Do we want our children to be happy or good?

Dear Families,

The simplest questions are always the best ones to answer. In my own youth, these questions were not present in the forefront of my own thinking, due in large part to the type of education I received. Later on down the line, these simple questions became downright fascinating to me.

We can start with the first, most obvious question: What is education? G.K. Chesterton coined this response: "Education is the transmission of culture." What is culture we might ask? Culture is living in common, or communion with others. The root of education means to lead forth (Latin, educare), or lead out. Another question follows: to lead out of what?

I wonder what kind of answers we would get if we asked 100 parents "what is education"? Looking at the etymology before us, I do not think I would have answered the question the same way 15 years ago, as I will today.

Education is leading others out of darkness, into the light of truth; the cultivation of the intellect and formation of the will for the purpose of fully cooperating in the goodness of truly living and therefore living well.

So here we are, together working to educate children. But another simple question connects us back to the real meaning of education.

Do we want our children to be happy? Or, do we want our children to be good?

A major deficit in the modern mindset is that somehow happiness precedes goodness. This warped idea is so foreign to the liberal tradition of education. Moral goodness precedes happiness, which merely means that we cannot be happy unless we pursue goodness first and always.

Even in my own upbringing, I have vivid memories of "I just want you to do what makes you happy." Ironically, at the time that phrase is uttered, a hidden truth remains even if we do not mean it when we say it. The phrase itself typically suggests that a parent desires a child pursue his or her own dreams, regardless of the moral goodness of such a pursuit. But if we hearken back to Aristotle, he suggested that the virtuous life is the happy life. This is what our Mother Church continues to teach to us: we can only be happy if goodness is the top priority. 

Full disclosure: none of these ideas are my own. They all come from people much smarter than me. If you are interested in hearing more, I recommend this podcast. All of the faculty are going to a retreat on Friday with Catholic educators from the entire diocese; we are very grateful to be led to the truth by guest speaker Matt Fradd.

May our guardian angels lead us out of the darkness and into the light. The one over my shoulder just reminded me to make that prayer. That is what they do for us.

Most sincerely in Christ,

Derek Tremblay