Educating children, right and duty of parents

It is a right and an inescapable duty of parents to be the main actors in the education of their children. An education in freedom that the State must support and help, not replace.

Julio Iñiguez Estremiana-November 14, 2023-Reading time: 6 minutes
parent education

Photo: ©unsplash

It is well known to all that we are living in difficult times to carry out the noble task of educating, which mainly affects parents (mothers and fathers), but which is also the responsibility of teachers -professionals in education, who have dedicated and dedicate much time to train themselves well in order to efficiently develop their vocation- whose main commitment, together with academic instruction, must consist in helping parents in the formation of their children: to make them good people -happy- and of benefit to society. This is a real challenge, from which it was never acceptable to desist, and even less so in our times.

I have dedicated my whole life to education. I am grateful for this privilege, and for this reason -with my mistakes and successes, of which there have been many- I am also proud. Now, aware of the difficulties involved in this essential task -surely greater than those of my time-, I propose to write some articles with the desire to provide guidelines that can help parents and teachers to develop, from childhood to youth, a good family, school and social education.

I would like to clarify from the outset that, logically, everything I can contribute is the fruit of my knowledge and my years of experience, and also that I am a Catholic, so my vision of education is sustained and enriched by the Christian principle of human dignity, and by my faith in God. On the other hand, I ask for the understanding of the non-Spanish readers for referring especially to Spain -what I know best, since I am Spanish-. And without further ado, here goes my first article -starting from the beginning-:

Educating children, right and duty of parents

At present, there are many States in which their rulers try to take away the right of parents to educate their children according to their beliefs and convictions. In Spain, the former Minister of Education and Vocational Training, Isabel Celaá, assured: "We cannot think in any way that children belong to parents", pretending to convince us that the State takes precedence over parents in the education of children. He said it as if he were repeating a truth that has always been accepted by everyone. And it was not a random occurrence, as it was later evidenced in her Education Law, but it was -it was- a power strategy. But NO! Contrary to what the former minister affirmed, it is the parents who receive from God the trust to raise and educate their children: they are the first depositaries of the right and duty to educate. This is what we will try to explain.

Article 27.3 of the Spanish Constitution - our Magna Carta is assumed and respected by a great majority of Spaniards and political groups - clearly recognizes - and protects - this inviolable natural right: "The public authorities guarantee the right of parents to ensure that their children receive the religious and moral education that is in accordance with their own convictions".

It expressly states: the right of parents to choose for their children an education in accordance with their convictions is guaranteed.

This has also been endorsed by the Constitutional Court on thirty occasions in which it has ruled on education since 1981. The most recent -July 2018-, in protection of an Association of Parents of Cantabria who saw the right to educational freedom violated; in this, in a very clear way, it stated that freedom of education is specified in three ways, which refer to the "creation of educational institutions, the right of parents to choose the center and the religious and moral formation they wish for their children, and the right to develop teaching with freedom to those who carry it out".

This same recognition can be found in many recognized experts on the subject. This is the case of Melissa Moschella, professor of Philosophy and researcher at the Catholic University of America -Princeton-, specialized in parental rights: she explains that the authority of parents over their own children is natural and pre-political (it precedes political authority). Consequently, the family is a small sovereign community within the larger political community. In other words, the family "has the right to conduct its internal affairs, free from external coercive interference, with the exception of cases of abuse and neglect".

Also Mariano Calabuig - during his time as president of the Family Forum-he told the magazine Mission that, in addition to the right to educate their children, parents have this duty, and "a duty can never be relinquished". It is non-transferable. For this reason, he stresses that "the State must provide the means to collaborate with parents in the education of their children during school age".

But where does this duty of the State to provide parents with the necessary means for the education of their children come from?

For Philosophy Professor Melissa Moschella, it comes from the biological relationship between the child and its parents, which is the most intimate personal relationship that exists: "Parents are the biological cause [...] of their children, giving them the genetic and biological foundation for existence and identity".

Such obligation - Moschellase goes on to explain - starts from the very moment of conception and extends throughout life, although it is strongest in the period when the child has not reached the maturity to make decisions on its own and is still incapable of surviving on its own. "Human gestation, so to speak, is not completed at nine months, but after physiological gestation there is a long period of psychological, moral and intellectual gestation, until a mature human being develops."

This doctrine is in accord with that of St. Thomas Aquinas: just as before birth the child is "in the womb of the mother," so after birth, but before the use of reason, the child "is under the care of his parents, as if contained in a spiritual womb." And it is also in conformity with Nature. If we think of the mother, who bears the child in her womb, she is naturally responsible for that child, not only for giving it birth to life, but also for giving it love, thus opening the way to its own personality. And in the case of the father, let us not forget, he has the same co-responsibility.

This is how Pope Francis explains it in point 166 of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris LaetitiaThe gift of a new child, which the Lord entrusts to mom and dad, begins with welcoming, continues with the custody throughout earthly life and has as its final destination the joy of eternal life. A serene gaze towards the ultimate fulfillment of the human person will make parents even more aware of the precious gift entrusted to them".

Therefore, also when the children are already grown up and have embarked on their path of life, the parents will continue to play their role of father and mother. Even if your help is limited to praying for them, even if it may seem little, it is already a lot.

The responsibility of the State that we have been dealing with is also included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church [n. 1910], "it is incumbent upon the State to defend and promote the common good of civil society, citizens and intermediate institutions". 

And promoting the good of the individual - in this case, that of the children - will require the public authorities to offer parents the help they need to fulfill their responsibilities.

Parents exercise the right to educate, not only in the form of natural influence, for which the notion of right is not necessary, but in the choice of teachers or schools, when these are instituted, for the education of their children.

Eduard Spranger, German philosopher and psychologist, explains it as follows: "Historically, the right of parents to education is immemorial. It constitutes a Roman legal motive, a Christian ethical motive, which is common to Catholicism and Protestantism, and finally also a modern philosophical motive of natural law.

Surely," Moschella explains, "in many ways other people could care for children as well or even better than their biological parents, even if they are the ones who can naturally give the child "their own love. Moreover, when that love is lacking, it can "harm the child". For this reason, the responsibility of the parents in the education of their children can only be obviated when they do not have the necessary competence, that is to say, if there are serious reasons that make it advisable to give them up for adoption. In this case, when the child reaches maturity, he/she will be able to understand that the decision to give him/her up for adoption was not a rejection or abandonment, but a token of the love of his/her biological parents.

From all of the above, Moschella concludes, "When the state requires children to be educated in a way that the parents deem harmful or inappropriate, the state is impeding the fulfillment of parental obligations, thereby violating the integrity of the parents and, potentially, harming the children as well."

It escapes no one's notice that, in our days, affective-sexual education is an aspect of formation in which external and powerful forces seek to intervene unduly. A clear and serious example is found in the advocates of gender ideology, with undesirable consequences, which are on the rise.


The State must help parents in their educational task, but it cannot coerce them by imposing that their children be indoctrinated with ideas that they think may be harmful, since that would go against the parents' responsibility to protect their children and develop an educational project, congruent with their own convictions and beliefs.

There are currently States that seek to take away from parents a right that they have prior to the laws issued by governments and that is stronger than these. The State must recognize fundamental rights -it does not grant them- and ensure their effective protection. This is what was requested by the hundreds of thousands of families in Spain who took to the streets -by car due to the restrictions of the pandemic- to defend their children from the education law that was being processed -the current LOMLOE- and was approved in 2020 without being heard by the former minister or by anyone in her government.

Families should not allow the State or other agents outside of education to unduly interfere in the education of their children, violating the rights of parents and their children.

The authorJulio Iñiguez Estremiana

Physicist. High School Mathematics, Physics and Religion teacher.

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