AN EXAMINATION OF METHODS- AND CONSCIENCE
A MAN should have the
courage to sign a written expression of his views, a practice
1 have always followed when writing in these columns, but when this may result, directly or indirectly, in embarrassing friends or colleagues by reason of their known connection with the writer, he is better advised to write under a nom de guerre, and leave it to the kindness of the Editor to guarantee his bona fides.
This I take leave to do in the present instance and my cornments will, I think, fully justify my doing so.
For very many years I have been most intimately connected with Catholic education in primary and modern grades, though with very remote grammar school contacts.
Of late years I have noted the growing challenge to the older methods in religious instruction. evidenced at meetings of Catholic teachers, by the newer diocesan schemes, by the change in textbook attack, by letters to the Catholic Press, and by the influence exerted by such progressive teachers as the American Paulist Fathers.
And still we arc failing! The 50 per cent. leak in the dyke seems no nearer damming.
CHESHIRE Catholic teachers
are asking for a more simplyworded Catechism as an aid to better understanding by the child of Catholic doctrine.
I agree wholeheartedly that the old Catechism is difficult and, to the child, often meaningless, though I fear its re-drafting in simpler words may prove a difficult task if its theology is to be retained in its present heresy-proof form, That, however, is a matter for the ecclesiastical superiors to ponder.
Where I disagree with my friends in Cheshire is in their implied assumption that here we have the key to the leakage.
" Make it easy for the child to know and understand his Catechism, and the leakage will cease," they seem to say.
I wish it were as easy as that. As a matter of fact, this difficulty has already partly been met by the advice given to teachers in the newer diocesan schemes where they are counselled to use the Catechism answer merely as a "clincher" or summing up of their own instructions.
The Sower scheme used in the Birmingham diocese for many years evolved Fr. Drinkwater's Abbreviated Catechism.
Did it stop the leakage ? No, it duo not, though it certainly simplified the work of both teacher and child.
Then where do we look ?
WE are only too familiar with
the old excuse, " Blame the parents," but I have a two-fold objection to this facile method of " passing the buck."
My first objection is that the present generation of parents are the result, the product, of our teaching methods of past years, and after you have allowed for Original Sin, the general decline in moral standards, social conditions, political evplution, and the influence of agnosticism and the popular Press, you still have to face the fact that somewhere, someone, somehow, has fallen down on the job, and the parents have been let down as children.
My second objection is that it is uncritical to blame only one section of the tt.mity responsible fo. Catholic education-the parent, the priest, the teacher.
I have examined very many cases of child-leakage, and have yet to find a serious case of a very young person failing in his duties whose parents were good practising Catholics.
Obviously. then, we have to look almost exclusively at those whose pments arc lax and uninterested. and to find a method, a process, so powerful and impressive that it will hold not only those whose parents support us but the others in spite of parental indifferences. It must be positively stronger than the negative influence of the parents.
This latter is generally a purely passive thing or the child would not be attending a Catholic school at all.
DON'T DO THIS
EDUCATIONAL thought of re
cent years has pioneered daringly in the study of the childmind-one might almost say too daringly-in order to improve teaching methods, hut on one point all agree, that the most impelling and irresistible force we can employ in teaching a child is ;merest.
That surely is only another name Encourage the children to " gang for the liking or love a child has for what he is doing.
If, therefore, the child loved what he was doing in " religious instruction," he would easily assimilate it. Any obstacle, then, which may be placed in his way which prevents his liking the subject is defeating our purpose. May I mention a few ?
Marking Mass registers, a practice I abhor. and which I find morally indefensible.
Punishing or scolding for failure, ignorance or sins of omission, say Mass-missing. (Punishment for purely personal sin as distinct from anti-social conduct is. I think, God's personal prerogative.) Moralising on the lives of such saints as can have little appeal to children and only tend to discourage.
Compelling the learning of illdigested doctrinal answers, or poorly understood Prayers and hymns.
" General Communion days," when, willy nilly, feeling like it or not, every child is dragooned into receiving the sacraments.
There may be hundreds of us actually at Holy Communion, hut for each of us it is a personal response to a personal invitation, and is none of anybody else's business when Monday morning comes.
Readers may think of other questionable practices.
ON the positive side you may
ask what means I would cornmend to beget and sustain interest and love of religion, and I would make these suggestions: Build up at first on the "play" approach of the infant school.
Provide the child with an endless fund of stories about Our Divine Lord and His Apostles and more appealing saints so that they become real and familiar to the child mind.
Let hint draw and paint his doctrine as he does his history and geography lessons. Note I said let him, not make him.
Get him to dramatise his Bible history and make it real.
Large classes, so common in our schools are no real hindrance, for Our Lord invariably had a "crowd scene "-and don't seek histrionic perfection.
Surround him with beauty in pictures and statues, and let him take care of them, looking after flowers. candles and altar-cloths. Let him pay for these extras himself. He will much prefer making a little sacrifice for Our Lord or Our Lady. and learning thus to love them.
Set up a holy water stoup in the classroom for regular automatic use, and somebody will keep it full and clean.
Get that dusty old cnicifix down, and put it where the children can sec L. touch it, hold it, examine it (and kiss it if they feel sympathetic enough).
Take a group into church as often as possible. Take them on the sanctuary. Let them while young, knock on "Our Lord's front door."
Get the priest to show them Our Lord's furniture, vestments, chalice, monstrance, pyx.
Put a bright illustrated Church calendar on the classroom wall, and follow the Church's year, an excellent peg on which to hang stories of the saints and the Sunday's Gospels.
Collect C.T.S. pamphlets and lives of saints.
Get at least one Catholic paper and read interesting extracts, leaving it about for children to pick up and browse.
together " for an occasional Holy Communion on a week-day, a gift of willing service.
ANY of these suggestions are already in operation by many hundreds of teachers, but I stress them to indicate my desire to use not only the intellect but the emotions as well, the child's sense of wonder, its liking for ceremonial, its natural attraction for beauty and colour, its sense of pity and friendship. All are God's gifts to the child. Why not use them for God's purpose.
As the child grows beyond the more primitive appeal, we must find other means to sustain that interest and love while Grace continues to build up strength for the future.
And here I suggest we take a leaf out of King Arthur's book. and give these young Christian knights something to fight for.
All children, boys especially, I think, have a great potential for crusading and self-denial. Evil forces have harnessed this Godgiven spirit for their own purposes. We should harness it for God's pu rpose.
Why not every boy and girl and teacher a knight or handmaid of the Blessed Sacrament ? Would that bring in and hold the weaker ones more effectively than an easier Catechism ?
Let them take up real missionary work, adopting " Black Babies," writing to pen-friends in foreign mission lands and nearer home to broaden their "Catholic" outlook.
Let them teach each other to serve at Mass and all the other services, and call for the " weaker brethren " on Sunday.
All these, again. are common practice in many schools.
SO far, little of what I have said calls for much criticism, but I am compelled to follow my line of thought deeper still, and it is here I feel I may hurt feelings. If I do so, I ask pardon very humbly, but I must go on 'to the end of the line if I am to be honest.
If all the suggestions I have made were to go into full operation at once in any given school, it could still be frustrated by one simple factor-the child's observation of his teacher's personal example or lack of it.
If any of us is lacking in this respect, that is a matter we must deal with personally.
I do however, proffer one opinion. It is that any Catholic teacher who, because of the indifference of parents, or because of the poor remuneration, or because of disagreements with managers or clergy. or other authority, or for any other reason, regards his work as professional rather than divinelyvocational, or himself as the servant of the State rather than of God, such a teacher should be prepared to reconsider his viewpoint or leave a Catholic school.
I am not unaware of the annoyances and vexations put on teachers at times by those from whom one would expect better things, hut 1 have no right to allow my personal grumbles to interfere with my duties to God and His little ones.
Of course some parents are selfish, thoughtless, ignorant, spiteful, but their children are my charge under God.
HIS thought leads me, then, to the third part of the trinity -the priest. Can the weak spot sometimes be here?
Does the priest take a fair share of the work by coming in to see the children regularly?
Does he take the trouble to follow up lax cases which we report to him ?
Does he treat his teachers as fellow-workers in the same vineyard, or as employeeswhom he has favoured by appointment and to whom nothing further is due ?
Does he merely regard his teaching staff as useful parish workers for raising funds by concerts, or as much cows with bottomless purses to be tapped at will on all special occasions ?
Does he take the trouble to acknowledge applications for teach (Continued on page 6)