Raising Religious & Moral Standards for Catholic High School Students
YES, IT IS POSSIBLE TO FAIL A RELIGION CLASS
As a theology teacher at a Catholic high school, I’m deluged by the theories of “learning specialists,” educational psychologists, and catechetical gurus about the way teenagers learn about religion. By and large these theories treat the teenage mind and personality as an enigma, an elusive mystery that the enlightened among us may grasp if we have the patience and insight to “feel into” the lives of teens. But let me tell you, it isn’t that complicated. Teenagers, like the adults who lead them, flourish in a structured environment that calls them to high standards of scholarship and personal behavior.
This is a unique challenge in religious instruction because in many cases neither students nor teachers are willing to pursue scholarship and virtue. Students walk into religion class with the predisposition that passing is a foregone conclusion because religion is just a bunch of fluff. They don’t expect to have to work and so they’re detached, inattentive, and, in many cases, out of control. They’ve been conditioned to think this way, at least partially, by catechists who water down instruction. Furthermore, parents reinforce religious indifference in their teens by placing more emphasis on the so-called academic subjects and displaying a hands-off attitude toward religious instruction.
Religious instruction in Catholic schools is failing — and has been for some time. Unless we make changes in our catechetical methods, our Catholic high schools will go the way of Catholic colleges in America — merely private alternatives to public schools, devoid of any real spiritual significance.
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State licensing and certification lend legitimacy to “experts” but, as the Teacher from Nazareth remarked, by their fruits ye shall know them.
The average American Catholic is a 48-year-old woman married to a Catholic spouse with whom she has two children. She attends Mass at least once a month, puts $10 in the collection, and is not very active in her parish.
Given the public-school debacle, one would think that education departments in Catholic colleges would sprint in an opposite philosophical direction.