Your comment on Catholic Education and Fr McCabe's article highlight set again a question which continually causes concern — that of the role. policy and results of our schools. It was also discussed fully in the Tablet recently. and the ouestion of youth, their faith and religious education. rated high in the priorities for the coming National Pastoral C'ongress.
Most seem to agree that the drift of young people from active membership of the Church is alarmingly high, and there is also grave anxiety at the level and quiility of the religious knowledge — let alone commitment!
As a parent who hits had experience of a number of schools and spoken to sixth formers in others it seems to me that the problem is a very wide one. First of all we are in a period of profound religious and social change and this affects all schools, riot just Catholic ones.
The question of curriculum, content. the values of schools, just what should be taught and for what purpose, is all around us.
Then we have the problem that we no longer live in the closed Catholic society and our faith is rapidly becomMg one of conviction and conversion rather than confortnity, This means that young people have somehow to be converted to an option for faith. rather than just assumed to be "in" the faith and given a little basic information to "service" this already existing faith, plus a few clear rules of life.
Unfortunately. though many teachers would admit to the fact that a growing number of their pupils in the 12 plus group are not practising Christians, schools in general seem to continue with the assumption that they are, and consequently RE lessons and schools' practise of religion are often in considerable difficulty.
Then the problem of exactly what to teach." At the present time there appear to be many alternative syllabuses currently available, but no set books of the German, Dutch or Australian catechism type. We lack sufficient trained RE specialists — and we have no central catechetical institute: in many schools teachers take RE simply because they are Catholics — but they may never have learnt to teach RE and some are far from committed. Since religion is "caught" rather than "taught". an uninspired or somewhat disinterested teacher of RE is far more of a disaster than an unispired Mathes teacher.
Teachers face problems since so many children at Catholic schools do not have committed homes, and they also lace problems as local parishes and priests (and parents) vary so much in their expectations and attitudes to RE and since most schools are now area schools rather than parish schools -it is often a case of one man with a number of masters, religiously speaking!
The problems are legion. are there any answers?
1 tentatively suggest a few. Could every diocese assemble a really keen, well informed and equipped RE team (for children and adults), hammer out exactly what they feel should be taught. assemble the books, visual aids, out of schools conferences. retreats, back up services, liturgical suggestions and go into every school in the diocese for at least a week's residence to see, advise, help and discuss just what is needed, what is being done and what might be achieved.
They might organise meetings to gain parental interest and support (not to mention expectation) see the children, and the total RE staff and plan carefully what realistically might be achieved in the coming year (or two). They might then return to advise, listen, back up and support at regular intervals.
In this way those with real experience, expertise and enthusiasm could be spread widely into those areas where at present this is lacking. Very often there is little communication about ideas which are goirig well in one place. Some may not know what materials are possible or available and sometimes the school cannot afford them. This process might perhaps be part of normal diocesan lift for all schools — primary and secondary, state and private. It would forge links between schools, the diocese and all the young people.
Diocesan conferences and camps might be arranged with reasonable hope of SUCCCAS. — at the present time conferences are laid on but it is very variable who goes. Parents might be much more involved in the RE of their children and might be very glad to know just what their diocese was doing. They might also he trained as 'additional catechists to go into schools where Catholic RE specialists were in short supply. Even if improvements are difficult nationally, they should not prove impossible at the diocesan level. Our schools have much to offer, hut at the present time are floundering in a sea of confusions over curriculum, expectationS, values, resources, and trained staff Most diocese have a schools catechetical section, but the occasional visit to the school to have a chat with the head of RE or a visit to the classroom to see a specially laid out display does not seem adequate to meet the undoubted problems.
Maria Comerford (Mrs) Merrow, Guildford.
"The Herald says" and the article by Fr. Ken McCabe, (August 10) bring Once more to our attention the problem which k becoming ever more urgent, and which will not go away — the future of our schools.
Several years ago Mgr. Kevin Nichols was made National Director of Religious Education — a new post, indicating at least perhaps, that there was cause for a re-appraisal of the system. It is well known that tremendous changes have taken place in Religious Education. The latest theology has been watered down, and huge sums have been spent on new attractive books. However. I understand that now some leading catechists are disatisfied with the history of salvation, liturgy, and scripture approach, but arc perplexed as to what should now happen.
It is obvious that the holy Spirit is working mightily in the world today, The Church has been starved of experience of God — this is perhaps the reason that the young leave?They have been taught so much about God. but are not told that etperience of God is possible or even desirable, and yet union with God is implicit in our bapt ism, There are those who, ostrich-like, keep their heads down; and hope that this movement of the Holy Spirit will disappear, and there are those who likewise continually shelve the schools problem. Why don't we let the Holy Spirit take over? Perhaps our first priority in the schools problem should be the renewal of the Church i.e. it's members. Then, with adults totally committed to Christ, and tilled with His Holy Spirit, an adult and pastoral education programme could be started. The parents and future parents of these converted adults would bring up their children in truly Christian homes. which would reveal God in all aspects of everv-day living.
These children of course in their turn would have to make their own decision for Christ. Great faith would obviously be needed for such a step, to place all the educational resources thc Church at the service of the Isdult community, I pray that the vision of Pope John, of a New Pentecost in the Church will be fulfilled, and along with this, the disappearance of "the schools' problem",
Barbara T. Harris (Mrs) Red ruth
Any debate to be fruitful requires all points of view to be heard, even the views of those directly involved. Fr. McCabe says that our schools have been selective with the criterion being religious practice. This has been the case in London because of the shortage of places; it has not been the entry procedure during my fifteen years of headship in Yorkshire and Surrey.
There is little to justify an official policy that Catholic schools should Iiikc children only from practising Families. Evidently, in Fr. McCabe's experience, such a policy has resulted in a high percentage of non-churchgoing children from non-church-going families which suggests a large number of problems of deceit were occasioned even before the pupils entered the schools.
Whatever the sociologists tell us. I would question the direct relationship of practice kk ith social adequacy. Some children have problems arising from the fact that they arc expected to practise. Where is the evidence that our quota of 'problem children' in Catholic schools is normally smaller?
I would dispute Fr. McCabe's assertion that in the Catholic schools we have some way to go before we can compete with out county colleagues with regard to the provisnm of pastoral care. A study of Catholic and County comprehensives in Sussex and Surrey shows that pastoral systems in all schools were highly organised, displaying human caring of a high order in institutional settings.
In TIO way were the Catholic schools inferior and in a number of instances they led the field; an interesting feature was that Catholic schools housed in old buildings were at an advantage as regards facilities for such work as compared with purpose-built new schools. The editor seeks an open debate on the schools. Let's get on with it. The defence of the present system does not rule out listening to alternative suggestions.
(Dr.) P. Torjussen Headmaster, St Peter's and Merrow Grange School, Guildford.