By Michael Cockett
Religious Education edited by Dom Philip Jebb (Darton, Longman and Todd 30s.) Options by Pierre Rabin (Bums and Oates 15s).
THE FIRST of these books consists of a series of papers given at a symposium at Downside Abbey in September 1966. The papers cover wide ranging topics from religion in state and Catholic schools through an evaluation of the effectiveness of Catholic educational policy to a discussion of the foundations of religious education both in the home and in the Church as a whole.
It is perhaps understandable that a group centred on Downside Should spend a large proportion of its time on the relatively small proportion of the grammar or boarding schools. However. in spite of this rather serious defect the books will make provocative reading for all concerned with education.
In his paper evaluating the effectiveness of Catholic education in terms of subsequent Mass attendance. Mr. A. E. C. W. Spencer establishes that we can no longer make easy assumptions about the need for Catholic schools. Although, as he points out, the limitations of his survey do not allow him
to come to definitive conclusions, he amply supports his main contention that there should be a long and rigorous research into the aims and effectiveness of Catholic education. The present policy which is so crippling financially must be ruthlessly re-examined.
The clarion call for Catholic schools often involves an emotional appeal that the sacrifice of our forefathers should not have been in vain. Fr. Michael Gainc in his paper on the historical development of our present policy points out that the call for Catholic schools for each Catholic child is relatively recent. The involvement of the church in education up till the second half of the last century, far from being exclusive, was often specifically interdenominational.
Against this background the paper by Mary Bray, the Christian headmistress of a State school, appears in many ways the most convincing. It is not just that she is dealing with the "lost sheep" of a Portsmouth dock area, the methods she describes open up exciting possibilities. Her vivid descriptions of the discussions caused by her pupils' involvement in modern dance projects demonstrate clearly that children even from the most unpromising background are deeply religious. The job of the religious educator is not to impose religion—to teach it in the usual sense---but to find the means of fertilising the seed that is already planted.
In the final paper Dom Sebastian Moore consistently attacks "the dualism which sees a thing called 'the faith' on the one hand and a thing called 'the world' on the other." He poses the question, "What is supposed to be happening when the Church is teaching? Who is supposed to be doing what to whom?" A good question.
Pierre Babin in "Options" takes up the practical c'hallenge of the situation and suggests a number of interesting lines of development. Although there is still some suggestion of the dualism that Sebastian Moore decries, the general approach, as one would expect from this author, is very helpful. He suggests basically that through group work and an exploratory study of human values and the meaning of life today, adolescents can come to a vivifying knowledge of the Christian message. Unfortunately, at least from an English point of view, the adolescent group has been idealised almost beyond recognition.
In the end Mary Bray's girls almost coming to blows over the appearance of the Holy Spirit because they wish to perform a Whitsun dance sounds more like the situation I know than Pierre Babin's docile if dedicated groups.