Present Unsatisfactory Position SER.—Your correspondent Parochus is mistaken. There is a growing number of people, teachers, parish priests and inspectors who, with plenty of experience of religious examinations, are firmly convinced that small children are not able to understand the words of the catechism even after careful explanation.
In this connection 1 should like to quote Fr. Drinkwater, himself a Diocesan Inspector and a recognised authority on religious instruction, In his book, " Religion in School Again," he writes, " At the end of four years, I had to admit that the junior children ... could not really take an intelligent interest in the Catechism words. They could understand quite well in their own way (of course) all Catholic doctrine; but if you pressed them for signs of understanding of the Catechism words—which the teachers had conscientiously tried to explain ' ... they were evidently bothered and unequal to the situation... It was clear to me then . . . that the thing I had asked the teachers to da—to ' explain ' the English Catechism to children of that age—was an impossibility."
Since you published my earlier letters, I have received a letter from an Irish Diocesan Inspector expressing entire agreement with the above views, and also a communication from some Jesuits at Louvain who are working, on international lines, for the improvement of religious teaching.
I, too, have assisted at religious examinations. and noticed time and time again, sympathetic Inspector and keen children come to grief over the language difficulty. " Now Mary," says Father X, " who is the ordinary minister of Baptism?" Mary knows quite well the answer to " Who is the person who generally gives Baptism," but she has forgotten the " explanation " of " ordinary minister." Such a phrase has no place in her own vocabulary, and is as far removed from her everyday life as the Greek alphabet. She stares dumbly at the Inspector, and later there appears in the School report, " Class —, more attention should be given to doctrine." Indeed, we teach the children about God in a foreign tongue, and half the teacher's time is spent not on the subject matter, but in " translating the textbook."
Parochus is anxious that the words of the Catechism should be firmly fixed in the children's heads by 11+, as " many ... will be drafted into council schools, and so have few opportunities of learning the definitions of our faith." Does he really think that the Catechism answers will be remembered after three or four years in a council school! Why the children in Catholic schools never know them! Hence the continual. boring " grind " at the " words." The top class are pounding away at answers they learnt in Std. I. As every Catholic teacher knows, " Leave the words of the Catechism for two or three weeks, and they're gone like the wind." lib simply is not true that " it all comes back later." If, in after life, the words of the Catechism are recalled in sermons, etc., and do at last come to "mean something," then their rediscovery is hindered rather than helped by that unintelligent parrot work of school days.
Finally Parochus advocates " devotional talks " to get the children " to love and practice their religion." Such talks have their use of course, but I believe their end would be attained more easily, and their effect be far more lasting, if they were supported by intelligently taught doctrine. MARGARET MOLONEY. 47, Pemberton Gardens, Highgate, N.19.
Examples from France
SIL—There is much discussion and criticism of religious teaching at the present time. In this matter it would be a great advantage if teachers could find a way of pooling their experiences.
Some of us come across books we find useful, but we have to buy them before we have the faintest idea whether they will prove useful or not.
Our Lady's Catechists had an exhibition which was very interesting. There were books, illustrations and models which gave
one fresh ideas. Surely trained teachers, with even more experience, could help each other in this way. If there could be some sort of permanent exhibition at a convenient centre, it would be very helpful. Perhaps we could have a C.T.S. pamphlet which would guide us to the sources of information collected by teachers of experience? It was in Catholic Book Notes that
I was introduced to the Montessori Mass Book, which proved such a treasure in my own small circle that many of my friends bought their own copy after using mine. On the other hand, I have often bought books which proved useless--obviously written by people of no practical experience.
At the Paris Exhibition, methods of teaching religion to small children were shown. There were pictures for colouring, tracing, cutting out and gumming and various " jeux catechistiques" which children find absorbing. They were cheap and could easily be replaced. I wonder if we have anything of this kind in England at a
reasonable price? (These French aids to teaching were published by the Societe Auxiliare de l'(Euvre des Catechismes, 19, Rue de Varenne, Paris (Vile).)
The religious examiners might help us in this way. They are in a position to find out what methods work well and what equipment is available. They could do so much to encourage teachers, who are mostly as anxious as they are that religion should be well taught, but unfortunately they often have the opposite effect. They are not always as courteous as they might be and conduct the examination in a highhanded manner. frequently showing a lack of skill in questioning. I think methods of examination need revising quite as much as the syllabus. Anything that depresses teachers or children is bad—we need all the encouragement we can get to " deliver the goods," and this can best be done by friendly co-operation.
Above all, let the spirit of joy prevail in teaching religion. " Happiness is the sunshine in which a child's life best develops," said Froebel, and this is more true in the religious sphere than in the secular, and is unfortunately less often applied to it.
Many lapsed Catholics trace their loss of Faith to a childhood made unhappy by religion—they have never known the " God who giveth joy to my youth."
Mother Janet Stuart held that lessons in religion should appeal at least as much to the heart as to the minds of children, for the final solvent of doubt is given by the heart and what the heart knows is prob
ably never unlearnt. So often explanations of faith are given and accepted as religion, and yet no trust in God grows in those who are learning. There is no real religion in the mere acceptance of the explanation of doctrine.
In conclusion may 1 quote again from Mother Stuart because her words are particularly appropriate to the present day, although written many years ago. " The surest apology for our faith in these days of pessimism is an ardent radiant hope. . . If we are possessed of that we can get it to take hold of the minds of the
children. The child has a right to learn the best that it can know of God. . .
What idea should we wish to give'? Think out the highest ideals of all that is most lovely and loveable, beautiful, tender, gracious, liberal, strong, patient, constant, unwcarying—add all we like, tire out our imagination, and then say that is nothing to what He is.
Practice and Theory
SIR, —Clearly the teaching of religion has two aspects, the practical and the theoretical. It is as regards methods of teaching the latter that opinions seem to vary. Surely those who advocate the retention of the present catechism and the learning of the text by heart are out of touch with modern educational method. Half a century ago, children were forced to learn and recite long lists of names and dates. Geography and history were not real and living sciences but meaningless series of kings, battles, statutes, headlands and bays, lengths of rivers and heights of mountains. Consider modern pedagogical practice with its emphasis on simplicity and reality, the need for the child's active interest and co-operation, the powerful aids of art, craft and dramatic work, the co-opting of cinema and wireless. All these are utilised by the modern teacher to clothe the dull bones of his subject with flesh and blood and make it live again, Why is it then, that reforms as outlined by Miss Moloney are so slow a-coming in the very subject which above all others needs to be presented to the child in the most effective way? The gentle reproach of the Saint to the unsuccessful missionary still holds good : " Did you try to feed them on meat when like children they were only ready for the milk of the Gospels'?" (Miss) 0. JONES.