Monday, August 17, 2009

Catholic Snob or Guardian of Family Time?

So, it is that time of year at church... CCD registration time. I have a near-kindergartner who is eligible to attend, but do I want her to?

Our CCD classes start 20 min. after Mass lets out on Sunday morning and run for one hour. What is my issue? Well, twofold -- 1) I am not convinced of the orthodoxy and formation of the adult volunteers teaching the classes and 2) If some of my fears related to #1 are realized, then why waste a valuable hour of family time to have my impressionable daughter receive vague/possibly misleading catechisis?

To give you a bit more context before you sound off - I think I am doing a good job with fledgling catechism myself. I have committed us to a very enriching and exciting Catholic-centered kindergarten homeschooling curriculum for the upcoming year, we celebrate holy days, saints' feast days and the like year-round. Daughter knows all the staple prayers and seems to have a hunger for more.

Therefore, the conflict boils down to me wondering if a home-schooled kid with a very social disposition could benefit from an hour a week of "classroom" type instruction with a bunch of other Catholic kids or if we will interrupt our lovely family-oriented Sundays in order for her to receive lukewarm religious instruction that she really does not need. Thoughts?


Carol said...

In my humble (or even not so humble) is unlikely that the class will be worth the lost family time. I actually taught our daughter's sacraments class after Sunday Mass. I know she was getting good stuff, but she would have gotten better at home, without the interruptions from the other kids. And our Sundays were disrupted. We did it because it was necessary to get the sacrament. I don't think I would have sent her if I wasn't teaching, or if I wasn't really clear on the quality of the formation. I don't think I would have risked it in Kindergarten, when a Sacrament is not on the immediate horizon and I am not sure about the teaching. Especially because they are too young to really express what is going on at class and so how will you know if they are getting the wrong idea?

Just my opinion. :)

Kat said...

Our parish offers a curriculum to homeschooling families, so my impression is that most of these families just take care of religious ed in their own homes. The only thing that I would consider is whether your parish's program offers something that you may not be able to provide. For instance, we have an absolutely wonderful music teacher who teaches the kids memorable, substantive songs that I couldn't teach as effectively in my own home. Perhaps your parish offers similar hands-on activities that your little one would benefit from.

The trade-off of family time is tough - that's why we chose to do the MOnday afternoon session of religious ed rather than the Sunday sessions.

Stephanie said...

We have gone through this same issue (and are facing it again since we just moved and have yet to find an orthodox parish let alone CCE program). We decided to allow our children to go (in our old parish) because we had met all the teachers and really loved the program. My husband and I used the time while they were in class to have a "date" since the church did not have any classes available for us during the same time. We came to LOVE our time together and the kids really enjoyed being in class. We could sit and talk about the upcoming week, plan our budget, read, walk the grounds, etc.

That being said, the teachers always told us that the kids already knew all the material. That didn't bother the kids at all, in fact they enjoyed it. We homeschool and religion is one of their courses. We had wanted them to be able to make friends in their classes, and although they always had a buddy they sat by, there was never any contact with the families outside of class.

So while it is outside your routine right now, it could become something you grow to really treasure. I also don't think the teaching has to compare to what you could do on your own. You are choosing to homeschool, therefore you see the value that one on one instruction can offer. No matter how good the teacher, material, or environment is in a CCE classroom (speaking as a former school teacher and Sunday school teacher), one on one daily instruction is always going to offer more for your child. That doesn't mean that the CCE program is bad. As much as my children love homeschooling, they loved their classroom time because it reinforced their love of the church and sense of community.

Elizabeth M said...

Could you find out what is in the curriculum to help you decide? Maybe see a copy of the book (if they use one)?
To be honest, our parish religious ed kindergarten class was very light -- lots of coloring, simple songs, basic prayers, etc. The basic focus was on the very basics: God loves us, God made the world, Jesus is the Son of God, etc. Our daughter knew all of this (and more), but still liked the class.
DH and I both teach in our program and, yes, we know that the quality and orthodoxy of the teachers varies quite a bit. But in every case we've seen, errors were caused by the adult's lack of understanding and knowledge, not a deliberate attempt to mislead. But our DRE is actively increasing teacher training and education.
The reality is, however, that they are always short volunteers and need to take whoever can volunteer.

JMB said...

I would blow if off. I have four older children and the time that you have with your family gets smaller and smaller every year, with school, sports, scouting, birthday parties, ballet, CCD, etc. etc. So if it's not mandatory, keep things as status quo.

mtmom said...

A few years ago I experienced the same dilemma. I was even told by the director that Since she had a degree in theology how could what we offered at home compare. I enroled my high schoolers. After the year was over (maybe even before) she recognized how much better we could do at home! My children knew so much more than the rest of the children. Catholic snob???? So be it f that is what they will say. At least our children are learning the faith! I do not send my little ones to RE. Only the older ones for some socializing.

Jennifer in MN said...

I'm a Catechist and a member of our Faith Formation committee, I'm not the F.F. director--I originally joined because I didn't like the faith formation process. I think the value in attending faith formation is the sense of community and knowing other children and families in the parish. Now you may already do this, but I know from experience that most of the time the Catholic school kids, the homeschool kids and the public school kids rarely know each other and infact there can be animosity between the groups. I find this wrong on many levels. We are all Catholic and we make different educational choices for various, valid reasons. I think the strive to unity is important and faith formation can be a way of making that happen. Building real community. One hour a week isn't that much time to take away from "family time" because your fellow parishoners are FAMILY. Your input into the system is also critical--these programs need to see faithful, strong, Catholic families living the faith. Faith Formation Directors need help and support and to be held accountable for what is being taught. And for the record my children attend Catholic school AND attend Faith Formation AND have a lived Catholic faith at home.

sophie said...

Am I right in understanding that your goal for your daughter would be social? Because it sounds to me that you have the faith formation taken care of in your kinder curriculum.

If the goal is a social activity, perhaps finding something for her in which that is also the intention of the program. A planned meeting with a planned activity with another Mom...swim lesson...kindermusic...something along those lines.

It seems to me if your goal is a social classroom type setting, then that is what you should find. But if you have suspicions about the orthodoxy, that's a huge risk, IMHO. Even at young ages, it's easy for teachers to undermine what parents are trying to teach at home..."no it's ok, sweety, you don't NEED to go to mass each sunday, God loves you anyway..."

I understand the point about parishes needing faithful families to participate, but parents first responsibility is to protect the innocence and faith of their own children.

There is no one right answer for every family of course. Blessings to you and your husband as you wade through the webs to find the answer for your family.

Jennifer Frey said...

Is it really true that at CCD classes they tell kids they don't need to go to Mass??? I find that really unbelievable, but perhaps I'm just naive.

Elizabeth M said...

Just another thought -- you might want to find out what your parish's requirements are for First Penance and First Communion preparation. Each pastor can decide what he will determine as readiness to receive the sacrament, but this often means following the program of religious ed. Some parishes require at least 1st and 2nd grade in classes, others have home-school options (if you use their materials and participate in special events). It just might make things easier for you to know ahead of time -- so you can be informed and (if necessary) make arrangements with the DRE and/or pastor that work for you and your family.
And I say all this going into my 5th year of coordinating sacrament preparation for our parish!

Kat said...

Jennifer, in answer to your question I would say that I think it's usually the other way around - in my experience, the CCE teachers WISH that that more of their students would go to Mass with their families. In the end, what's the use of sending your child to religious education if you're not practicing your faith by receiving the sacraments as a family? This is just my experience, so maybe others have had different ones, but in my CCE class last year there were many faithful weekly attendees who only went to Mass at Christmas and Easter.

AWOL, another option (if you're looking for a bit of a social aspect) would be to find a like-minded mother or two and make your own CCE class sometime during the week. You could rotate the responsibilities for "teaching," and the kids would see that they aren't the only ones learning about their faith. Gives you the benefit of community without the drawback of giving up family time.

Karen said...

I send both of our daughters to our parish religious ed classes and the catechesis they receive depends on the catechist. I was pretty disappointed in the catechist my older daughter had this year. Since she was preparing for first penance and first Holy Communion this year, I felt a better job should have been done in the classroom. Each week I found myself going over the lessons with my daughter and reviewing the material until she understood it. That got me thinking that perhaps maybe all the catechists weren't giving it their all.
If you are concerned about the catechesis she's going to receive at the parish program, why not volunteer to teach the class (or any class for that matter)? That's what I decided to do this year. I may not have either of my girls this year, but I'm sending a loud and clear message to them that faith formation is something I take seriously and I'm teaching them to give back to the community at the same time.

Bethany said...

One year, at one particular parish, we had the fortune of experiencing a unique type of catechesis. While the parish had traditional CCD classes on Sunday, they also offered a Family Night CCD class on Wednesday evenings every other week. We met for two and half hours, starting out together as a large group going over the readings of the next two Sundays, as well as any other special catechetical information necessary. Then we broke into groups (divided by age, going as young as my three year old at the time.) And each group would have an activity and discussion over something related to either the catechism or a particular bible passage or the sacraments (depending upon the age/grade of the group. Each group was led by an active member of the parish, either some of the teacher from the parish school, the deacon of the parish, as well as the DRE and associate DRE. Then we all came back together and met briefly where each group gave an overview of what they did and discussed. A snack was provided by a specific family at each session. The children came back with various projects and "study guides" (for lack of a better term) regarding what they had gone over, that provided parents with a way of reviewing and strengthening what they learned. Over all it was a very good experience and a wonderful way of incorporating family time with catechesis. (We even divided into groups during the large group time and put on a series of skits reflecting on the birth of Christ up through epiphany.)

I give this only as an example something that perhaps you, or anyone, can introduce to your parish to fill both needs. Since everyone in the family is involved then parents are there to evaluate and explain in more detail any lukewarm catechetical teaching.

Another thing you can do is check with the diocesan offices and see what kind of on-going catechetical training they offer for their catechists in the diocese. I know our diocese puts on several small conferences a year for on-going catechetical training and one very, very large two day conference for catechists and Catholic school teachers. (My husband is the director of Catechetical Ministries for our diocese, so I hear about this a lot :) This can be helpful in deciding whether or not the catechists have the appropriate training.

Maria said...

I plan on homeschooling my children and have been going through the same decision-making process. Last year I did decide to put my eldest, who was 4 at the time, in the pre-K CCD at our parish for purely social reasons. He is extremely extroverted and needs more time with people than I can give him at home on my own. To help find more outlets for his social energy, I created a few different "school" times throughout the week: Sunday School (CCD), Library School (free storytime at the library), Soccer School, and even, Homeschool (a homeschooling preschool group I hosted at my house every Friday morning). It worked very well for us and alread he is asking when his "schools" start up again.

Our parish is very orthodox, and the pre-K to Kindergarten program is the Catechesis of the Good Shepard which has very strict guidelines and extensive teacher training, so I didn't have worries about the material being presented to my child. The CCD class committment did make Sunday mornings more hectic for the rest of the family. With morning nap schedules, mass times, and the class times, it was very busy. However, once we found a schedule that worked, I think the benefit outweighed the initial disruption.

Also, somewhat related, I found this blog post at The American Catholic to be very interesting. It discusses the almost catacomb-like experience many of today's orthodox young Catholics had in the 1970s and 80s in parishes. The heretical catachesis and liturgical innovation, to put it nicely, during those decades made a whole generation of orthodox young Catholics very leary of getting involved in parish life. I know this was my experience to a tee. However, things have changed for the better and maybe it is time for us to emerge from catacombs and help a new generation of priests and religious help build strong parishes. The article is worth a read:

bbullio said...

As a former DRE and Director of Youth Ministry, I've had many families ask this very question to me. I understood and sympathized with their dilemma. The problem is that most programs are directed to the typical catholic and unfortunately, the majority of catholics are very poorly catechized. Bethany, I love your idea of Whole Family Catechesis. I think it's a promising answering to the problems our parishes are facing.

Having said all this, I think we have a responsibility to our parishes to be an example and to try to get more effective and orthodox programs up and running - one DRE can not do it alone! The alternative, which I saw all too often, was that the parish will have very weak program filled with CEO (Christmas and Easter only) catholics and Sacramental "graduation" programs, while the orthodox families stay home. Christ calls our families out into the world to preach the gospel, yes even within our own parishes!

Mama on a Mission said...

We homeschool and the first two years by oldest two went to CCD classes which we have only on Wednesday evenings. Our experience was not a good one. We are in a very small church and not many children in the class. My oldest was picked on a lot. I had to finally tell the teacher not to always call on my daughter when no one else knew the answers. The other children were well below her in knowing their lessons. I also found while it was not unorthodox, it was pretty fluffy stuff. My children received greater knowledge at home.

The other thing also was I did not like the attitude of most of the children. A lot do not attend weekly Mass and religion in general is like a joke. When the girls were younger I felt they did not need that kind of exposure.

We do feel a sense of community in our church though. We participated in many activities, our priest comes over now and then, we help with the pro-life team. Even though my children are not in with children the exact same ages, they are building community with people of all ages. I do not think there is any better socialization.

Marcy K. said...

We have a similar dilemma. My older son just graduated 8th grade from our parish school that has just been closed down. Our soon to be 1st grader who attended kindergarten at the school now will be attending a charter school and is expected to enroll in CCD. I am leery of all CCD and RCIA programs as most are not great. The CCD program I went to when I was a kid was very weak.

I asked my older son's catechism teacher from the school what he thought of the CCD program. He goes around the country giving talks to catechists and is excellent. He told me our CCD is not that great and that he offered to give the CCD teachers instruction, but was refused since the DRE did not want to inconvenience the teachers by requiring them to come in for continuing education. She was afraid some would not volunteer if they had to put more time into it!

He suggested I go over the lessons each week with my son. When I suggested I could homeschool him for religion, he was all for it. He told me it is my right to do so and that I should talk to the DRE to find out what paperwork needed to be done. So I did this yesterday. The DRE was very confused when I asked her what I needed to do. No one has asked before. Someone suggested that there is information in a handbook from the archdiocese and she said she would get back to me. The DRE wanted to know why I want to do this and I said it was because I just wanted to. I cast no aspersions on her program. She is a nice lady and all her people mean well but frankly I can do better. And I know many of the teachers, too. I don't think sticking my kid in a class with a bunch of other kids who are mostly Christmas and Easter Catholics, and who don't want to be there, really helps my son's faith.

I plan on using the Ignatius press Faith & Life Series and am pretty excited about doing it. I will talk to the pastor if there are any problems.

Stina said...

I've stopped by here several times through various links and have always enjoyed the posts. I LOVE the concept of your blog! Finally, after this post, I had to suscribe!

We just made a decision in a similar situation. A friend of ours who has older kids, did not like the experience her children had at our parish. Too much fluff and not enough substance. Our 4 year old is about to start pre-school at a Catholic school (we've heard good things), so we've decided to not enroll her in Faith Formation this year. We're going to see how this goes and re-evaluate next year.

I also agree with the "get involved and help change things" idea, too. Unfortunately, I feel a little too overwhelmed with the new baby to volunteer this year. Again, going to re-evaluate next year!

Best wishes on your decision!

bbullio said...

On this topic, is anyone able to suggest some resources for me for homeschooling my preschooler in the Faith? AWOL Mommy, are you using a set curriculum or have you come up with something on your own?

I've been trying to come up with something on my own this Summer, but I think I could really benefit from some fresh ideas and something with a little more structure... any suggestions?

Mary Alice said...

bbullio -- we have been homeschooling for several years and have found lots of good resources online. We have used books from the Catholic Mosaic list, as well as resources from Catholic Heritage Curricula. Right now a lot of my academic curriculum is coming from CHC.

Mary Alice said...

On this topic, our diocese just released an extensive pastoral plan for the future which includes lots of hard realities about the decline of practice of the faith and lots of good goals for building the church for the future, and I was surprised, encouraged and convicted by the question, at the end of the Bishop's report -- what will you do about it? That really got me thinking, we need to get more involved in our parishes. As for family time - my Mormon friends plan to spend several hours at church on Sundays, and I am beginning to think that keeping that Sabbath means more than Sunday mass and donuts, hanging out at a park together, etc. We need to have a missionary outlook, even within our own parishes. We can help with catechism classes or offer to provide babysitting for those who are teaching. We can get our husbands involved (how awesome it would be for a group of young men and fathers to be meeting). We can introduce ourselves to the DRE and see what we can do to help, beginning without judging to really get to know the program.

My kids both did parish CCD this past year and they both enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. We are not doing it this coming year as they have made it optional for homeschoolers, and I feel that we are a Catholic school, in a way, so they do not need it, but I do want to find other ways for them to participate in life at the parish, choir, scouts, CYO athletics are some examples.

Kat, don't you lead a preschool program, can you tell us more about that?

Kat said...

Mary Alice, I love your point about the importance of being involved in our parish community! Someone else also stressed the importance of having fervent Catholic families involved in parish life, and I couldn't agree more! This has always been our attitude, and we have really tried to involve ourselves in our various parishes and serve the unique needs of each community in whatever capacity we could manage. It's must easier to effect a change if you are an integral part of a community - people are much more likely to have open hearts to your suggestions if you are contributing to the community than if they just see you as a disgruntled member.

I am a catechist for our parish's preschool CCE program (3 year-olds!), and I must say that we keep things pretty simple. Each week at the beginning of class, we talk to the kids about our Bible story for the day - the Good Samaritan, Jesus Feeds the 5,000, etc. - and then have a coloring sheet for the kids to color while everyone arrives. Then we head to music class for half an hour, and by the time we get back we have about 30 minutes left. In this time, we do a simple craft, and then go to "circle time" where we practice our prayers. It's simple stuff - the Sign of the Cross, learning the basic prayers, and asking the kids to repeat after me as I say a prayer. Then we read the Bible story of the day again and talk about it a little bit, and for the remainder of the time we practice the songs that we learned. Our director of religious education prepares all of our activities in advance so that our main job is to prepare for the lesson and facilitate the activities, but we do not need to be creative and come up with the curriculum ourselves.

I must say that the only reason that it works for our family for me to teach CCE is that I can put Maria in the nursery while I'm teaching - if the nursery wasn't offered, I wouldn't be able to teach. Also, as I mentioned before we do our classes on Monday afternoons, so none of our family time is taken on Sunday.

Donna said...

We homeschool, but we work very very hard to support and reform our Parrish School of Religion. I guess its because of our Protestant background- we fully expect to be at church for a long time on Sunday. I teach Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to 6-9 year olds even though my kids are in the 3-6 year old class. They didn't have anyone willing to teach and I feel that we have to step up when we can and have been so blessed by teaching and caring for other people's children. My husband teaches the adult education class as well. I keep hearing people in my diocese talk about how PSR and engaged encounter and adult education as well as everything else has gotten "so liberal", but they don't have time to help b/c of their families. We definitely believe we are evangelists to our diocese.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to reinforce the comments here about supporting the parish program by your presence. One of the concerns I've had over the years of childrearing is that many of our best and strongest parents in the parish are homeschooling - and thus are not involved in the parish school and we are deprived of their example and influence.

I'm director of evangelization and formation in our parish in California, with 5 children almost raised and active in faith. My observation is that the family is the determinative factor in the practice and learning of the faith - whether the kids are in Rel. Ed or parish school - or nothing at all. Mine all went to Catholic school but long ago I figured out that the school was only of some assistance - the important thing was how we practiced at home. But, I always attended parent meetings on sacraments, and participated as much as possible in everything - FOR THE SAKE OF EVANGELIZATION. Oddly enough, now that is my job. JPII called us to a new evangelization and the mission field is right here in front of us - at our parish. We all need to figure out how to do it - evangelize - what works and what doesn't (no preaching, lots of friendship and "musings") and NO SNOBS!

Anonymous said...

addendum to previous comment -

Just realized that I didn't actually address your main question - and despite my little speech about getting involved - there's no way I'd sacrifice family time on Sunday to put a pre-K child in Rel. Ed. Just not necessary - and too great a cost in time/impact. Wait...and meanwhile, think about starting a moms/kids group at church instead...