My father is a religion teacher at a Catholic parochial school. He teaches children in seventh and eighth grade about Scripture, Sacraments, and Prayer, including sex ed and Confirmation preparation.

With the release of the latest edition of the National Directory of Catechesis, teachers in the Archdiocese of Detroit this year are teaching a uniform curriculum (this is an historic first according to the Michigan Catholic). So the new textbooks have arrived, and my dad has to revise his lesson plans accordingly.

My dad is unique among religion teachers in that he has never allowed it to become a 'blow-off' class for his students; in fact he's one of the more demanding teachers in the 7th/8th grade, much to the chagrin of more than a few parents, who would rather their children simply get the 'easy A' and be done with it-- sound familiar?

Anywho-- I know he takes seriously his task in lieu of the unfortunate fact that most students' religious instruction will cease entirely after they leave elementary school. So it's now or never if you want to reach them. So he has demanding tests for which they actually have to study and not just regurgitate what was on the handout. He does prayer in the classroom. He's a good teacher.

As I perused the new textbook, I noticed it comprehensively introduced Catholic Social Teaching throughout-- a definite improvement over past textbooks in which the 'rainbow Happy Jesus' talked about Love (without Mercy). What I found suspiciously and conspicuously lacking was any mention of Catholic Moral Teaching (i.e. pro-life issues).

In my understanding (courtesy JPII), the greatest social injustice presently occurring is legalized abortion. There were many pictures, thought-blurbs, and quotes from the USCCB about doing your part to help the environment, to serve the homeless, to cultivate peace in your family. Not over-the-top and all in conformity with the Catechism (thank God)...but again-- suspiciously and conspicuously lacking any reference to 'praying for an end to abortion' or how categorically immoral it is. I don't know exactly what I'm looking for in a textbook for eighth-graders, but certainly a greater attempt to promote Catholic Social Teaching in its entirety.

I got all huffy. Why should celebrating diversity be more thoroughly catechised (and it was done in this text in a manner consistent with teaching methods developed according to Piaget's learning theories,etc.-- so this is not the textbook you remember from days gone by-- it is genuinely current) than respecting life? Why do the photos illustrating the Corporal Works of Mercy have children wearing 'Race for the Cure' T-shirts? Why are all the people depicted in the sections about spirituality hiking/camping? I began to strongly suspect the pedigree of persons responsible for this textbook.

So I looked on the USCCB website. To my satisfaction, the whole enterprise had as its objective to make the curricula current with the CCC and established elementary teaching norms. Good. We need sound catechesis.

But I was still left wanting. If you don't reach children at puberty-- when do you reach them? I read Evangelium Vitae in 7th and 8th grade: is that so impossible?

I browsed my dad's copy of the National Directory. The Bishops were very earnestly defining Catholic Social Teaching as necessarily starting with respect for the dignity of every human being. Okay, so they read JPII too. How did this not translate into textbooks written for the most impressionable strata of human society (namely, kids in puberty)?

I discussed some more with my dad. He reassured me that he gets it into the classroom discussion. Whether it's in the textbook or not, he includes it in his class. Well, good. But he's a good teacher. They're not all as diligent as my Dad.

I scanned the textbook again-- and found a single page referencing the unborn. You can judge for yourself:

So they actually used Evangelium Vitae as an example of a papal encyclical [applause]. Wow. I'm impressed. But note the text and the photo (I don't think the scanner did a very good job, so here it is verbatim): "The pope reminded us that we must work toward creating a 'culture of life' and work against the 'culture of death' which violence in its many forms is establishing in the world. We must work for a more equal sharing of wealth and the earth's goods. We must work for the protection of the life of the unborn, the sick, and the elderly. We must use every effort to solve conflicts peacefully, to contain the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and to stop the trafficking in arms. We are to avoid the reckless use of natural resources and to work against the producing and selling of drugs."


However--- hmmm... this seems a skewed presentation of the themes elucidated in that encyclical, especially considering the illustration of the hands holding Planet Earth. I recall the injunction against Abortion to be foremost among the aims of the encyclical. Care for the Earth and economic equality seem like ancillary ambitions alongside protecting children from being murdered at an unprecedented rate in human history.

I also found mention of CST regarding the rights of the human person and Respect Life was listed as one of four ways a Christian can live the Life of Grace, including 1. Taking an active part in the life of the Church, 2. Giving thanks to God for a life shared with Christ, and 3. Serving Others. But the mention of the Church's teaching about the Life and Dignity of the Human Person was mitigated into a suggestion that the teacher have the students complete a "gifts inventory" listing one positive quality about each person in the group.

Really? Is that the most we can encourage young people to do when instructing them in the church's teaching about abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, cloning, the death penalty, and unjust war? Say something positive about your classmates? That's the suggested activity?

I would hope in the formation of its future generations, Catholic Schools are doing everything to ensure that children think with the mind of Christ. Atheistic humanists can find something positive to say about their classmates. What are Catholic students doing to live out the Church's teaching about the most vulnerable, the most disenfranchised, and morally violated people in society today?

If the Directory is correct, then "Abortion and euthanasia directly attack innocent life itself, the most fundamental human right and the basis of all other rights." The Directory calls for "followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate, and serve the Gospel of Life in every situation." These are superlative statements. Should not the textbooks then be superlative as well in teaching these truths to young people?

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