Friday, January 25, 2008

We Have But One Teacher

(Another installment in our occasional "Catholics Are Stupid" series.)

The other day, I met a group of pro-life activists in association with the March for Life. They had never met me before, and wanted a brief introduction, so I gave them one. It happened to include the fact that I was divorced. And even though it happened more than fifteen years ago, the mere mention of is made everybody go "Awwwww..." I quickly moved on, in more ways than one.

It could have been worse. I don't miss that part of my life one bit. But I do regret the effect it had on my son. One area that suffered was his religious education. We ended up pulling him out of Catholic school after kindergarten, in part because the pastor was a... well, a man not known for testicular fortitude, how's that? He was in private Christian day school through the third grade, and in public schools thereafter. But in all that time, he was in what Byzantine Catholics call "Eastern Christian Formation." That is, until high school. Then his mother pulled him out. He didn't like the teacher. She didn't either. He would have had the same teacher the following year. Just one darn thing after another.

By the time he was a senior in high school, several years of estrangement had ended. He had signed up for philosophy class. I told him that a public high school was no place for a Catholic boy to learn philosophy, so I would teach him in addition to the school. I found a series of taped lectures that gave a survey of philosophy with the classical Catholic method grounded in Thomas Aquinas and the Saints. We met once a month, he had a chapter to read, and an outside reading/essay assignment. By the end of the year, his final presentation at school was an argument for the existence of God based on the wisdom of The Angelic Doctor himself.

These days, as is the case with a lot of young men and women, he is in a "search for the truth" mode (which is a nice way of saying he doesn't go to Mass anymore). But on his MySpace page, he still lists among his favorite books, one called "summa theologicae." He read Plato's Republic before graduating, without it being assigned. He has also read Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You and Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.

I was reminded of this, as I read a pastor's message from a bulletin of a parish somewhere in New York, one that was excerpted at Creative Minority Report today:

More often, I find, are the truly bizarre complaints: “Why does my child have to memorize the Act of Contrition?” “I don’t want my child to have to do any homework from religious education; he’s too busy already.” “You don’t really expect us to come every week, do you?” “My child doesn’t have to go to confession, she hasn’t committed any sins.” “What’s the big deal if he got a zero on the test, it’s not like it’s the S.A.T. or something.” I am not joking here. These are actual questions posed to me by some St. Matthew’s parents. The purpose of our Catholic Faith is to help people get to Heaven. Its purpose is not to allow people to have nice parties after Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation.

In my own work with kids, I find many of them to be so hyper-scheduled by their parents, that it's a wonder they have time to even be kids. A number of teachers have complained to me personally, of parents who assume the school is the villain whenever there's a problem. (In my experience with the public schools, the villain was less the teacher than it was the administration, and even then sometimes more than others. When they care more about appearances and public relations than the kids, the kids are the losers. You can almost never blame the teachers for that.)

I can't imagine why anyone would want to teach catechism for a bunch of little ingrates anyway, never mind at the bidding of stupid parents who don't have a clue what's going on.

Were it left to me, I would have a group of high school juniors and seniors, small enough to sit around a table. (I would prefer an all-male class, as they would be more likely to relax and be themselves, but it's not a deal-breaker.) It would use the Socratic method of open dialogue, based on a previous reading assignment. My role would be more of a tutor than a teacher, and the students would be almost as responsible for teaching one another as would I. But their point of reference would be less their own personal experiences and viewpoints, than it would something greater. Alas, such a thing is unlikely to be left to me, as some twit chancery bureaucrat would probably have picked some required textbook that talked more about global warming than it would any objective truths.

To say "there is no such thing as an objective truth," is to be wrong by one's own admission. Hopefully, they'd know this by the time I was finished with them. So would their parents.


(Images courtesy of Magdalen College of Warner, New Hampshire, which inspired part of this essay. Used without permision or shame.)

1 comment:

Dean Whinery said...

Kids ARE, much to often, overprogrammed by parents. Sometimes it is the parent trying to relive his/her youth through the child, or worse, "I was never any good at baseball, but my kid is going to be a major leaguer." "I never got past Tenderfoot, but my kid's gonna be an Eagle Scout before he's out of junior high."
But when was the last time that parent suggested that his son or daughter consider religious life? Or when was the family able to sit down for a meal together without watching the clock?