by EUGENE SHAUGHNESSY
The problems bedevilling religious education in recent years have many causes and there have been many prescriptions for cures.
The "discovery" that RE should be child-orientated and life-centred resulted in numerous syllabuses — from the new agreed syllabuses of the 1960s to the "Fourth R" (the Durham Report) in 1970 and the very latest controversial Birmingham syllabus. The Schools Council Working Paper 36 (Religious Education in the Secondary School) did a splendid job analysing the problems of RE.
Catholic schools have suffered greatly from the uncer tainty caused by the new think ing in the field of RE. The Second Vatican Council and the catechetical movement have destroyed the unity of approach to the subject in Catholic schools. Young teachers with confused religious education in their own secondary schools and with little or no preparation for teaching religion in their colleges of education have found themselves totally un qualified to face questioning from sometimes indifferent and
even hostile RE classes in modern Catholic schools. It is understandable that many do not want to teach religion.
While there is much that we can learn from our fellow Christians in other Churches, we Catholics cannot accept the "anti-dogmatic" or "phenomenological" approach to RE as described in Working Paper 36. We must stand by what the report calls the "confessional" or "dogmatic" approach. Religious education which is merely a dispassionate and objective academic exercise is not Catholic RE; if it were, our schools could not possibly justify their separate existence.
The aim of the Catholic school is to present to the pupils the Catholic vision of life by word and example so that when they come of age they will free
ly accept that vision of life as indeed "the Way, the Truth and the Life."
We teachers must shift from our polarized positions where we sit looking suspiciously at one another waiting for the first sniff of heresy. The Second Vatican Council with its tremendous new impetus has happened and the catechetical movement with its many new insights is with us. Some theologians and catechists have, admittedly, either run too quickly ahead or have gone off in the wrong direction. Should the reaction be to run equally fast backwards or to dig in one's heels?
No Catholic teacher can deny that there is a pressing need for renewal in our Catholic schools.
Each year while we remain in disarray many hundreds of
pupils (the Catholics of the future) leave school less well equipped to go forth as alteri Christi than they would be if we had a united and joyful approach to our RE.
One wonders what Christ, himself, thinks of us. It is surely time for Catholic teachers throughout the country to get together to formulate a united and positive programme of renewal.
The religious education of Catholic children who attend Catholic schools must be family based, parish orientated. No school religious education programme. however enlightened, can succeed without the active support and involvement of the home and the parish. The close-knit parochial set-up and the devotional home, which were the support agencies of school RE, have given way to a pluralistic secular society and a home with little or no family prayer, family worship or family confession.
School RE must reach into the home and into the parishes or give up. The sad fact that while many parents are willing to come to school for a discussion on the academic progress of their children few would come for an "RE evening" must not deter teachers from incorporating in the RE syllabus an attractive programme of activity for parents.
Parents would accept as normal procedure a series of cornplusory evening RE sessions as part of the preparation for acceptance of their children into a Catholic school. These sessions would be thoroughly prepared and presented by a team of teachers and parish clergy. There would be solid lectures on post-Vatican II theology and Church, well presented with audio-visual aids and hand-out notes, followed by discussion groups and written work.
'The parents should continue to be involved in the religious education of their children as they progress through the school by compulsory attendance at RE session at the beginning of each year. These sessions would introduce parents to the syllabus for that year.
There would be specially prepared notes for the parents and the children's present homework policy would give way to "project" work geared
include nclude work not only of children but also of parents. Towards the end of each term there would be a "review" session based on each form's work with parents, parish clergy and teachers.
Once each year the parents and children would meet for Mass and a "social" in the parish hall, where the parish priest would talk about the history and function of the parish in the life of the Church and enumerate the various parish activities. Parishpriests would also provide facilities for young people to become involved in the mission of the parish.
Parents and teachers should keep in mind that catechetics means the showing forth of a way of living centred on Christ in today's world. A showing forth -not just a telling, because Christianity is a way of life and the only effective way to show its value is to live it — religion is caught, not taught. The home and the school will each have its own contribution to make in creating a Christian atmosphere but both can share a common involvement with the children in a "Christian action" programme.
Real involvement by parents and school together in practical works of charity would capture the interest and imagination of our idealistic young people. The home would create its own atmosphere by family prayer, family worship on Sundays and occasional family reception of the sacrament of penance.
The school should carefully avoid paternalistic or authoritarian preaching, and use instead a low key, undersell approach based on suggestion and genuine pupil involvement in the religious and disciplinary life of the school.
The essential prerequisite to the success of any school RE programme is the renewal of the supportive agencies in their contribution and involvement. The heavy responsibility for the religious formation of our children must be firmly restored to the family in the home and to the parish community. The role of the school is vital but secondary.
The traditional role of the school is to instruct the pupils in the knowledge of their Faith. The new importance of the school might well lie in its ability to help parents to cope with the many changes in the Church and build anew the essential supportive relationship between home, Church and school in the religious education of our children.
(Eugene Shaughnessy is Head of Religious Education at Bishop Thomas Grant School, Streatham, London.)