Sunday, 28 October 2007

What is religious education? Romano Amerio visited

I still find this a tricky question. From the outset it seems sensible to distinguish between (1) what the PRIEST does from the pupil (exhortation, I guess we could call it); (2) what the CATECHIST does when preparing children or adults for the sacraments (instruction, I suppose); and (3) what the TEACHER does in the classroom (which is what I call education).

Now I do not deny that each of these three touch on one another. Nevertheless, it seems to me sensible for the lay teacher to refrain from preaching. I remember a member of the Catholic Evidence Guild saying that they were trained (in the pre-conciliar days) to present the faith but not to preach it.

In one respect, the RE teacher should conform his style to that of the other academic subjects; in another, however, it seems that personal faith and conviction play a part. My current thinking (I don't mean to pretend that this is profound) is that in order to teach the faith in an objective way the teacher needs faith and conviction. I phrase it like this because I don't think that the delivery should be overtly conviction driven. This makes it seem like what is being taught is personal opinion, instead of divine revelation passed on infallibly by the Church.

From a practical point of view, the Catholic teacher protects himself by teaching in this way. The Catholic teacher refrains from saying "Let me tell you ..." and says instead "our holy Church teaches us that ...", which is really what he should be saying anyway. Why should my pupils listen to my opinions?

The extreme liberal position is, however, very common, though it is not always deliberately adopted. In many schools the idea is promoted that everyone, teacher and pupils, is part of a journey of learning and discovery, and that this journey proceeds through experiment. We begin from "where I am now" and I ask the questions and find the answers that are "relevant" to me in "my own personal circumstances". Teachers become co-learners, with no authority; pupils have every authority to their own conclusions.

Is the Church partly responsible for this pedagogy? Romano Amerio says in Iota Unum's chapter on Schools (ch.7, para125) that the Congregation for Catholic Education stated in 1982 that

"..... a school is a relation between persons, that is between teacher and learner. The Church used to say that it is a relation of both to the world of values. It is not the teacher that the pupil has to know; both have to know the world of values and direct their common attention towards it. But just as one man's face is turned towards another's in the reformed liturgy, so is it in the
reformed pedagogy....."

I will comment in a further post about how pupils get frustrated by the new pedagogy because they do not have the equipment to form their own views, or even to ask the right questions.

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