Our Educational System Examined
By Father A. Akel WITHOUT exaggeration or complacency the lealearge problem should be tackled by examining the facts shat lead to it , and by taking the most efficient' steps to counteract it.
The leakage is no new phenomenon in the Church; it started with Judas at the Last Suppe!. and has always existed since. At times the dam was breached and a whole nation rushed through it to revolt and heresy, as in the 16th century, but more often it ia the fate of individuals slipping through the cracks caused by the weakness or incompetences of its members. All we can do is to stop as many cracks as possible in order to save as many souls as possible. for we can never stem the leakage altogether any more than we can wipe out sin altogether, given the fallen nature of man. No one cause can be given as adequate for the loss of the Faith; a variety of causes may converge to weaken the faith of some Catholics who ultimately stray away from the Church. many for a time, but unfortunately with thc loss of the grace of God, and of the rich treasure of merits. It will be rash however to dismiss the wrong method of religious education or the lack of it as 11. minor cauee. The object of these notes is precisely to stress the point that the best way of diminishing the leakage is to overhaul our methods and our ideas about education.
Antiquated Conception of Education
Jr we study carefully the result of the official and of the unofficial investigations on the various aspects of the leakage and if we apply some elementary principles of sound psychology for the understanding of the mind of the child in its reaction to modern conditions, we must recognise that our conception of the child's education is antiquated. We tend as a ride to be unreasonably conservative and foolishly traditionalist. Because a method succeeded a hundred years ago, we cling to it as an infallible panacea for all times; this is the lazy way out of the difficulty.
So much has been said and written on this subject, to many contradictory remedies have been prescribed, that confusion has risen in minds of many. I shall try to be clear and concise, concentrating on one fact only, and purposely. one remedy. (This does not exclude any help or suggestions from more authoritative quarters).
The fact I have in mind is paramount: It is the fact that the (ritical years during which the young lose their faith are front 13 to 18. There may be exceptions to the above rule as to many general rules.
Last year an advisory council was set up by the Scottish Hierarchy to investigate their leakage problem; after months of thorough inquiries the council declared that " it is within the groups 14 to 18 that the leak age undoubtedly occurs." (From my own experience the turning-point Ls at 13).
This fact, distressing as it may be, cannot be questioned; it has been verified time and again by all priests with some experience of parish work; and it applies to the whole country.
Junior and Senior Schools
For one who has given religious instruction every morning for 18 years to the children before they went to the council school, I have no hesitation in stating that in the past we have overestimated the value of the junior schools, and underestimated the much more valuable senior schools.
I know these words will have a rough passage at the hands of those who will throw at mc the socalled slogan by an unnaeted French Jesuit. "Give mea child up to the age of seven and 1 will guarantee his faith." The Jesuits are the best educationists in the world, for that reason I doubt if any of them was capable of such a shallow utterance. in any case it is not working the supposed miracle in our times as the above fact proves.
The mental receptiveness of children from five to eleven or twelve is mostly mechanical; questions asked by them proceed as a rule
from instinct, curiosity, etc. They are never the outcome of a reasoned argument, serious personal inquiry, or of outside non-Catholic interference. At that age it will be sufficient to teach this group their prayers, the simple elements of religion, arid enough explanation of what they see or hear during the church ceremonies. All that can be taught by the priest or his representative in the morning during the time allocated by the law for religion. This is being done in many parishes with success, and the children of such parishes know their religion as well, even better, than those attending junior schools.
The Senior Children When however, we consider the senior children, now at school up to the age of 16, we are faced with a totally different problem; a problem more difficult and requiring special ft:timing in religious knowledge and youth psychology; a problem which in my humble opinion can be solved only if we have everywhere our own secondary modern schools.
Let us examine the reason for advocating such a solution. which may appear to many as extreme or perhaps difficult in practice.
We all know that the period between 13 and 18 is the transitional age friSm childhood to adolescence and manhood; it is the age when the child begins to take notice of what is happening round him, to criticise what he sees, hears and reads; at that age the growing child is inclined to imitate his seniors, to think. talk and act like them; you may call it a natural tendency or swank, as you like. He will even adopt extreme views for bravado; he will ask questions on. religion, politics, the problems of life; he will frequent youth clubs where religion is discussed. rejected or simply dismissed a5 unnecessary for modern limes; he is free to read books where he will find ideas against bur religion; till 16 he is in the hands of secular teachers, some of them positively hostile to our religion; so that our Senior boys and girls, at the most impressive age of their life. are left to the pestiferous influence that will destroy their faith, and some seem surprised at the leakage. Only in very few towns have we secondary modern schools.
Whatever means we may take in later years to bring hack the lapsed. the success remains doubtful. Why not counteract this had influence at the right time ? and the right time is to have under our control the senior children at such a momentous age.
nutst make' it clear, to avoid irrelevant correspondence, that whenever it is possible to hare both junior and secotidary modern schools we should fight to maintain them: but when we are given the right or the opportunity for one school, we should without hesitation plunge for thc secondary modern school in preference to the junior school.
f am aware of the difficulties. both financial and numerical. The financial objection is solved in the .same way, with slight difference, „as for the junior school; there is no need to enlarge on this point here. Even the objection from the small number of senior pupils to justify a school is not insurmountable; in fact, it has been overcome in some places. The solution is for several parishes to join together so as to aggregate sufficient senior children to warrant a secondary modern school for them.
Credit ought to be given here to the parishes of Shipley. Baildon, Bingley, in Yorkshire, which, by co-operating together. obtained a secondary modern school for their children. The priests of the above parishes have shown foresight, judgment and understanding of the modern youth problem. What was done in Yorkshire can he done else
where. What is required is for some priests ta abandon their narrow parochial spirit; many are still chary of sharing their authority and their collections even for building an inter-parochial school.
It is the height of folly to spend time, money and energy in teaching the juniors their religion. and when they reach the age of eleven hand them over to the secular teachz:rd to have their Catholic faith destroyed.
No doubt another powerful antidote to the leakage may be found in a good and well-enlightened family, if the parents can and will influence their childeen by a wellreasoned faith, and if the children, who are being saturated with modem slogans of self-expression, selfassertion and independence from their eiders, are willing to take advice from their parents. This powerful antidote presupposes something not easily found (e.g., parents
who can give solid proofs of their
religion to satisfy the mind of a child of 14, 15, 16 and more), and depends on two " ifs"; at least in our secondary modern schools we could remedy that deficiency.
Necessity of Modern Secondary Schools
'the neceSsity for us to have our own secondary modern schools becomes. more imperative if we consider bow the new Education Act is put into practice. The Act stipulates that the junior schools should be built near the homes of the children, an obvious and wise stipulation. But no objection is made to senior schools being built outside the town, where it is easy to acquire large acreage, including playing fields. In consequence it is no longer possible, because of the distance. to have the children every morning for their religious instruction. To make matters worse for us, some head teachers have adopted, arbitrarily. I think, the system of giving the Scripture lesson at various times during the day; so that the Catholic children can Dever be gathered together even in the school. Again f repeat, there is only one solution to safeguard their faith; take !herd away from the Government schouls, no matter at what cost. It is a pity it was not possible for us, when we accepted the new Act, to obtain the right to group our children in the church every morning for their religious instruction before they proceed to the Government schools.
I have always advocated, and still advocate, the necessity of a real Catholic Education Council, interested in the religious education of ever Catholic y Caolic child in the land. What we have now is a council for schools only. And the majority of parishes have no schools.
Anyone who has been a teacher, as 1 have been for six years, knows that whatever method we use in teaching religion, a text is absolutely necessary to fix the mind of the child; otherwise we may tax his growing intelligence beyond the physical strength of his age. The text may he that of the catechism, the Bible, the history of the Church, or something combining the three; in any case without a text it will be quasi-impossible for any teaching to leave any impression on the volative mind of the child.
While the religious eaucation of the young must of necessity consist of meat prepared and chewed by the teacher and presented as it were on a plate, the training of the senior should consist in leading the mind to find the truth for themselves; in making them reason their religion; directing them to solve by themselves the objections they may 'have, heard against their religion; this will train them to stand fast and defend their faith against bad influences and the fallacies they are bound to encounter in the street, in
the school. in the club, etc. With solid arguments at their disposal. while they are still at the secondary modern school, and with the free practice of their religion at that critical age, they will be able to face the world, as St. Paul says "clad with the armour of God ... against the powers of darkness."
Of course, we should not stop there; we should continue our ease for the children after they have left school; they should join in the south movement (one day they will be forced to). Their faith will not be in danger if the parish priest is on the committee of the youth centre; as a rule the local authorities welcome hispresence. But the question of the youth movement is a vast subject and beyond the scope of this article.