By John Thavis
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a letter to the faithful of the Diocese of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI said today's younger generations are not being well educated in the fundamental values of life.
The result is an "educational emergency" that has left many young people unhappy and disoriented, he said. The letter was made public at the Vatican Jan. 23.
The papal text touched on a sensitive issue in Italy, where the school system has been the focus of political battles and student protests in recent years.
"Educating has never been easy, and today it seems to be increasingly difficult. This is well known to parents, teachers, priests and all those who have direct educational responsibilities," the pope said.
It's unfair to blame the children, but blaming today's adults doesn't tell the whole story either, he said. The problem involves the personal responsibilities of young people and adults, but goes beyond that, he said.
At the root of the problem, he said, is "a widespread atmosphere, a mentality and a form of culture that lead people to doubt the value of the human person, and the very meaning of truth and goodness."
Values cannot be inherited but must be taught to every new generation, he said, and when such "essential certainties" are ignored, there are bound to be problems.
That's why parents today are so worried about the future of their children, why some teachers are distressed at the degradation of their schools, and why young students feel anxious when faced with life's challenges, he said.
He encouraged educators to take heart, however, and said the problems were solvable.
The pope listed some requisites of an authentic education. For one thing, he said, teachers need to recognize that true education must provide more than superficial facts or information. It should provide a sense of empathy and trust that comes from love, he said.
Nor should parents and educators try to keep children from every negative experience or failure in life, he said. Suffering is part of life, and without it "we risk raising, despite our good intentions, people who are fragile and not very generous," he said.
Above all, the pope said, educators and students need to find the right balance between discipline and freedom.
"Without rules of behavior and of life, respected every day even in small things, character is not formed and one is not prepared to face the trials that will appear in the future," he said.