(This post is part of the series on postsecondary education.)
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I want to emphasize again, as I did in the other posts, that I am aware that the three "educations" don't separate neatly, that they are overlaid upon one another and every element supports every other (and in some ways contains every other). It is really a sort of trinity, and carving it up into three separate purposes necessarily obscures the whole.
That doesn't stop me from trying, because I think it will help. Here is a carefully chosen subset of the elements of the necessary content of education that relates most directly to religious and spiritual development and the reception of the sacraments.
Elements of moral, religious and spiritual development that THE FAMILY is expected to inculcate and teach
That true happiness is found in God alone, the source of every good.
The family teaches that the material and instinctual dimensions are subordinate to interior and spiritual ones.
The family must teach children a sense of true love, understood as sincere solicitude and disinterested service.
The family must introduce children to personal dialogue with God.
The family must teach children to know God, to worship, and to love their neighbor.
The family must teach children the Gospel.
The family should educate children so that, if they marry, they can by means of that education establish their family in moral conditions which tend to promote or facilitate the establishment of that family.
The family is called to give children a sex education that is built on the premise that love is self-giving.
The family must educate the child for chastity.
The family must teach children to know and respect the moral norms of human sexuality.
The family builds the proximate preparation for the sacraments of Christian marriage upon the foundation laid in the remote preparation for marriage.
The family will teach, in that proximate preparation, that marriage is an interpersonal relationship of a man and woman that has to be continually developed.
The family will encourage, in that proximate preparation, the study of the nature of conjugal sexuality.
The family, in proximate preparation, will prepare young people for the family apostolate, for collaboration with other families, and membership in groups set up for the human and Christian benefit of the family.
The family must begin the formation of the child's conscience, awakening the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law.
Elements of religious and spiritual development that THE INDIVIDUAL is enjoined to seek for himself
Each person must form his conscience to enjoin him to do good and avoid evil.
Each person must form his conscience to bear witness to the authority of truth in reference to God.
Each person must form his conscience to welcome the commandments.
An individual becomes capable of respecting and fostering the nuptial meaning of the body by building on the virtue of chastity.
An individual grows responsibly in human sexuality by building on the moral norms that are taught by the parents.
An individual learns control and right use of his inclinations by building on the moral norms that are taught by the parents.
A layperson is encouraged to receive a sufficient formation in theology.
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To these I should add that, on the cusp of entering into marriage, the individual is responsible for obtaining the educational content of immediate preparation for marriage.
Recall that we have been restricting the discussion mostly to the case of young people who will likely be called to marriage and family life, so preparation for holy orders need not here be considered. In the Roman rite, the formation in the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, penance and confirmation generally take place under the parents' auspices, unless for some reason confirmation was delayed. (It isn't unheard of for Catholic parents to agree to let a young person decide for himself when -- if ever -- to be confirmed. Let's not debate right now whether that is a good idea, and simply point out that it could happen that a young adult might put off confirmation until later.). But the immediate sacramental preparation for marriage is educational in nature and is the responsibility of the engaged couple.
It seems pretty clear that a complete foundation in moral and religious training -- as distinct from "theology," which is an academic subject -- is the responsibility entirely of the parents. Latent competency in practically every aspect of the Christian life, married or single, ought to be developed before the child is emancipated.
In this day and age, it seems to me, parents need to anticipate future challenges and aggressively head then off by equipping their children with the tools to find answers to those challenges. This may mean stepping outside comfort zones and being more frank than parents of earlier generations would have had to be.
Here is an example that is highly specific to Catholicism. Parents can expect young adults to encounter aggressive promotion of contraception as a necessary and good part of a healthy marriage. Unfortunately, we can expect them to encounter the viewpoint that contraception is healthy and necessary even from organizations that are directly connected to the Catholic church. Many of us have heard stories from people who claim they were given permission to use contraception in the confessional itself.
Because parents can expect young people to encounter this view, parents have (I would argue) a serious responsibility to equip their adolescents with clear information about trustworthy sources of Catholic teaching, to provide enough medical and biological information about licit means of family planning to counteract common falsehoods about its efficacy and difficulty, and to discuss family planning as a specific area in which to live the truth that love is self-giving.
That is just one example.
Parents should not count on a religious college to inculcate values that they have failed to pass on. It seems plausible that parent and offspring together could come to the conclusion that a particular private religious school could offer necessary support to a particular young person's development, and that the extra cost would be well spent. But it doesn't seem plausible to conclude that a private religious school is objectively necessary.
Very little of the religious and spiritual formation delineated here is dependent on formal enrollment in an institution of higher education. Mostly, it seems, the individual is called to maintain and build upon the foundation laid in childhood and adolescence: to continue forming his conscience, to distinguish good from evil in ever thornier dilemmas, to deepen his resolve through constant practice of right living.
Remember that the young person not enrolled in a private religious school still has access to a parish (and that needn't be the one his parents and younger siblings attend); he still has access to voluntary religious associations and clubs; he still has access to religious publications; he still has access to the sacraments; he still has access to private prayer. If he is enrolled in a public college or lives near one, there are likely student religious organizations available. Many of the same advantages of studying at a private religious college can be found in these other environments.