I would like to share my thoughts about a conversation I had with a new friend this week. She told me about her eighth grade class at church and how much they didn’t know about their Catholic faith.
It was toward the end of the school year and a conversation ensued about theism. The question was asked if Catholics are theists or polytheists. The subject jumped to Pantheism and Atheism. The catechist asked if the students knew any atheists and several hands went up. One student even remarked “Atheism is cool!”
While the student’s question is startling and a subject for another conversation, the question posed to me was basically questioning the content provided in catechetical textbooks: Do textbooks cover what students need to know?”In other words, by eighth grade shouldn’t our children know the answer to this and similar types of questions? Have we been promoting bad catechesis with flawed textbooks not really getting students to the place they should be?
It’s an interesting dilemma to me as I have heard this before at different grade levels. Shouldn’t our school-aged children know more about saints’ lives, holy days, the precepts of the faith, prayers, devotions, patron saints, the communion of saints and the list goes on.
My response was that, of course, content is important and a lot of thought goes into what is taught at each grade level and how it is presented. It must also be pedagogically appropriate. In addition, we must not discount the faith that has been taught at home, which is usually implied. For example, we pray before meals and at night and we get up to go to mass even when there are many other things we could be doing. Children encounter the living God through these simple expressions. Explicit faith typically comes in a more formal setting such as a class at church with intentional exposure to doctrine, scripture, prayers and practices.
It wasn’t until we turned to the proper roles of evangelization and catechesis that she released her guard. Evangelization must precede catechesis or we risk creating well informed children with little or no real understanding of what it is that they claim to know. Experience will always come before knowing.
So, to answer the question, I ask you: “Do students learn appropriately about their faith through grade-level catechesis – trusting that through the K-12 process they will become informed and transformed adults, or is there a better way we should be going about it?”