What to Teach Schoolchildren

It’s remarkable how far we’ve gone down the road of insanity. While people are debating whether it’s cruel or reasonable to ban “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity… in kindergarten through grade 3” in Florida, I am over here thinking about what the young child actually needs to learn at school and did learn, until minds got lost.

I put what I wanted to say about sex education in this article (too long; didn’t read version: Parents decide and are owed support). It should be abundantly clear to anyone and everyone that any adult who is not the child’s parent who wants to speak to that child about intimate matters is not up to any good, and the child should be diligently protected at all costs from such a person. Parents need to know that there is no time to lose and the child should be removed instantly from such harm.

The whole thing, though, begs the question, as I say, of what the child ought to be learning, never mind what he shouldn’t learn! And the flip side of the sex-education-in-school question is another one that comes up often amongst earnest, well meaning types: How can we prepare adults for marriage, seeing as that institution is not working out for so many?

The answer, so readily proffered, that also frustrates me no end takes the form of some sort of crash course on marital relations (“better marriage prep/Pre-Cana”), to be inflicted on the couple before they are allowed to proceed. (I’m not opposed, naturally, to the priest sitting down with the couple and reminding them of a few things and helping them prepare for the Sacrament.)

Both questions — what to teach a young child and what to teach an adult about to get married — are answered in the same way. Preparation for marriage begins in childhood, and has little to do with the biological mechanics (for lack of a better word) of the sexual act, which, as I say in my article, are easily taught in about fifteen minutes (by the parent).

As I pointed out in my podcast, the young child is just learning about the world around him. From five to eight, the goal is to help him learn to read, but naturally, he has to read something, and the traditional approach has been to tell stories on different imaginative levels about daily life and his role in it.


I remember as a child that our little readers were full of stories of mother taking care of the baby while sister and brother do chores and father going to work and visits to the park to feed the ducks and trips to the store to buy needed items. There were pictures of a station wagon’s roof piled high with suitcases as the family goes on vacation (camping or something equally simple and relatable). Grandmother and Grandfather hold the child’s hand on a walk… and so on.

These stories taught us the needed tools of reading (“decoding” in the infelicitous modern parlance) while also helping us to make sense of what are, to a typical seven-year-old, the somewhat random occurrences of everyday life.

In the wisdom of those dedicated to educating young people, even children who were experiencing disruptions (and I was certainly one of these) would be given the vision of a normal, healthy, wholesome pattern — and that vision would be healing. Even as I type the words “normal” “healthy” and “wholesome” I am aware of how incendiary (“triggering”) they are. Today, all materials directed at children, including literature, are consciously aimed at their worst experiences, not that anyone could ever catalog, much less address, all of what those could be; but I can honestly say that without the stories in my school books and the implicit approval of my teachers, I would have had a hard time climbing out of my troubles.


We were also completely unaware of our teachers’ private lives. They never discussed any aspect, undoubtedly as a result of an unspoken code aimed at protecting our innocence. Even my first-grade teacher whose belly seemed to expand overnight (I suppose there was an intervening holiday) never mentioned the reason for her impending departure. I did ask her if she was pregnant — I was precocious — and she answered affirmatively yet with an embarrassed air. Today this embarrassment is mocked, but as I think about it, I believe it arose from a delicate sense of not wanting any proximity to a topic reserved for parent and child. Obviously she was aware of the facts of life and seemed happy enough to be leaving us, tragic though her loss was to us.

Along with the handing on of myths, fairy tales, and Bible stories, these depictions of family life offer, with implicit adult stamp of approval, the child a way to make sense of his world and prepare him for his ultimate (earthly) goal, which is making his own family some day. Even those who forego family to choose a religious vocation do so with a sense of its honor and fittingness, you know.

The couple who arrive at marriage prep without having had this sort of remote preparation in childhood will be as impervious to multiple-choice questionnaires about sex, money, and children and Theology of the Body lectures as the paved road is to water. It will all just wash over them and run into the gullies of oblivion. At that point, only the hard way of experience and suffering will teach them what they need to know to be happy.

So make no mistake. Those who seek to change the curriculum at school to fit their particular ideology simply cannot accept the way things were done (not recently, by the way, but quite a while ago). They cannot accept childhood education that is permeated with realities ordered to family life and innocent of adult details.

By the way, I have a whole section in The Summa Domestica (affiliate link — and the price is pretty good!) about teaching the moral life to children, and it includes musings such as these. We can’t be content with being against certain (undeniably horrifying) trends. We have to be able to recover the beautiful old ways of guiding children to like and dislike what they ought, so that they are prepared to live as rational (that is, fully human) persons, not at the mercy of mere appetite, but integrated and with the best chance of happiness that we can offer.


bits & pieces

  • Some upcoming events in case you are near and interested!

Phil and I will be in Tiverton, RI in two weeks — join us if you are able!

I will be speaking at the Catholic Citizens of Illinois in Chicago on Exposing the Seven Deadly Lies of Feminism (well, who knows how many, really), on May 13. 

I will be doing a webinar with Stephanie Burke on Monday evening — should be a good event!





from the archives



liturgical living

Pius V — a truly epic pope!


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