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
In Chapter 3 the Bishops Teaching Children method was compared to the steam engine. Whether it becomes a practical reality depends not only on its practicality in theory, but also on the general readiness for such an idea. The seed may have the potential to germinate, but the ground on which it falls may be rocky, or otherwise unsuitable, in unbelievably complicated ways. As the steam engine proves, there are times when a very practical idea waits a very long time to become a practical reality.
In Chapter 6 it was stated explicitly that the Bishops Teaching Children method, humble as dirt, places its confidence in the Lord alone. Thus, it is perennially - and constitutionally - quite happy to yield to better methods of expressing the sacramental reality that the local ordinary, and the entire local church under him, is 'teacher' of 'all.'
Yet, even beyond being ever ready to yield to any method of religious education that is seen by bishops and dioceses to be more faithful to their sacramental reality as 'teacher' of 'all,' the Bishops Teaching Children approach is to remain confident, not in itself, but in the Lord. Truly, his Spirit "educates us in spiritual freedom." Truly, we do, despite our failings, become "free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world...."
The work of the Holy Spirit, and our free collaboration in his work, may eventually include the Bishops Teaching Children method, or it may not. Through it all the Bishops Teaching Children method remains resolutely, even complacently, incurious about its fate. It knows that, at best, it is only a tool, that man may pick up if he will. It will never be in any position to define, rail against, or otherwise attempt to control the creativity of human freedom, and God forbid that it ever identify itself with the movement of the Holy Spirit, who "educates us in spiritual freedom."
The Bishops Teaching Children method needs to be offered, not commanded. After all, as was developed at length in Chapter 2, its real foundation is the free sacramental reality of grace. What an irony it would be if the Bishops Teaching Children method, born in freedom, humble as dirt, yearning every day for the appearance of a system of religious education far more faithful to the Lord than itself, were to be crammed down some poor diocese's throat.
Besides that, you can not force people to be in love, or argue them into it. It just has to happen.
For a bishop and his diocese to take a serious look at the Bishops Teaching Children method, they will have to be seriously, head-over-heels in love - not with the Bishops Teaching Children method, but with their children.
The Bishops Teaching Children method is a very, very big change for both a bishop and a diocese. Until both a bishop and his diocese agree that they are, mutually, so crazy in love with the children of the diocese that they can't help themselves any longer, then the Bishops Teaching Children method has no chance of being implemented, anywhere.
Only the total impracticality of crazy love will lead a bishop and his diocese to the Bishops Teaching Children method.
Just examine some of the difficulties a bishop and a diocese will face.
To begin with, the Bishops Teaching Children method circumvents the entire current structure of religious education, by simply ignoring it. The Bishops Teaching Children method's three elements: bishops' Questions, evaluation by Science, and free-market Competition, which are bound into a new structure by the catalyst of radical transparency, are at every point virtually the antithesis of the elements of the current religious education system.
The Bishops Teaching Children method asserts that the current system does not have a strong sacramental foundation, and in practice does not work very well or very accountably, and it lays out the reasons why it, by contrast, does have a strong sacramental foundation, and will work efficiently, equitably, and accountably.
Others will disagree.
For starters, the entire panoply of religious educators may well line up against the Bishops Teaching Children method. Distinguished professors at prominent Catholic universities may well excoriate it, and at length.
If the theoreticians of current religious education say things consistent with their present ideas, they will say that the Bishops Teaching Children method is a return to the Stone Age, a regression to a Baltimore Catechism type approach.
They will say that it is inconsistent with the Council.
They will say that it flies in the face of "what research is telling us about how children learn."
They will say that it is a blatant right-wing attempt to return to the worst of top-down episcopal management.
They will say that it turns children into robots, forcing them to memorize and then spew back purely verbal information about the faith.
They will say that it serves the interests of giant corporations interested only in profit.
They will say that the children of the diocese will be required to take yearly standardized multiple-choice tests, the very kind that are the worst at measuring in-depth knowledge.
They will contrast the valuable, worthwhile, gospel-oriented social service projects done by religious education students now to the lifeless information due to be crammed into their heads.
They will wonder aloud if Jesus really came to teach children how to memorize the Catechism.
Although a bishop and his diocese might console themselves that the kinds of people saying all those kinds of things will not have jobs for very long if the Bishops Teaching Children method ever catches on, the fact remains that the onslaught from the current religious education bureaucracy is apt to be ferocious, and only if both a bishop and his diocese are ferociously in love with the children, and determined beyond all reason to protect them from ignorance, will a bishop and his diocese be able to endure it.
Then there are the Sister Janes, Brother Johns, Mrs. Does, and Mr. Smiths of the diocese, the parish "professional catechetical personnel," whose jobs (unlike the jobs of the religious education experts safely ensconced in Catholic universities) are immediately and perennially at risk, as soon as the Bishops Teaching Children method begins.
As noted in Chapter 7, these personnel will simply be considered one more Competitor by the Bishops Teaching Children method. Their degrees and other qualifications will not give them any a priori advantage over rivals. Like any other Competitor, they will always have to show that they help children answer the bishop's yearly set of Questions better than any rival Competitor.
Also, as mentioned in Chapter 6, the organizational or administrative skills of these professionals also have no a priori value to the bishop and the local church. Obviously, religious education has to be organized and administered, but how this can be done in a way that maximizes the amount children learn, and minimizes the amount it costs, is a question that the Bishops Teaching Children approach states is a matter for Competitors and the market to decide.
Thus, it could easily be the case that some of the professional catechists in a diocese could find themselves simply out-Competed.
If that happens, will a parish, a diocese, and a bishop be able to say, "We love you, Sister Jane - but we love the children more"?
The Bishops Teaching Children method exists to protect children from ignorance, with a mother's ferocious care, by ferociously holding adults accountable.
A bishop and his diocese have to decide if they can do that, even when adults are harmed, and even when the harmed adults fight back - for some of them surely will.
In the face of the almost inevitable economic, social, and psychological dislocation that the Bishops Teaching Children method will cause some hard-working, well-intentioned adults - who can and may fight back - will a bishop and his diocese be able to remember most of all, that the children can not fight back?
Only if they are truly head-over-heels in love with the children, will they be able, in this difficult situation, to resolutely make all adults accountable, to protect the children's interests above all, and to treat Sister Jane, and any other accountable adult, with the justice and fairness that is absolutely her due.
Further, a bishop considering the Bishops Teaching Children method will have special problems of his own.
To put it bluntly, every other bishop, and especially, every bureaucrat who works for the United States Catholic Conference (the bureaucratic arm of the National Council of Catholic Bishops) will immediately understand that the Bishops Teaching Children method simply ignores the model for religious education developed and approved by the National Council of Catholic Bishops and its bureaucracy over the last thirty years.
A bishop considering the Bishops Teaching Children method is not going to be considered a team player, by his brother bishops. He can expect very little, if any, support from them, and none from the national bureaucracy. To the contrary, he can anticipate both private, and even some public, opposition on both fronts.
He had better be crazy in love with the children of his diocese to endure that.
There will also be parents, some of the opinion that the Bishops Teaching Children method sets the church back one hundred years, others outraged that the bishop would force their child to take a test - any test - others, up in arms that their children's privacy would be invaded, and their self-esteem put at risk, to the point that whole world would know how well they did on each yearly set of Questions.
Many parents will stick with their views, whatever the argument or evidence presented. That is how people are. The Bishops Teaching Children method is actually glad about this. After all, if that were not true, then the present system of religious education (which has been strenuously and repeatedly argued for) would already be loved by everyone, absolutely no one would be dissatisfied with it, and the Bishops Teaching Children method would have no chance at all of implementation!
Some parents can be talked to. They might discover that most children will indeed be violently opposed to the Bishops Teaching Children method - but only because it means more work for them.
Children are not stupid. Even if they themselves do not take first prize, they can understand the value of religious education such as that proposed by the Bishops Teaching Children method, in which adult expectations are very clear, and adults, not children, are promptly - even spectacularly - punished for ineptitude.
Children also can tell the difference between religious education in which their 'privacy' is protected, but hardly anyone really knows, or even seems to care, how much they have actually learned, and religious education in which the current extent of their knowledge of the faith is indeed not 'private,' but yet, with a mother's ferocious care, the whole local church under its ordinary sees to it that each very real child in the diocese is protected from ignorance.
Some parents may even appreciate the fact that only the transparency of the Bishops Teaching Children method allows a bishop, and the whole local church under him, to really be what a bishop, and the whole local church under him, really is, by the bishop's apostolic authority and the local church's sacramental character: the teacher of 'all,' the teacher of each and every child in the diocese. Only transparency allows the bishop, and the local church under him, to care specifically about each child - about their child - and what he specifically has so far learned about his faith.
Nonetheless, not every parent is going to see all the virtues of the Bishops Teaching Children method. Some parents may never see any virtue in it.
This, too, a bishop and his diocese are going to have to face.
Then, after confronting what will almost certainly be emotional, probably at times vitriolic, opposition from all sorts of people, a bishop and his diocese will still have all the actual work of making the Bishops Teaching Children method a reality.
To find a way to make the Bishops Teaching Children method work in the face of all that, the whole lot of them will probably need to be a little crazy.
That craziness, that love beyond reason, is just not the sort of thing one can demand from people, or that one can legislate. The Bishops Teaching Children method can only be offered.
There is no reason for a bishop and his diocese to use the Bishops Teaching Children method unless they are, both bishop and diocese, mutually convinced that it is the right thing to do for the children, and they are mutually so in love with the children that they are willing to do the right thing for them, even if it is an excruciating amount of work.
In practical terms, it all starts with the bishop.
If he is not satisfied that the Bishops Teaching Children method is the right thing to do for the children of his diocese, and if he is not so crazy in love with those children that he will personally do whatever it takes to teach them about their faith, then a diocese can just stop right there. The Bishops Teaching Children method will never, ever get off the ground in that diocese. "Bishops Teaching Children" refers, after all, to a method in which bishops personally teach children!
Especially for the bishops who first pioneer it, the Bishops Teaching Children method is going to be a crazy adventure undertaken by very competent Sacred Pastors too in love with the children of their dioceses, too driven to the edge by the current system of religious education, and too hopelessly tempted by the prospect of a giant improvement, that they just can't stop themselves from offering the Bishops Teaching Children method to their dioceses and doing whatever it takes to see it through to success.
In short, there may come a time when the Bishops Teaching Children method will be seen by bishops as the easy, expedient, and expected course, but that time is not now.
So, first of all, the Bishops Teaching Children method has to be offered to bishops - crazy bishops.
Then, bishops have to offer it to their dioceses.
Their dioceses, as was just shown, have to be crazy, too.
However, it is highly unlikely that everyone in the diocese will be crazy, particularly about the Bishops Teaching Children method, all at once.
Therefore, a bishop who wanted to offer the Bishops Teaching Children method to his diocese might make a deal with his people. He might propose the 'Rule of Three': he will start writing Questions, if one-third of the parishes in the diocese agree to try the Bishops Teaching Children method for a three year trial period - no backing out, carping, or sabotaging allowed. After all, they could have said no. Any parish community that participates has to participate on a strictly 'one for all, all for one' basis for the whole three years.
The bishop can be as enthusiastic as he can be, but he also has to explain all the known potentially unattractive points, too.
Are the people of his diocese crazy enough - about the children, about the idea, about him - to actually let him personally direct and be responsible for the religious education of the children?
All a bishop can do, is ask.
If they say yes, at least sufficiently to satisfy the 'Rule of Three,' then almost nothing happens for a whole year - except from the bishop's point of view.
In the first year, all the parishes and families using the Bishops Teaching Children method prepare for the first set of yearly Questions by simply continuing to do whatever it is they are doing now. Of course, they do report all their direct and indirect costs of religious education to the bishop.
Suddenly, the bishop realizes that, in order for parishes to do that, he somehow has to have a fiscal database already constructed just for that purpose.
He has to have, already established, a computer, fax, and telephone link to that fiscal database (so that parishes can securely report their fiscal data, and also so that anyone can see the Bishops Teaching Children method's fiscal transparency already at work by looking at the received data).
He already has to have found someone to input the data from parishes and answer the phone.
And so forth.
Of course, while he is doing all of that in less than a year, the bishop is also frantically writing Questions.
He is also calling his brother bishops to ask them to help him write Questions.
He is also having their Questions translated, if necessary.
He is also seeking the services of a psychometrician (a testing expert) with no connection to any known Competitors to help him handle the technical aspects of assembling and evaluating the first yearly set of Questions.
He is also trying to find, hire, and finance a Scientist and his staff.
He is also consulting both with his testing advisor and with his priests and their parishes about how to organize and run the testing day.
With the help of his psychometrician, he is also trying out Questions on children, to find out which are suitable for actual use, and writing even more Questions, because from their answers the children showed him that many from his initial set were not suitable.
And so forth.
Obviously, the Bishops Teaching Children method will never, ever work if a bishop has to do all of that in less than a year!
The pioneer dioceses in particular are going to have lots of time to decide about the value of the Bishops Teaching Children method, because their pioneer bishops will have an enormous amount of work to do, before they can even ask their people if they want to try it!
Someday, bishops interested in using the Bishops Teaching Children method may be able to rely on the experience of the pioneer bishops and dioceses who first took the idea and made it a practical reality.
That is Some Day. This is now. The Bishops Teaching Children method is a distinctly practical idea, and it will work, but it will take an enormous amount of cooperative effort, technical skill, and time, along with unflagging episcopal leadership, to turn the Bishops Teaching Children method from a practical idea into a practical reality.
A pioneer bishop had better allow himself his own 'Rule of Three': three solid years of spade work, before his first set of yearly Questions appears and the parishes who said that they'd try the Bishops Teaching Children method begin their own three-year trial period.
One last suggestion. Testing Day might fittingly occur on the feast of Pentecost (or another Sunday near the end of the traditional school year), and it might be made a Parish Day, a holiday for the whole parish. The day on which all the children come to their parish and answer the bishop's yearly set of Questions, should be a very big deal, indeed.
It should be a day when the whole parish attends Mass. At all Masses, the children should be prayed for, and the Holy Spirit invoked. It should be a day when the whole parish comes together for festivities, fun, and food. The adults - pastors, parents, widowed, and single - could gather in one place, and socialize, while the children are sequestered in a quiet, serious place to answer their bishop's Questions.
When the children (of all ages) return, there should be an abundance of treats and fun for them. For all children, the association of hard work, blanket and enthusiastic acknowledgement of their efforts by adults, and treats and fun for them, should be indelible on that day, every year. Children should strongly associate each Testing Day with their faith, with doing 'grown-up' tasks as well as they can, and with treats and fun. They worked hard, they did their best, and they earned it.
Shortly after that day, the day during which all the children of the diocese earn the treats and fun that is richly due every single one, will come the day when the yearly Report comes out, revealing (as everyone knows) which of the adults involved in religious education have earned their treats, and their fun.
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