfilled their duty to educate the child. I am not going to consider this situation any further right now, but will restrict myself to conditions surrounding emancipation for the "first" time.
In the next post I am going to consider what it means to "have the necessary knowledge and skills." Not so much a list of which knowledge and skills are necessary... as what it means to "have" knowledge and skills at all...
...and hang in there for a promised guest post from my husband on economics.
UPDATE. I want to make it clear that this post does not reflect Catholic teaching. This is me trying to figure out the implications of the teachings that I summarized earlier in this series, so that I can move forward and feel reasonably confident that I'm not way off base.
Anyone come to any different conclusions?
SECOND UPDATE: I think about this topic some more here.