If in 1990 you would have asked people if they would buy bottled drinking water they would have laughed at you or rolled their eyes. But today 9.67 billion gallons of bottled water is consumed in the United States alone (according to the International Bottled Water Association’s 2012 report).
In the same vain if in 1990 you would have said that the paradigm for religious education will not be the best means of forming children in the 21st century few would have listened. I could write an educational catechetical dissertation (maybe I should) on how we got to the place we are at in the realm of catechetical formation of young people. I will spare you, at least for now, a lengthy introduction to the state of education and catechesis today. However, let me share that neither in public education or in catechetical formation is the factory model working as an effective model for catechetical formation. I don’t think it is a complete failure but I wonder if there are better models that need to be considered today. The factory model has been defined in various ways, but here is one definition: “In the “factory” school, all students were grouped chronologically, were taught the same material from the same textbook, and were expected to function in an obedient, non-questioning manner (Schrenko, 1994).” This method allows teachers to teach the same way all subjects at the same pace to all the children in the classroom. Our catechetical classrooms today follow this model to a great degree although with some variation. Technology is driving much of education and there are many attempts to reconsider the 150 year old factory model that has impacted all education.
In parish religious education/catechetical formation we have a number of current obstacles that I’ve encountered through using this factory classroom model:
1) Catechizing is more challenging today because you have students who have been sacramentalized but have a very limited knowledge and understanding of the faith, and students who know the facts but have not come to a place where they are in a deeper relationship with Christ (not meaning to make any judgments on where they are in that relationship).
2) Students are coming to class with little encounter with Christ at Mass (usually because they are not being taken by their parents).
3) Many catechists aren’t trained teachers and do not have the ability to facilitate the learning needs of each student.
4) Catechetical formation happens only once a week and for only a short amount of time.
Today there is a great need to begin considering what we can do to shift the current predominant paradigm in our religious education classes. As students get older they do not desire to learn in the way we are teaching them (this goes for both public education as well as catechetical formation). “The specific aim of catechesis”, according to St. John Paul II is to:
to develop, with God’s help, an as yet initial faith, and to advance in fullness and to nourish day by day the Christian life of the faithful, young and old…Catechesis aims therefore at developing understanding of the mystery of Christ in the light of God’s word, so that the whole of a person’s humanity is impregnated by that word. Changed by the working of grace into a new creature, the Christian thus sets himself to follow Christ and learns more and more within the Church to think like Him, to judge like Him, to act in conformity with His commandments, and to hope as He invites us to. (Catechesis in Our Time #20).
The Church’s mission to hand on the faith has always been the same, but it seems that at least some kind of shift is in order for 21st century catechetical formation.
1) How can we proclaim to Gospel Message to those we encounter in our classrooms and best hand on the faith today?
2) What obstacles are you encountering in today’s religious education classroom?
3) Do you see any possible solutions to how we can make a shift?