Updated – January 2017
How many students do you know who enjoy learning out of a textbook? Are textbooks today used in such a way that they resemble the use of catechisms in the 19th & 20th centuries? Are textbooks doctrinally rich but liturgically and scripturally poor? These questions each could have a whole post written on them. Is today’s catechetical landscape and the needs of young people in the Third Millennium calling us to reconsider how elementary and adolescent (i.e., middle school) catechesis occurs?
Sometimes I think textbooks today are in fact similar to the centuries that focused on the catechism to hand on the faith. Among other reasons the question and answer catechisms that filled the catechetical landscape from the 16th to the 20th century which focused so much on doctrine without successfully integrating the scriptural and liturgical components of the faith. The faith, if it is to take root and draw others to conversion needs to be integral and organic (seen as a whole, not a bunch of parts). The textbooks of today do a good job at communicating content but struggle to present the faith as a unified whole (granted this is not an easy task). Catechetical textbooks compartmentalize the key dimensions of the Faith: Creed, Sacraments, Morality and Prayer.
What Can Be Done?
Most of the Catholic textbooks today have been written in consultation with “educational experts” who have much to offer from the field of education, however focus too much on the intellectual dynamic of the faith. In the arena of public education and even in many Catholic schools, education is seen as fostering primarily the cognitive dimension of the person (Catholic education’s mission is to foster more, but due to the fact that most teachers are trained from a secular educational perspective there exists the natural tendency of fostering learning from a cognitive perspective – to emphasize strategies that help the learner “know” material/content. This is at the expense of the body and the heart).
Today, the affective dimension of the faith must be fostered and emphasized in order for catechesis to be integral in the lives of those being catechized. The textbook may have good ideas and if it is used in a manner that the catechist is able to pull together the valuable tools that they have at their disposal to draw their audience and each individual into the lesson of the day then there can be value in what the textbook offers. That being said, it’s not about having kids read out of the textbook but by using learning tools (or what can be called learning manipulatives) that gets kids out of their seats and allows them a level of autonomy in their learning. It’s important to begin to consider how we can move away from having everyone do the same thing at the same time. Research has shown that everyone doing the same thing often inhibits learning. How do we engage the whole person – this is the key? The use of textbooks has tended to engage the mind of the students but if that is the main focus it does not tend to engage the body or the heart which is crucial in inserting individuals into the mstery of our faith and drawing them to Christ.
In the next week I’ll write about ways we can engage the whole person.