Religious Instruction Methods
SIR.-Yes, we can counteract the 13.18 leakage, but only by removing the real cause, which is more deep-seated than Fr. Akel seems to realise ; but the adoption of his proposed solution of abandoning the junior schools in order to concentrate on the secondary schools would only make confusion wOrse confounded.
If the teen-agers lose their faith it is fair to infer that it has been insufficiently firmly implanted during their earliest years. In fact the effect which becomes evident in the teens is due to an earlier cause. namely, faulty methods of religious instruction.
Children may well be more critical in their teens; but, speaking with considerable experience as a parent, I venture to suggest that they are perfectly amenable to reason from the ages of six or seven onwards: and if, during those earlier and more formative years, they were taught their faith in a manner which appealed to their reason, and shown clearly how it should he put into practice in their every day lives, I think they would be quite capable of surviving the critical teens without serious consequences. Unfortunately the fact is that existing methods of religious instruction are not designed to appeal to reason, and in part they are positively opposed to it. The parrotlike repetition of verbatim question and answer is not an adequate substitute for the appeal to reason. Repetition thrice does not (as the Bellman erroneously supposed) make anything true, and the method simply does not carry conviction with the average intelligent modern child--in fact it has quite the opposite effect. Moreover it emphasises the importance of the letter rather than the spirit which St. Paul so rightly warned us against. The result is that instead of its religion being woven ineradicably into the pattern of the child's life, as it should he, it is, at best. only superficially overprinted and the overprint is not even in clear colours or indelible ink.
' Another serious objection to present methods is that they are largely based on the negative approach, which is open to at least two serious objections. This is due to the frequency with which "Thou shalt not" appears in the Ten Commandments which form the basis of
much of the instruction. A positive approach leading to a positive rule of life (i.e.. " thou shalt." rather than " thou shalt not") would be far more effective. All the necessary prohibitions-including those in the Ten Commandments would emerge naturally and quite reasonably from such an approach based on the Two Great Commandments; but-and this is particularly important-they would emerge as by-products instead of the other way round.
There is one other point which should not be omitted from a discussion on the causes of leakageand this is something which mainly concerns the boarding schools conducted by relesious orders-namely, the danesr of chillren leasing school in a state of "reiigious indigestion." What I mean is well exemplified by the attitude of the average convent product towards daily Mass after leaving school. I recently asked the headmistress of a convent school how many of her girle left school deeply and sincerely imbued with the idea that attendance at daily Mass was a privilege and a joy, and something which they should strain every nerve to achieve. Courageously. but sadly, she felt compelled to admit that not one in ten did so. For the rest, daily Mass was left behind with the school hooks they had had enough of it. There are signs that the danger is being recognised; hut the steps which have so far been taken to avert it, such as the occasional " late rising " now permitted in most convents, are not, I am afraid, likely to be effective. It is no use facing the average child with a choice between the alternatives of lying in bed or going to Mass. Only a saint would choose the latter. Here again I think the problem calls for a more fundamental solution worked out on sound psychological lines. The issues at stake are too important for laissez-faire.
To sum up-I suggest that what is required is an entirely new approach to the problem of religious instruction in which the main features should be as follows: (i) A positive approach based on Two Great Commandments;
(ii) Reasoned explanation of everything that is taught, adjusted to the mentality of the individual child; Op The importance of practical application of religion in everyday life to be stressed; (iv) Ernphasis on the spirit rather than the letter;
(v) Avoidance of " religious indigestion."
S. E. NORFOLK (R.N. Retd.)
Court Lodge, Vine Court Road, Sevenoaks, Kent.