What our Students Should Know: Religion Curriculum Standards in our Diocese

This week my office is rolling out our diocese’s first set of PreK-8th grade religion curriculum standards:

These standards were developed over nearly five years with a committee composed of both parish and Catholic school representatives. We used as our basis standards from the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Orlando, as well as materials from the USCCB.

Of course, a set of standards is only effective if they are implemented — and I am keenly aware that this is no small task! I’m anticipating a five-year implementation period for these standards, beginning with a study and review period for teachers, catechists, and catechetical leaders; an alignment review to document how the standards line up with the catechetical textbooks in use in our diocese; and lots of encouraging, reassuring, and question-answering on the part of our office!

We will also need to review the standards with an eye for how parish formation programs will implement them, given the disparity in contact hours between Catholic schools and parish programs. We will try to make good recommendations for what standards parishes should focus on each year.

Please pray for this process — for our office as we seek to set these standards into motion, and for our catechists as they adopt these standards in their parishes and schools.

A Short Appreciation for the Catechism

Our diocese is in the process of establishing curriculum standards for religious education in Catholic schools and parish-based programs for children. It’s been a fun — and challenging — task that still has at least two years to go. Our committee has wrestled over not just what should be included in a comprehensive curriculum for discipleship, but also how to phrase teachings in age appropriate ways that are faithful to the Church’s tradition.

In the process my respect for the  Catechism of the Catholic Church has grown considerably — not so much for it’s organization or content (which I’ve appreciated for some time), but for the way in which it takes heavy theological and spiritual concepts and makes them accessible. Far from the weighty, verbose reference it is sometimes made out to be, the  Catechism is surprisingly readable for a Church document.

I’ve also been impressed with it’s precision of language — something I strive for in my own writing. In fact, on several occasions we’ve been stuck for a phrase or word to describe a concept in our standards. Each time, when we’ve consulted the Catechism, we’ve discovered the perfect word already there.

It’s a shame that more people don’t make use of this great treasury of the Church’s wisdom. It seems to me that many misunderstanding about the Catholic Church could be cleared up by focusing on what the Church herself says in the Catechism rather than what certain “experts” claim she says.

None of this will be a surprise to those who are used to using the Catechism in faith formation, evangelization or apologetics. But as we observe the 20th anniversary of the Catechism‘s promulgation on Thursday, let’s keep in mind just what a gift it has been in the life of the Church. From establishing a baseline for religious instruction to spawning local catechisms such as the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, the Church’s catechetical ministry is much richer for it. And that’s worth celebrating.

Getting Our Knickers in Knots about Catechesis

Thinking aloud today:

In the middle of a conversation on journalistic standards during the latest episode of This Week in Tech, panelists John C. Dvorak, Leo Laporte, and Jeff Jarvis (whose blog post on the subject sparked the conversation) discussed the ideal of objectivity versus the reality of partisanship. I’ve edited out the relevant section here:

The part that struck me was Jarvis’ statement there at the end: “We in journalism get so much with our knickers in knots about ‘What is journalism?’ whereas the world says: ‘What’s information? What do I need to know today?'”

Anyone who follows the media world knows that traditional news outlets are suffering. Newspaper  circulation  is waning; fewer people tune in to the evening news; and radio seems a quaint format. People don’t seem to care where their news comes from — they are more concerned about getting information that they need right now. Why else the rise of Google and Wikipedia? They allow us to have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips.

I wonder if there isn’t a parallel with catechesis, and adult faith formation in particular.

It’s no secret that catechesis of adults is a difficult ministry. No matter how many programs or classes we offer it seems like it’s the same people who come. They are eager and grateful, to be sure, but I’ve heard many catechetical leaders ask “Where is everyone else? Why aren’t they coming?”

Yet we’ve seen an explosion in recent years of Catholic blogs and podcasts seeking to promote and explain the Catholic viewpoint on a variety of issues. While I doubt that many of these bloggers would claim the label “catechist,” that is exactly what they are — they are, in their own way, evangelizing and catechizing to their readers and listeners.

These blogs and podcasts are obviously filling a need that our catechetical programs do not. Convenience may be one explanation — it’s  certainly  easier to read a blog post than get to the parish center for an evening — but I’m not sure that explains it all. I also wonder if bloggers and podcasters aren’t better at targeting the specific needs and questions of the faithful.

Take, for one example, Fr. Barron’s YouTube video series. Each video takes a single question, issue, or piece of media, and examines or explains it from a Catholic viewpoint. Many are questions that the faithful in the pew may have asked or heard from others: What is the Real Presence? Why do we celebrate the Ascension? What spiritual insights can we learn from The Dark Knight?

Those of us involved in the catechetical ministry may be tempted to worry and fret that, even for many engaged Catholics, their primary avenue for catechesis is what they get from such online venues: “But it’s not systematic! It’s too focused on popular theology! There’s no oversight or review of the content!”

To which we might respond:    “We in catechesis get so much with our knickers in knots about ‘What is catechesis?’ whereas the world says: ‘What’s faith? What do I need to know today to be a better follower of Christ?'”