Is It the Steam Engine of Our Day?
Bishops Teaching Children
A Practical Method
By Which Roman Catholic Bishops
Can Personally Direct
The Religious Education
Of the Children of Their Dioceses
Cambridge, Massachusetts USA
Written in the Year of the Great Jubilee
The Bishops Teaching Children method is how Roman Catholic bishops can personally direct the religious education of the children of their dioceses, and it is eminently 'practical' in the sense that the goals outlined in Chapter 1 can be accomplished. It can be done.
If a bishop and a diocese implemented the practical elements of the Bishops Teaching Children method, the religious education of the children in that diocese not only would improve dramatically, but also would be able to continue to improve. However, there are reasons why no bishop and no diocese is currently using the Bishops Teaching Children method to improve its religious education.
That is, a bishop and his diocese must understand why something like the Bishops Teaching Children method is necessary for such improvement, why the Bishops Teaching Children method has to have all three of its elements - Questions, Science, and Competition - to work, and so forth, before they could actually build and use its methods and structure.
Of course, a bishop and his diocese can not use the Bishops Teaching Children method, unless they know what it looks like.
But even more importantly, a bishop and his diocese can not use the Bishops Teaching Children method, until they value its elements, and value being able to use them.
The Bishops Teaching Children method is eminently 'practical' in the sense that it uses things that are already available in the American and American Catholic cultural, political, social, and scientific landscape. Nobody has to enter a science fiction world and invent totally new ideas and technologies to implement the Bishops Teaching Children method.
Our problem is different. One part of our difficulty is exemplified in the following historical reality. The invention of the steam engine was certainly one of the major contributors to the Industrial Revolution. Yet the steam engine per se was not invented at or during the Industrial Revolution. Hero of Alexandria had already made and described a working steam turbine in the first century A.D., seventeen hundred years before James Watt even existed. However, "like many other machines of the time that demonstrated basic mechanical principles," Hero's steam turbine was regarded by the people of his day "as a curiosity or a toy and was not used for any practical purpose." 1*
Hero's invention had no practical purpose, because it was not imagined to be practical or valued as practical.
Part of our problem, then, is that no diocese currently uses the elements of the Bishops Teaching Children method, because none have been trying to use them. Which is to say, nobody has imagined and valued the Bishops Teaching Children method as a practical way to massively improve religious education. That has to change before the ideas of the Bishops Teaching Children method can be used in the practical world, even though the practical materials for building such a method and structure of religious education are already at hand. We have to notice that we need the Bishops Teaching Children method, before we can implement and use its elements.
Which brings us to the second source of our difficulty: it's not just that we haven't noticed that we need the Bishops Teaching Children method. To the contrary, what we have 'noticed' is that we don't need it.
To begin with, it is unimaginable to most people that a bishop could, even theoretically, personally direct the religious education of the children in his diocese.
We think that we don't 'need' the Bishops Teaching Children method, because what it could accomplish is considered impossible to begin with. If someone suggested that we all 'need' a device that could enable us to walk through walls, we would just laugh. Everybody knows you can't walk through walls. A bishop couldn't possibly 'need' the Bishops Teaching Children method, since everybody knows he can't personally direct the religious education of the children in his diocese.
Yet, if a bishop and his diocese implemented the elements of the Bishops Teaching Children method, the children of that diocese would soon begin to learn exactly what the bishop wanted them to learn, and moreover, the children would learn what he wished to teach them more quickly and more deeply as the years passed.
Second, diocesan and university departments of religious education, religious education publishers, academics and catechists with masters and doctorates in education and religious education, catechetical approaches and materials, in short, a whole religious education apparatus already exists in the United States, and American Catholic bishops have established, approved, or at least allowed, all of it.
How could anyone 'need' an apparatus for religious education, when one directly supported by American Catholic bishops already exists?
Yet, if a bishop and his diocese implemented the elements of the Bishops Teaching Children method, the entire present apparatus for religious education would not only be circumvented, but even more importantly, it would be continuously evaluated by the operation of the Bishops Teaching Children method.
In a word, the Bishops Teaching Children method is the death of 'expertise' in religious education as that is now defined not only by the American Catholic religious education apparatus, but also by American Catholic bishops themselves.
By implementing the Bishops Teaching Children method together with his diocese, a bishop would be able to stand on solid ground, and objectively judge the expertise of the experts.
The merit of credentials, training, and pedagogical approaches would no longer be judged, as it is now, by the very people possessing those credentials, training, and pedagogical approaches, but by the bishop himself, standing with his diocese on the Bishops Teaching Children method.
American bishops are by now very used to arguments that they would be fools to challenge the expertise of experts, and very probably, many bishops make the same arguments to themselves.
Thus, it would not be accurate to say that the Bishops Teaching Children method would be seen as unneeded by anyone, religious education expert, bishop, or layman, who thinks that a bishop would be a fool to challenge the expertise of experts in religious education. It would be much more accurate to say that the Bishops Teaching Children method would be seen by those people, not as unneeded, but as an outrage.
Third, the Bishops Teaching Children method's repudiation of 'privacy' as a proper sacramental foundation for religious education would offend nearly everyone. For example, some Americans may remember a practice that is ironically still in use within American primary and secondary education, but only regarding sports, not academics: the practice of posting a public list of performance on an evaluation.
Students in high school and college still crowd around a posted list to see if they 'made the team' in a particular sport. However, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (a federal law), prohibits the posting of academic grades in American schools - even including universities! Posting a list of student scores on an academic exam is now actively contrary to the laws of the United States, and a teacher who did so would be subject not only to civil and disciplinary action but also to a storm of protest from both parents and fellow teachers.
On the other hand, in each diocese that implemented the elements of the Bishops Teaching Children method, the religious knowledge of each and every Catholic child in the diocese would be a matter of public record - forever. That fact alone would make the Bishops Teaching Children method anathema to many Americans, including many local ordinaries.
Finally, although in passing it should also be noted that the Bishops Teaching Children method is very much 'unneeded' by any who would prefer that a bishop not have much direct say in what American Catholic children are taught about their faith, it is may be even more important to notice how 'unneeded' the Bishops Teaching Children method appears to be among the much larger segment of the American Catholic laity who do not feel particularly allied either to Catholic 'liberals' or 'conservatives.'
That is, the sheer facts of present-day American Catholic religious education also resist the idea of the Bishops Teaching Children method. Anyone more or less happy with the religious education that exists, even if he is not particularly 'committed' to it in some ideological or theological sense, will presumably be unhappy with anything that would massively alter that schooling, such as the Bishops Teaching Children method.
The facts are that American Catholic children not in Catholic grammar schools typically spend around twenty-four hours per year attending religious education classes, and by and large, those classes are not academically challenging.
Rather, children spend much of their class time involved with stories, crafts, and play that is considered, by both catechists and families, to be more appropriate to 'real' religious education than strenuous academic study.
Furthermore, as most catechists and pastors will tell you, a not insignificant number of the children in those classes are sent there by parents who, though Catholic, did not attend Mass on Sunday or even drop off their child at Sunday Mass.
The Bishops Teaching Children method is definitely not 'needed' by any American Catholic family already more or less satisfied with the assumptions, demands, and results of the current religious education apparatus.
Thus, most likely, millions of American Catholic families do not 'need,' and do not even want, the Bishops Teaching Children method. They are relatively happy with the religious education their children obtain now, they would be relatively likely to call strenuous academic learnings irrelevant to 'true' religious education, and they would be relatively likely to complain about any effort to increase either the time spent in 'religion class' or the academic content of that class.
The Bishops Teaching Children method, the how of it, will work, and would make Catholic religious education in the United States so much more effective and fair than it is now, that it would amount to a revolutionary increase in the effectiveness and fairness of that schooling.
Is the Bishops Teaching Children method the steam engine of our day? Yes, of course.
But is it the steam engine of James Watt's day, or of Hero of
Britannica(R) CD 99 Multimedia Edition (c) 1994-1999.
Encyclopedia Brittanica, Inc.
Return to The Old Testament in the Heart
of the Catholic Church main page
Return to the Bishops Teaching Children main page