Is A New A pproach Needed ?
THE Editor of THE CATHOLIC HERALD reminded us in a recent leader that not only must Christian education produce a way of life to be lived and not merely learned, but that Church, parent and teacher have each a contribution to make to the child's training.
From experience, it is clear that rood Catholic parents are the dommating factor in this partnership. with the teacher and the priest fol
lowing in that order. If proof is needed for this statement, consider just two points. Can the best teacher, even with the help of the best of priests. make any real impression on a child's way of life unless he has the co-operation and support of the child's home? Or, can the child who lives too far away to attend a Catholic school or church be trained in the true Christian way of life? The answers to these questions show the indispensability of Catholic home-training.
As to the relative importance to the child of priest and teacher, it is clear that, while the priest can do much to encourage the child and to support the efforts of the teacher by visiting and giving every possible facility for sound religious practice. it is the teacher who is closer to the child for so much longer periods and who acts as his daily instructor and exemplar, and so makes the greater impression by virtue of greater opportunity.
• THE TEACHER'S CONTRIBUTION
It seems evident, then, that if Catholic education is to be a living force. the parent must be the chief instrument, under God. for making it so. If. for any reason, this force is lacking-and it is accepted that many Catholic homes are indifferent to their responsibilities-the task of repair is one for the clergy, and any suggestion by a layman as to how it
is to be tackled could rightly be regarded as presumption. Concerning the work of the teacher. however, the writer. as one of them, may be excused for making some observations and suggestions in the hope of encouraging thought and mutual self-examination in those of us who profess this most sacred of lay vocations.
We of the older generation recall our own childhood days when " the Catechism, the whole Catechism, and hardly anything but the Catechism " was the unbending rule in most schools. The result. in many cases, might have been described as the " survival of the fittest," these being the children with robust faith and strong constitutions inherited from their parents. We do not regret that a wider vision has succeeded-as in the case of the " Sower Scheme "-in alleviating a state of affairs which. had it persisted into these later days of national apathy and indiscipline. might have had serious results on both child and teacher. The broader and less rigid schemes of the present days are thought more suitable to the less concentrated mind of the modern child. Yet, despite the "Abbreviated Catechism," despite the insistence on greater explanation and less parrotwork in our newer schemes, despite visual aids and other appeals. our Religious Instruction is still failing to perform its task effectively.
1 know that ninny reasons can he advanced to explain this failure, the lack of home-background, the pictures, the general post-war slackness. and so on, but I still think that we teachers could do more than we are doing, or do it more effectively.
APPEAL TO HEROIC CAPACITY The first thought that occurs to me it that we possibly fail to make sufficient use, in the very early years of the junior school, of the great capacity in children for heroism and self-sacrifice which, applied to religious duties, can form a life-long habit sustained by the grace of God which accompanies the very practice of the habit. Grace helps further effort which in turn produces greater grace. What a potent factor is good example either in teacher or classleader, and a good movement spreads like a prairie-fire until eventually it becomes a tradition. but it must be started and encouraged by the teacher to whom all children look for a lead. This may indeed call for a measure of heroic action from the teacher. but we are surely capable of it. (Indeed, to be frank. many of us have proved our capacity for heroism by sticking to our Catholic schools throughout the years when nothing less than heroism could have stood the test. We are, while remaining faithful, not blind or deaf to the worldly advantages to be gained in other schools. Fortunate those of us who have sympathetic helpful Managers.) It would be unworthy of us to adopt a Trade Union attitude in our work for God's children, for we are, or should regard ourselves as, specially chosen for the greatest vocation outside the priesthood. Of course we are not paid our just dues in pounds and shillings, and we have every right to support our associations in their fights for just treatment and better conditions, but we are, all the same, a body apart when it concerns our children's spiritual welfare and the good of God's Church. Few indeed, I am sure, fail to realise and live up to this ideal, at least in will. but all will agree that the teacher who is seen by the child going regularly to Mass and Holy Communion is giving a better lesson than all the instructions and precepts he could give in the class-room.
My next two points may arouse feelings of complete disagreement, but I feel their importance is such as to merit at least some consideration.
THE JOY OF RELIGION Because a child's earlier school years are the most impressionable. they make or mar his attitude to school life in general. If, therefore, " Religious Instruction" (horrid words!) is to make a favourable and desirable appeal, there should be in it no element of dislike or repulsion. It should be a thing of joyous adventure, of unfolding attractiveness, of growing interest. What do we consider the factors I which the child finds unlikeable? I would name two. "Learning Catechism by heart," and " Mass Registers.' The former I would. for reasons stated below, relegate for the most part to the Senior school years. The latter I would banish altogether.
In some dioceses the old " Penny Catechism" has been reduced in size to an abbreviated form. This was, 1 think. a measure of great wisdom for the Junior school child's benefit. for it eased his unwelcome task, and enabled teachers to devote more time to explanations and other instruction. Many of the terms in the full Catechism are too deeply theological for the understanding of children, or, for that matter. of most adults, and " howlers" abound in every class-room, even under the best teacher.
The knowledge needed for the reception of the earlier Sacraments, Penance, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation, together with the mysteries of the Holy Mass, can be given in the words of the Catechism if desired, and explained in every possible way without the drudgery of by-heart work, and with far better results because of the greater interest and willingness of the child to learn them. Again, the Junior school child has to face the drudgery-and it can and must be drudgery-of the Arithmetical Tables without which he cannot make any progress in the subject. There is much also in English which gives mental anguish, but it is absolutely necessary.
Religious practice and instruction are things of the heart and the emotions also and will not brook forcing.
This Table drudgery has more or less ceased by the time the child has finished with the Junior school, so why face the child in these tender years with a double dose when he has still four or more years of greater mental agility and better conditions to cover this necessary task? I know of nothing, except perhaps the jingle of verse. which the average child enjoys learning by heart. Think of those less gifted children forced to try to keep up with the others. These are generally of that brand of social and intellectual back ound which makes them in later life more likely to fall away thee their more gifted brethren unless the
best foundations are laid. Their very simplicity of mind can, on the other hand, he made a sure foundation for the building of spiritual strength if R.I. is a lesson they love. In them. the emotions are more important than the intellect, and it is on these partly we should with God's help build our edifice of faith and love.
As for " Mass Registers," I can only state my belief that morally we have no right to ask for open confession of fault, and in many cases of Mass-missing, no fault exists in the child. There are other more private means of discovering habitual Mass-missers. and then it is a matter for the priest to deal with through the parent. Here we conic back to the first point, parental responsibility. We can help, perhaps, but if the parent is failing in his duty, there is little else we can do, and we cer-• tainly have no further responsibility in the matter.
What, you may ask, if these principles are accepted, shall we put in the place of Catechism learning' In my experience, it is generally found impossible to cover fully the ground set to be covered in the official schemes of instruction for the year. Here is material to work on. I think the question is one of How rather than What.
There must be real enthusiasm on the part of the teacher. an enthusiasm tempered and impelled by his own personal strength and devotion. The core round which all must be constructed is, of course, a real personal love of Our Divine Lord. and this presupposes a knowledge of Him. not just an almost fearful vague impression of His divinity as shown in His miracles, but a real studied knowledge of His life, His words. His actions. His love for little ones so often illustrated in the Gospel story. Details must be supplied by the teacher with all the vividness he can impart to the story. Here also in the Gospels is the story of the Holy Mass at first hand. the institution of the Sacraments. the personal example of Our Lord demonstrating in His own actions the virtues He inculcated for us in His immediate followers. Here is material enough for a dozen years. Yes. I know these are all in the existing schemes given us to work to by our Bishops. I stress the importance of our method of using them as a thoroughly sound substitute for the heartbreak work. at present occupying our attention and the child's for so many precious hours. I feel sure the results in increased spiritual activity and devotion on the part of many more of our children would justify the experiment.
EXAMPLES. PAST AND PRESENT
There are also the stories of the Catacombs, of the Saints. of many early Christians, of those who brought the Faith to our lands. all thrilling stories of heroism capable of begetting the same spirit in our children if only their eagerness were not crushed by the present drudgery
of Catechism. Nor need we rest content with the early or Reforma
tion martyrs. Right on our doorstep, and in our very own day. we have the example of the millions of Catholics of all the nations under the " protection " of Russia, indeed in Russia itself, living and dying martyrs in the cause of the Faith. The trials and sentences are, in the case of the Shepherds, on record for all to read; in the case of the flock, a silent but only too well-known proof of the powers of heroic grace in the souls of faithful men and women. Stepinac. Mindszenty, Reran. Are these names familiar in the minds of our children? Have we made them a ringing challenge to Catholic piety and living?
Do our children know of the sacrifices called for even by their own parents in their own England in the cause of education? If these conditions can exist in a liberty-loving country like England, what are the dangers of the future, what must be the state of affairs in dictator Communist lands? Tell them these facts, and watch the interest and attention in their eyes, so that they come to regard the end of their religious lessons with regret, yet with growing resolution in their hearts.
They can so easily be made to be glad when the Arithmetic lesson comes round, whereas the end of the Religious period should be greeted with feelings of regret, and anticipation of the next day's lesson: As they advance. there are the wonders of the Church's calendar as the days come round, the beauties of Church music on records, the way of life of the monastic orders, the mysteries of Holy Week services, all await eager minds if the interest and emotional appeal are sustained as they can be if properly handled. Show them films and pictures. Appeal to all their senses. God gave them five. Why stop short at one or two?
Such, then, sketchily, are my thoughts on method in Junior classes where we lay foundations for good or evil. Should it be decided that further discussion be stimulated concerning the Senior school, I will be only too happy to put up a few Aunt Sallies for your further attention.