Thursday, September 1, 2011

The 4th R

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Reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic have long been considered the core subjects of education, but I would like to offer a fourth: Religion.

Of course, it’s not a new idea. In The Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder recounts her 19th century school mistress beginning class with a recitation of the 23rd psalm.

Laura knew the Psalms by heart, of course, but she loved to hear again every word of the twenty-third, from “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want,” to “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Then Teacher closed the Bible and on all the desks the pupils opened the textbooks. School work had begun.

Those of us who home educate have the opportunity to take things much farther and deeper, of course, than Miss Garland, and even those parents who don’t home educate for other academic subjects have the freedom to develop a meaningful course of religious education for their children. In fact, the Church says that parents are called by virtue of their vocation to stand as the primary educators of their own children, and this is especially important with regards to education in the faith.

"Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it.”
The Second Vatican Council

Many churches, mine included, have excellent faith formation programs. In my opinion, these are wonderful supplements to the sort of religious education that should be going on in the home. Even if your children attend a parish school, remember that God intends for you to be the primary vein through which your children learn and learn to live the faith of Jesus of Christ. It’s a weighty obligation, and one that calls for real vision, effort, and intent.

So, what does it look like to “teach the faith” to our children? First and foremost, it means knowing and living the faith ourselves. You’ve heard the adage, “Actions speak louder than words,” and it’s true. If you are invested in living an authentic life of faith that is centered on a knowledge of and love for Jesus Christ, your children will pick up on it. If you don’t, they’ll pick up on that, too. Your life and priorities send a message, loud and clear, to your children.

But, sending a message is not enough to ensure that your children are well-educated in the faith. Consider that faith itself is grace, it’s an unmerited gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). We cannot teach our children faith. But, we can and must nurture our children’s hearts to make them ready to receive the grace of faith and, once they have found that faith, we can educate them in the knowledge of Christianity and disciple them to live that faith out.

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We nurture our children’s faith lives by creating a home atmosphere where God is spoken of, loved, honored, and obeyed. We do it by praying with and for our children. We do it by living the liturgical year and participating in the life of the Church. We do it through acts of service and sacrifice. In short, we do it by following Jesus in our daily lives.

But, education is something else. Some people like to call their children’s religious curriculum “Bible,” but I prefer the term “Religion.” I like this term because it encompasses all aspects of the faith, not just Scripture study and Bible history but Christian worldview, doctrine, apologetics, Christian living, Church history, the lives of the saints, and anything else you can think of that falls under the umbrella of Christian theology. All of these things come together to give us and our children a solid knowledge of the faith.

There are programs out there that can help you get started if you’re feeling intimidated about teaching religion to your children. Sonlight curriculum has built excellent cross-disciplinary units combining Bible lessons with world history for all ages. I’m sure there are excellent Catholic curricula out there as well (Sonlight is non-denominational Christian), but I point to this particular company because of their interdisciplinary approach. Even if you don’t choose to purchase pre-designed curricula (I don’t, personally), this is a valuable method to employ. As Christians, our faith informs every aspect of our lives. We should demonstrate to our children that it can and does touch every discipline of education, as well, from English literature to mathematics.

Next week, I hope to write a post on the curriculum we’ll be using this year for religious education. In the meantime, you can feel free to peruse the previous posts on the liturgical year to glean some ideas for activities and points of doctrine to explore with your family.

You may feel empowered and excited about the idea that you are ordained by God to be the primary educator of your children. Or perhaps you find this idea completely terrifying. Maybe you haven’t read the Bible, or even if you’ve read it cover-to-cover, you still feel you can’t make heads or tails of it. Perhaps you grew up in another faith and don’t feel qualified to teach about the liturgical year, Church history, or the lives of the saints.

Don’t worry! Every education has its gaps. Aspects of mine have been known to resemble the Grand Canyon. It’s okay if you don’t know it all. Faith is a journey, not a destination. Heaven is the destination, and the God of Heaven has personally equipped you with everything you need to take your children in hand and lead them along the path to Heaven: the Holy Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the unique imago Dei of yourself.

Learn as you go. When your children have questions, “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer for you to give—then go find the answer together. Seek truth together. Seek God together. You will find all that you need.

4 comments:

  1. The first thing my husband and I started to do when we decided we were ready for children was to find a church (we are the classic Protestant marries a Catholic so it took awhile to nail down all the details) because even though we weren't great with our attendance at the time we knew that when children came into the picture Church would too.

    Though I won't be homeschooling we plan on taking part of the Religious Ed classes in our parish and doing our own "religion" classes to discuss what happens and is talked about at church each sunday. We want our children to have faith, though not blind acceptance, we want them to be knowledgeable and find their own paths.

    Will you plan on teaching them about the basic tenants of other religions when they're older?

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  2. Hi Molly - I'm not certain what you mean by encouraging your children to "find their own paths." If you mean you desire them to make their faith their own and seek a personal relationship with their savior, then yes, I agree. But, I do believe strongly in teaching HIS path to my children, as He has laid it out in his Word. I believe that when we lackadaisically teach our children that all religions are basically the same, the message they receive is "religion makes us feel good sometimes and it might help us be better people, but it's not real or true or necessary to my life." I'm not saying this to be controversial or judgmental in any way. I'm saying it as someone who works with youth and has spoken with them ad nauseum on this subject.

    In answer to your second question: personally, I love comparative religions. I studied many other faiths in college including Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. I have also studied ancient mythology and the faiths of Rome and Greece, in particular. As I teach my children about different times, places, and cultures, certainly I will also teach about the other world religions. However, we will not be taking an agnostic approach to our studies. We are a Catholic family. If I did not believe that Catholicism was true, I would not be a Catholic. If I thought Christianity was simply one path among myriad equally fine paths to God, I would be an agnostic. While I think it is important for my children to be aware and tolerant of other faiths, I have no desire for them to follow those faiths themselves. I desire to pass on the faith of Jesus Christ to my children, and with his help, that is just what I plan to do.

    Oh, and I don't plan on waiting until they are older to start teaching about other peoples and faiths. We already have books in our learning baskets that teach about Pacific Northwest Native American mythology and the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, for example, among other things.

    God bless,
    Bethany

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  3. Hi Bethany,
    I am enjoying the dialogue on this post. On the Vatican website there is a page for The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/index.htm). They commonly publish a message of greetings and good wishes to various religious groups on their major celebrations (latest posts are for the end of Ramadan, a Buddhist feast, a Hindu holy day). If you or your readers so desire, it may be a way to gently bring an awareness of other religious groups and their friendship and commonalities in keeping with your Catholic Faith (since it's from an office of the Vatican).
    I am writing not as a Catholic (I am not one) but as a person who is interested in religion and interfaith religious friendship. I believe the Catholic Church has much to offer in this area and always enjoy the messages of friendship and good will coming from the office of the Vatican.
    As always, I enjoy your thoughtful posts.

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  4. Sorry, I wasn't clear about that. Yes, we want our children so share our faith, but we want them to discover it for themselves, as I believe having a personal religious journey makes it all so much deeper.

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