Is There Value in Using the Textbook?

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.





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6 comments on “Is There Value in Using the Textbook?

  1. Sarah Nelson on said:

    I have found an incredible new Series from OSV that does integrate multiple intelligence’s while also teaching doctrine and providing numerous prayer/reflection/art/action hands on experiences! It is by far the most integrated series I have found. It is called the Cornerstone Series
    Highly recommend!

  2. Sarah Nelson on said:

    I have found an incredible new Series from OSV that does integrate multiple intelligence’s while also teaching doctrine and providing numerous prayer/reflection/art/action hands on experiences! It is by far the most integrated series I have found. It is called the Cornerstone Series can be found at Our Sunday Visitor.
    Highly recommend!

  3. We use the text as just one tool in elementary and middle school…..though, in HS we’ve gone to the 100% DVD format of yDisciple. I do think that there ARE a lot of children (and adults) who appreciate texts and reading – that may be the very best way for some people to take in and reflect on ideas. For others the very sight of a textbook can be a little traumatizing. Because I don’t want school-related anxiety to infect our classes, we do use the texts very little, but the children have them, so those who enjoy the graphics can get something from it; those who love reading and doing the activities can do so. (I’ve had children whose great joy was doing every possible assignment in the text each week – even when it wasn’t required or mentioned).

    On my own, and with the help of hundreds of catechists we have put together lesson plans that involve music, play, conversation, writing, prayer, meditation, trips to church, drawing, acting, and on and on….sometimes we don’t use the book, but even for the children who are not interested in it, it is one more way to engage, involve and inform parents when it comes home each week.

  4. I think you pose a few interesting questions, William. “Do we still need textbooks?” and “What are [we] doing to insure the faith is a ‘melodious symphony’ in [our] lesson plans?”

    First, textbooks that are approved by the USCCB to be in conform with the Catechism insure that we are teaching the truths of the church. We all know that many catechists are ordinary faithful and may not have advanced (or any) degrees
    in theology or religious education. Textbooks offer solid content that needs to be covered. As soon as we release the text we allow catechists to present the faith in their own terms and may undermine the efforts of catechesis altogether. The texts help catechists to know what to cover in detail.

    The second question I think gets at the heart of the problem. Many religious educators feel that the texts are too academic and that students do not respond to overly academic classroom approaches so they “ditch” the texts. This may be problematic by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As you rightly identified our faith demands that we lead our students to discipleship, living the faith. Most publishers do offer age appropriate activities that lead to spirituality and engagement with the material. Catechists do need to present the faith as a lived faith. I am not sure that I agree that texts today “do not integrate all the essential dimensions of the faith.” I think that catechists may not know how to approach these dimensions and may feel the need to offer content first.

    My question would be do we need to better prepare catechists to present the lessons in a more balanced way with regards to knowing and living the faith?

    • Steve,

      Thanks for commenting. I understand the reason why the USCCB came up with an Ad Hoc committee, however it still does not change the fact that as a result we have focused heavily on content and have not successfully presented the faith holistically, but tend to compartmentalize the Faith. Even the Catechism uses numerous cross references in order to show the unity of the faith between the 4 pillars (the 4 dimensions of the Faith). In addition, I believe there are other ways of equipping catechists to “know what to cover in detail” other than the current catechist manuals/guides that currently exist. Not that they are all bad, but I think we have “pigeon holed” ourselves into one means of transmitting the faith when it comes to parish catechesis. Even the Ad Hoc Committee will only evaluate complete textbook series. History often repeats itself and I think there are similarities to how we’ve focused so heavily on content, which is good, and in previous centuries this had been done through the publication of numerous catechisms for children that it had other ramifications that inhibited the Christian maturity and development of the faithful (e.g., the faith being seen as merely acquiring knowledge but not something transformational, in the age of catechisms it lacked a conscious engagement in the faith). This is not to disregard the invaluable work that so many in the past centuries have done to authentically hand on the deposit of faith. There are many lessons and great value, but still cause for concern.

      If you are not sure that the texts “do not integrate all the essential dimensions of the faith” please show me how a given textbook does by chapter by chapter. I am afraid that you will find that it’s, as I’ve said, primarily compartmentalized into only one of the four dimensions of the faith. For example, the chapter on the commandments does not incorporate the faith professed, or the faith celebrated (yes, all chapters more of less do incorporate the faith prayed – at least as book ends of each lesson, prayer at the beginning and end of class). Dr. Petroc Willy says it this way: “So, for instance, the Catechism invites catechists to bear always in mind the four dimensions of the Christian life, corresponding to the four “pillars” of the Catechism, so as to foster a “holistic” catechesis in which the reality of liturgical and sacramental grace, the converting power of doctrine, the splendor of our life in Christ and our prayerful relationship to the blessed Trinity are all present.” This “holistic catechesis” should occur in each lesson. The more this is accomplished the more our faith will be seen as a unified whole rather than numberous teachings, doctrines, and/or beliefs.

      Your final question is part of an essential goal for catechesis today – good catechist formation.

      God Bless you Steve. Always enjoy the conversation!

  5. Gee whiz, how’d I miss this thread? The compartmentalization you describe is one reason I punted the textbook in my catechism class. I could do so because I was able and willing to teach from the Bible and my own syllabus. But for the average teacher and class, I can’t see what would replace the textbook regardless of any faults.

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