right course THE TROUBLED waters of today's education world — where wave upon wave of reform draws up to monstrous heights to threaten parent, teacher and student alike with plot and counterplot (opting -out, private schools, state schools) — require a careful navigator, and the education conference in Bradford is an excellent means for the ships' captains to study the charts.
What shore do we, as Catholics, wish them to reach?
Certainly, we want our children to know the ABCs of Catholicism, of English, mathematics, history and geography. Without these building blocks the young person of today cannot create a world for himself or for his progeny. We wish for teachers to give shape to our children's lives, to provide them with a structure which will make sense out of their universe. In a swiftly-changing world, where the flotsam and jetsam of amoral trends and opinions tend to muddy our waters, an anchor becomes a necessity.
Increasingly, too, single-parent families or families where both parents work, demand a greater parental role of their children's teachers, expecting the Mr Chips and Miss Brodies of today to guide children not only through the intricate maze of academia, but also through the heart-aches and head-aches of adolescent aberrations and teen turmoil.
Finally, many of us require our teachers to prod (and, where necassary, to push and pull) our children into achieving the best examination results, so that little Jane or John may one day enter the citadels of dreaming spires or, at the very least, their redbrick alternatives.
If the above reflects the agenda of the majority of parents, where does Bradford point to? The unveiling of the alreadycontroversial Here I Am, the new religious education programme designed by the National Project, reveals an earnest endeavour by the Catholic education hierarchy to introduce an additional resource for young people.
That the programme should already be condemned and rejected by so many is unfortunate: who, among those so eager to attack its teachings, have read and studied Here I Am in its 1500-plus pages? How many who dismiss the work as an act of doctrinal dilution and trendy, politically-correct street-thinking have stopped to consider that when Our Lord came to earth He taught in parables which were as accessible as a McDonald's hamburger?
Critics of Here I Am must see it for what it is: an educational resource. It is not, nor does it claim to be, the hard-core religious syllabus most Catholics grew up with. After completing the programme, youngsters will not be convincing in their summary of certain basic tenets of our faith (the incarnation, baptism, the immaculate conception, to name but a few) nor will they be very strong on the question of papal infallibility. They will not be able to recount the tales of the Martyrs or to recite the names of all the saints. Their world will not be circum-scribed by a Danteesque vision of hell, purgatory and heaven.
The students who use Here I Am as a resource will, however, come away with a clear understanding of what it is to be a Christian in today's world: they will know about charity towards others, about open-ness of spirit, about generosity and humility. They will have a strong notion of good and evil, and of a loving God. These are the Christian landmarks which, when youngsters take to the sea of joys and troubles, will serve to guide them safely to shore.
Here I Am should not stand alone: its teachings must be bolstered by the weighty lessons which comprise a traditional syllabus, its open-plan vision must be placed in the context of a sound Catholic framework. Youngsters must be taught the. alphabet-and-numbers of Catholicism within the confines of a structured RE syllabus before they may gather fresh inspiration from this new resource. • In the classrooms of today, where instant gratification is sought by youngsters whose patience has been atrophied by television and video viewing rather than exercised by reading and writing, Here 1 Am is a welcome addition to the weapons in the RE teachers' armoury for the pounding of classrooms throughout the country with the lessons of Catholic spiritituality. Our teachers must not, however, regard this particular weapon as the ultimate one. Nor should they, or any parent, a priori, dismiss Here I Am without a careful study of its potential role in the Catholic educational arena. To do so betrays a tunnel vision which is antithetical to being a member of the Catholic, or universal, Church.