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
New Introduction to the Internet Edition, A.D. 2002
To one and all, I apologize. I've never really properly advertised the ideas behind Bishops Teaching Children. I built a better mousetrap -- a much, much better one -- and that was a very great labor, and a significant accomplishment, but then I just let that mousetrap wander out willy-nilly into the wide world. I've never really explained the uniqueness of the Bishops Teaching Children method, nor why you should be astonished by it, nor why you should pore over the material here until you understand it completely and thoroughly. I'd forgotten that Steve Wozniak's own sister wondered why anyone would want such a thing, when he showed her the very first Apple I. I'd forgotten that it took seventeen years from the first prototype, and a genius advertising campaign, for the Xerox machine to begin to become part of American business culture. I'd forgotten a crucial fact: people do not automatically get what's so wonderful about something, even something that really is wonderful.
So let me take a stab here at showing you just how amazing the Bishops Teaching Children method could be, if it began to be in earnest. Here's just one example. I don't think I can count the number of learned (and otherwise) critiques of Roman Catholic religious education courses, texts, and authors that I myself have read, and there are many more that I haven't. Presumably, if an interested bishop reads one of these critiques, he will have ammunition to request changes in the course, or to question the author about whether his public statements in writing are consistent with the faith of the whole Catholic Church. However, even if a bishop wished to engage in such an exercise, people who produce words for a living typically know how to produce words that will squirm out of a mere bishop's grasp. But another problem is the numerous other like-minded authors and texts who would quickly replace any that were actually, at long last, interdicted. It would be bad enough to ask a bishop to be Sisyphus once, rolling one stone up a hill, only to see it roll back down. But to ask him to roll hundreds of stones, multiplying endlessly?
That is, one key problem is the system of Roman Catholic religious education in the United States (and I gather that similar systems exist in many other developed nations as well). But what if a bishop could just ignore, completely circumvent, all religious education bureaucracies, whether in a national conference, a Catholic college or university, or his diocesan office, and all authors and curriculums and texts endorsed by national catechetical organizations, and all sitting professors of "religious education," and just teach all the children of his diocese himself? What if he wouldn't have to peruse a single curriculum, text, or religious education author ever again, and yet be absolutely, personally sure of the orthodoxy of every single thing that every single Catholic child in his diocese was learning? Even better, what if he could personally guarantee everyone that all the children of the diocese would receive more and more effective methods of teaching them exactly what he wanted to teach them, as each year passed? What if, with a single wave of his hand, a bishop could personally ensure that the only textbook and curriculum publishers and authors, Directors of Religious Education, and professors at Catholic universities, who would receive even a single dime of religious education monies from his diocese, would be those who could prove, every single year, that they were helping him teach the children exactly what he wanted taught, and moreover, could prove that they were doing this better than absolutely anyone else?
Just imagine. Entire dioceses of Catholic children, rich and poor alike, from educated, well-equipped families and not, from educated, well-equipped parishes and not, all learning the Catholic faith as their bishop professes it in union with the whole Catholic Church, and learning it better and better every single year.
I am not kidding. This is exactly what the Bishops Teaching Children method would make possible. It would be boring beyond belief to explain to you exactly how radically Bishops Teaching Children differs from any current or even proposed system of Catholic religious education. But I will tell you this. A lawyer who specializes in intellectual property rights recommended that I patent the idea. I told him that I agreed with him about its uniqueness and potential value, but that my goal was to give the idea away to any bishop and diocese who wanted it. (I also said that it would be hard even to give it away, and that if I were smarter, I might charge five figures just to look at it, which would probably increase its popularity among the episcopate).
Let's divide the Catholic world into two kinds of people: the kind who just want all -- all -- the Catholic children in their diocese to know as much as possible about the faith of the whole Catholic Church, and the kind who have theories of religious education. For those in the second group, let me say a few things here, so you can go away right now. The current American Catholic system of religious education is accountable in principle, but it is not accountable in practice.
Given this lack of practical accountability, Catholic home schoolers are trying to find a refuge at least for their own children in a desperate time, and by all means, they should. However, Catholic home-schooling "theorists" (those who say that home schooling is an actual solution to anything) wish to replace a Catholic system of religious education that is accountable in principle, but not in practice, with a "system" that is not accountable even in principle. That is not progress.
American Catholic home-schooling can be nothing more than the equivalent of hiding out in caves until the barbarians leave. That is what we have to do now, so we (if we are fortunate enough to have the resources) will do it - but not one second more than necessary. To glorify our hiding out in caves as a "movement" or a "reform" owes everything to the 1960s and hippies. In other words, it owes everything to standard American romantic individualism. Glorifying our hiding out in caves is "Catholicizing" something -- romantic individualism -- that is wrong with the American character, making its wrongness even harder to see and to combat, and thus renders practical, systemic accountability even harder to achieve, much to the detriment of the children. Romantic theories aside, few parents would homeschool if they felt that their bishop was offering them a practical alternative. We are hiding out in caves AND WE DON'T LIKE IT. These are the facts.
Bishops Teaching Children is the very first genuinely smart, practical, and sacramentally based way out. It will not solve every problem. In fact, one key problem with current Catholic religious education, both orthodox and dissenting, is its thoroughgoing lack of humility. This inherent grandiosity creates more than enough space and standing for all manner of ills. Bishops Teaching Children finds a way to be humble about Catholic religious education, and thus it does the one thing necessary.
The text herein is the outline of a how-to manual. It spends almost no time bemoaning, or even acknowledging, any current theory of religious education, or any current religious education practice. It simply lays out the answer to this question: if a bishop actually wanted to realize the "Eight Practical, Realizable Goals" set out in Chapter 1, exactly what would he have to do?
Bishops Teaching Children is resolutely focused on the sacramentally ordered responsibility of the episcopate, and the local churches under it, to teach the faith of the whole Catholic Church to all the children of each diocese. The manuscript is in effect an announcement to the whole Catholic Church, that given nothing more than a judicious application of known practical knowledge, it is now possible, at least in advanced technological economies (and very possibly elsewhere), to take that direct, personal sacramental mission and responsibility of the episcopate, and each local church under its ordinary, far more seriously than it has been able to be taken for a long time.
Thus the Bishops Teaching Children method is not about what a bishop has to settle for these days, nor is it about his deficiencies, his sanctity, his times, his theories, his "experts," his systems, or his bureaucracies. It is about what he really wants. If he really wishes to take personal responsibility for handing on the faith of the whole Catholic Church to all the children in his diocese, if he really wants to realize the "Eight Practical, Realizable Goals" set out in Chapter 1, he could actually do it.
Bishops Teaching Children is worth your enthusiasm, because at long last, it makes it possible to ask the episcopate of Holy Mother Church, and all of us through that episcopate, what it is we really want. Do we, that is, our bishops and we in union with them, really, seriously, actually want our local ordinary -- he himself, personally -- to hand on the faith of the whole Catholic Church to all the children of the local church, not as a romantic, pseudo-pious notion, but as blunt, practical, thorough, everyday -- that is, Catholic -- reality?
The Bishops Teaching Children method is so straightforward that in outline it can be, and has been, explained to children in a few minutes, who grasp it immediately. However, practical as ever, children have asked, so what happens after I learn enough to be able to answer the bishop's Questions? The answer to this, while it will be absolutely obvious to those who are familiar with the ideas behind competence-based or criterion-referenced exams, is only implied in the monograph, so here it is: you're done. On the day you achieve 'adult minimal competence in the Catechism' (as defined by your bishop) whether you're in the first grade or the twelth, you don't have to go to religious education class ever again. Unless some day, of your own free will, you want to learn even more about your faith.
Children love this idea, but to see universal religious education as something so crass, so precise, that every child in a diocese would know exactly when he's 'done,' is to reconceive religious education as a very humble task, indeed.
Unless, of course, religious education really is humble as dirt, its only dignity coming not from itself but solely from teaching the truth, and if facing the fact of religious education's comprehensive, constitutional humility is the cure for all romanticism, the beginning of the way out of some seemingly insoluble present difficulties, and, most especially, the beginning of the way toward a deeper understanding of the sacramental character of the entire local church in union with its bishop as chief teacher.
Executive Summary (a brief
Chapter 1: Eight Practical, Realizable Goals
Chapter 2: Sacramental and Moral Foundations
Chapter 3: Is It the Steam Engine of Our Day?
Chapter 4: Questions, Science, Competition
Chapter 5: Questions
Chapter 6: Science
Chapter 7: Competition
Chapter 8: Implementation
Appendix: Content Digest (a more extensive overview)
You will be reading the exact text that a learned Catholic theology professor sent to several bishops and to several Vatican dicasteries in the year 2000. (Only one bishop, an American, responded in any way, beyond acknowledgement of receipt of the manuscript). You may also download the entire Bishops Teaching Children distribution so you can read it or print it out at your leisure. RIGHT-click on the following and "Save ... as":
Download btc.exe (self-extracting
compressed version for PCs)
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