Thursday, September 13, 2007

We Should Know Better

There's quite an interesting discussion going on at the Real Learning forum. Perhaps "discussion" isn't quite the right word, though; what seems to be taking place is a clash of opposing world views, one of which holds that that homeschooled Catholic children should still obediently sign right up for whatever religious education program their parish offers/mandates/threatens them with, and the other of which insists that their children will only be signed up for these classes over the supine and lifeless corpse of the homeschooling mother in question, whose ghost will then proceed to haunt the D.R.E. into a state of nervous exhaustion until the poor motherless babes are excused from any further participation.

Guess which side I'm on.

The issue isn't that some religious education instructors might be Really Nice People; I'm sure many of them are. The issue isn't, even, that some of the programs might not reek with the rotting algae of early 7os catechesis, or hang like a tattered leftover burlap banner proclaiming the smile-button theology most of us were inflicted with in our childhood. There might, possibly, somewhere in the known universe, be a halfway decent program, almost as good as the ones we choose for our own children--the operative word being "almost."

Because even with the exact same program we're using and some Really Nice People teaching, the programs would still fall far short of what we're able to do in the realm of religious instruction for our own children in our own homes on a daily (not weekly!) basis--and that's overlooking the sad reality that far too many parish religious education programs are run by Really Confused People using the rotting algae/tattered banner variety of catechetical materials.

Requiring, even mandating, that homeschooled families must sign up for such instruction is an insult, plain and simple. It is the parish bureaucracy saying to the family, in effect, "We don't trust you to teach religion to your children."

As a dear family member puts it, the state of Texas trusts me to teach my children algebra and physics, for heaven's sake, but the parish doesn't trust me to teach my children about God?

And then the D.R.E.s out there wonder why so many homeschooling families seem to approach them with some latent--or overt--hostility. Gosh, I don't know. Could it be because you're requiring me to sign my children up for instruction they've already had at home? Could it be because you think I'm an idiot incapable of preparing my own children for the sacraments? Could it be that I'm annoyed because the whole state of Texas trusts me more than you do?

Imagine how homeschooling parents might react if the public library mandated reading classes for homeschooled children before they could check out any books, regardless of the child's ability to demonstrate reading proficiency, and you'll get some idea of just how insulting these mandatory religious education requirements really are.

I put up with weak, pointless, barely-Catholic religious instruction in the parochial schools I attended back in the 70s and 80s. Many of my peers can relate; many of us were surprised and delighted to discover what our Church really teaches, and to immerse ourselves in the great traditions, devotional practices, and celebrations of our faith in a way the smile-button brigade never bothered to teach us about. Many of us are committed to Catholic homeschooling precisely because we want to hand on the authentic traditions and teachings of our faith to our children, not hand them the sugar-free, lite version of Catholicism so many of us grew up with.

As I said, not all parish or diocesan religious instruction is as bad as what we grew up with; but there's a forty-year hole in religious education that has barely begun to be refilled by those who seek to reform catechesis, and what that means at the practical, parish level is that you are more likely than not going to be given shadows instead of substance when you sign up for religious education classes.

It might be true that shadows are better than nothing for those whose only contact with the faith is their weekly parish attendance. But it is not true that shadows are better than substance for the children whose mothers are sacrificing so much to provide them with that substance, day in and day out, week after week, year after year. Many of our children will be called to the priesthood or religious life, and they will need much more than shadows to sustain them in those callings. It is our duty to see that they are prepared for whatever life God calls them to, and this means both teaching them the faith and keeping them from harmful influences--even when those harmful influences take place under diocesan or parish auspices.

I have met many people in my generation or younger who have learned these things the hard way. I have known many Catholics who have reverted to the faith after falling away as teenagers or young adults, in part because of the tragic attempt of some D.R.E. or other to be "hip" and "relevant"who only ended up in giving his or her students a deep distaste for the faith, which they unfortunately associated with the worst kind of adult silliness imaginable. The people of my generation, and the generations after mine, born into the post-Conciliar Church, have had to get past a lot of nonsense to learn our faith; having learned it, we cherish it, and seek to hand it down whole and spotless to our own children.

There is simply no excuse for us to be strong armed into handing our children over for rotting algae and decaying smiles. There is no excuse for us to pretend that our children can be handed hollow swords and tin shields, and still stand unscathed against the evils of the world. There is no excuse for us to confuse a craven obedience to foolish, man-made programs for the glad obedience we owe to God.

We should know better.


Opal said...

God Bless you Red.
We agree with you.

After having agrued with several DREs and made known our CoNCERNS to the priest, if I had to do it over we are tempted to act like total idiots so they won't have the RESOURCES to deal with US...maybe Fr. will gently pull us aside, after singing LOUDLY O SACRAMENT MOST HOLY instead of GATHER US IN...and say "Dear Opal, I am not sure RE is where your children need to be, have you thought of homeschooling...or here is the material, we will provide it! Just do it at home." :0) Will let you know if it works.

Alexandra said...

We went through our pastor as well. I never discussed anything with the DRE. Our RE is far below par, so we haven't even considered it.

Interesting discussion. over at Real Learning.

4andcounting said...

We are not required to participate in Faith Formation at our parish. They have an option for families that want to prepare their children for the sacraments at home. I'm sure they give materials that they want used, but obviously they are not in the home making sure that is all that is used. My kids are on the cusp of beginning formation for preparation for the sacraments and we will be doing it at home. After spending a year attending the Pre-K formation we realized we could do a better job at home and have more family time. Thankfully, our parish is fine with that.

Martha said...

lol well now, don't hold back
tell me what you really think there Red! ;)

I don't know that I'm as umm forceful about it as you are, but I do agree with you!

MommaLlama said...

For sacraments we are to use a particular curriculum, turn in the workbooks, attend 5 class (parents and student), and younger/older children not welcome - no childcare. Oh and we have to sign up for one of the assigned dates for them to obtain the sacrament. I'm like you... sometimes called a rebel in my own way... but we have no intention in following their rules. The Code of Canon Law actually supports the parents in this particular area, and says that a church cannot refuse our children the sacraments we feel they are ready for, and that religious ed is actually the parents responsibility!!! Sweet, I love it when you read church docuaments and it actually supports us instead of some random mandates that some random DRE feels works best for them.

I LOVE your analogy of the library!!

Wendy in MD said...

Well said. :o)

deanna said...

I read this and then went over to the discussion as well. As a DRE I feel pretty annoyed and disgusted with both sides of this issue. The DRE's who act like power hungry sacrament gate keepers and parents who think that "public school CCD kids" are not educated in the faith! My advice is to always approach the DRE with charity and a sincere desire to work togehter. If that does not work, then go to the Pastor. If that does not work you are basically out of luck unless you change parishes. The pastor makes all final decisions in his parish, not the Bishop!
I am alwys willing to work with families in whatever situation they are in and really view 'rules' as guidelines, especially when they come out of my office. Work together to build up the Body of Christ!

Red Cardigan said...

Deanna, I appreciate your comments but have to ask you this question.

Do you see Catholic homeschoolers as "Catholic school students" or "public school students"?

In other words, if your diocese doesn't make the Catholic school kids attend RE to receive sacraments etc. on the grounds that they're already receiving Catholic education, then on what grounds do they require Catholic homeschooled children to go to the same RE classes as the public school children?

It's not really about assuming that no public school kids are getting any religious instruction at home. It's about the official policies, attitudes etc. that say to Catholic homeschooling parents, many of whom incorporate *more* Catholicism into daily instruction than the diocesan schools do: we don't care if you're *really* a Catholic school at home; as far as we're concerned, only diocesan/religious order schools are "real" Catholic schools, and only those kids are exempt from RE at the parish level.

My children are not public school children. They attend a Catholic school. It happens to be located in my home, but I'd be willing to bet they know as much or more about their faith as the kids whose parents are spending nearly $5,000/year/child on the local Catholic grade school. So, to approach the parish and be told, as I was, that the Catholic education I was providing for my kids wasn't good enough, that I'd have to purchase and use the parish's religious ed. materials, even if I wanted to teach my kids at home, and that both my children and I would have to attend numerous meetings, sessions, classes etc. in addition to the work done at home in order to "qualify" for the sacraments was insulting, demeaning, and ridiculous.

So, when you say, "My advice is to always approach the DRE with charity and a sincere desire to work togehter." you're forgetting two things: first, many of us have tried this, only to give up in disgust and despair; second, that most homeschooling parents have no desire whatsoever (let alone a sincere one) to work with DREs, who forget completely that their "job" is to assist parents, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.