On education: Exactly what do you believe?
Have you ever had that feeling things are starting to come together in some area or other? A sense even seemingly unrelated parts of a diverse whole are somehow falling into sync. There’s more than a little of this sense going on for me at the moment around things Catholic and education!
A first sign is the New Zealand Bishops’ ground-breaking document being addressed by various voices in this issue of Wel-Com. The Catholic Education of School Age Children answers a need for renewed clarity around what we’re trying to do by operating a system of Catholic schools. Educational excellence is always a key aim, but the Catholic school’s very ground for existence is its Catholic Special Character – pure and simple. We are about encounter with Jesus Christ.
The bishops also point toward the sensible expectation that those who teach Religious Education need to reflect on their faith; to study and know it to a much greater depth than they are asked to teach. But teachers are busy! So, creative learning modes and other opportunities need to be found to enable this study to happen before and alongside classroom teaching. And if faith in the classroom is important – and it certainly is! – even more so is parental faith understanding.
After over a decade of ongoing research, the US National Study of Youth and Religion reports, ‘…committed and practicing Catholic emerging adults are people who were well formed in Catholic faith and practice as children, whose faith became personally meaningful and practiced as teenagers, and whose parents – reinforced by other supportive Catholic adults– were the primary agents cultivating that lifelong formation.’ Christian Smith et al (Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out Of, And Gone From the Church, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
It’s our job as adults to pass on faith. Parents need it, teachers need it, children need it… actually, every Catholic Christian needs it! Which brings us to developments in how we deliver and access faith-learning. So what’s new?
Things are going digital in the classroom and beyond. We are working hard to modernise the Religious Education curriculum at both primary and secondary level. As you can imagine that is a fair bit of content and it is currently all going to the web. Once there, the opportunities to expand its availability to children not in Catholic schools are promising. Watch this space!
But faith isn’t passed nor taught well when the tutor’s name is Cyber Catholic. Content is vital but it is witness and a willingness to explore faith with another that is critical. Enter parents and teachers. Courses are increasingly available that offer the chance to deepen faith. What is grace? What does sacrament have to do with my everyday life? ‘Kingdom of God’ – bit dated isn’t it? The Catholic Institute is offering online, distance and taught courses that get you thinking about what you believe and why! There are more opportunities ahead so if your faith is struggling at times; if children are asking faith questions that you are dodging… it’s time to do something about it.
Chris Duthie-Jung is Director, National Centre for Religious Studies, The Catholic Institute.