Thursday, November 29, 2018

Catechesis

The state of Catholic catechesis in modern America can be captured in concise form by the fact that this passage from the Jesuit magazine, America, was not intended to be parody on it:

Unfortunately, the muscles of learning have long been neglected in the study of theology as seen in the high-school curriculum provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The core curriculum, “Who Is Jesus Christ?,”dives into the dual persons of Jesus and floods students with the incredibly complex teachings of Nestorianism and monophysitism. But the curriculum does little to promote critical thinking and moral development. How can we foster faith in students with merely rote memorization and inaccessible vocabulary?

'The dual persons of Jesus'! That this establishes that Meaghan and Shea are not competent for providing advice on catechesis goes without saying, but the real garnish on the dish is that no editor caught the problem.

One gets tired, incidentally, of 'critical thinking' being used as an excuse for lazy people not to teach the actual subjects that they are supposed to be teaching. Nobody can do critical thinking in physics except to the extent they already know physics; nobody can do critical thinking in literature except to the extent they are familiar with literature; nobody can do critical thinking when faced with a problem requiring integrals if they haven't learned what an integral is and how it works. Critical thinking is about using what you have learned in order to select the right approach to a problem and the right way to evaluate your thinking about it.

I had this problem with a lot of approaches to confirmation classes, back when I was helping out with confirmation classes. People talk grandly about teaching teenagers to have a 'living faith' and 'lifelong practice' and, as Meaghan and Shea do, things like 'critical thinking and moral development'. And certainly, if you have in hand a way to teach the subject that does this, it is infinitely better than using a way that doesn't do it. But your job in a confirmation class is not actually to do any of these things, it is to make sure everyone has the minimal level of knowledge required to understand confirmation and its prerequisites. If you aren't even doing that, it is dishonest to talk about giving them a 'living faith' and 'lifelong practice' or contributing to their 'moral development'; it's nothing but words being used to hide the fact that you are not doing the task you were supposed to be doing.

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