Monday, April 27, 2009

Final Talk Outline: Choosing Materials (in progress)

The talk was half about Choosing Materials and half about becoming a learner so that you're better prepared to choose materials (or something like that), but I had to choose the title long before I finished the talk, so I hope no one is too disappointed.

Also, I have so much about the wonderful GMCHE conference that I'd like to share, but probably after I've done a little more in the way of catching up on sleep. For now I want to post my updated outline for my talk along with the quotes I shared in the talk. Perhaps later, I'll even be able to add my stories and examples regarding particular Church teachings or particular problems that pop up in books.

Workshop: Choosing Materials That Will Work for Your Family:


Books are tools – one part of the whole.

"It is necessary not only that religious instruction be given to the young at certain fixed times, but also that every other subject taught, be permeated with Christian piety. If this is wanting, if this sacred atmosphere does not pervade and warm the hearts of masters and scholars alike, little good can be expected from any kind of learning, and considerable harm will often be the consequence." (Leo XIII, Militantis Ecclesiae, as quoted in the encyclical On Christian Education by Pope Pius XI)
A. Catholic Truths relating to Education (and some of their consequences)

1. God is the author of all truth – no contradiction between faith and reason.

a. The God of our faith is also the creator of the world.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church #159

"Science can purify religion from error and superstition, religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes." Pope John Paul II
b. Don't limit the influence of faith by mistakenly thinking that we as Catholics are only interested in overtly religious things.
"No amount of pious training or pious culture will protect the faithful, or preserve them from the contamination of the age, if they are left inferior to non-Catholics in secular learning and intellectual development. The faithful must be guarded and protected by being trained and disciplined to grapple with the false systems of the age... They must be better armed than their opponents - surpass them in the strength and vigor of their minds, and in the extent and variety of their knowledge. They must, on all occasions and against all adversaries, be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them." (Orestes Brownson)
2. The Catholic Church is a sure guide.

a. Surround yourself with some excellent materials, like a good translation of the Bible (RSV-CE is a particularly good choice) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

b. It is a Catholic thing to study non-Catholic things.

c. Look for the true, good and beautiful.
(Analogy with a Catholic homeschool conference).
"Children exposed to what is aesthetically and morally excellent are helped to develop appreciation, prudence and the skills of discernment. Here it is important to recognize the fundamental value of parents' example and the benefits of introducing young people to children's classics in literature, to the fine arts and to uplifting music. While popular literature will always have its place in culture, the temptation to sensationalize should not be passively accepted in places of learning. Beauty, a kind of mirror of the divine, inspires and vivifies young hearts and minds, while ugliness and coarseness have a depressing impact on attitudes and behavior." (Message for the 41st World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI)
3. We are made to learn, but have a fallen nature.

We are made in the image and likeness of God and thus are made to learn and to know. But we have a fallen nature that makes it difficult to train our will. This has many consequences on education. Here are a few:

Knowledge does not equal virtue. Avoid condescending materials that destroy the joy of discovery and can certainly turn people away from virtue. Children need help training their will and developing their convictions.

Beware of simplifications, like old=good (or old=bad for that matter). Sin has been with us from the beginning and every age has its own errors which people from that time period tend to be blind to. see: C.S. Lewis on old books

Clean does not equal good. Distinguishing between offensive and dangerous can be helpful.


Some books are offensive but not dangerous.
Some are offensive and dangerous.
Some are dangerous but not offensive.

The third category is the worst because it's the most subtle and we may not even notice it.

P.S. Educational does not necessarily mean good either.

More good reading: Pope Benedict XVI "There is talk of a great 'educational emergency'."

Problem spots (indications that someone is missing the fact of fallen nature): Materials that suggest that any sort of discipline, training or limits for children are automatically bad. The truth is that they are all necessary to some degree, but should be exercised with love and prudence.

4. The Virtue lies in the Mean
(I am too tired to write this one out at the moment - I'll try to come back to it later - but it's REALLY important.)

5. Be Not Afraid
"To have Christian hope means to know about evil and yet to go to meet the future with confidence. The core of faith rests upon accepting being loved by God, and therefore to believe is to say Yes, not only to him, but to creation, to creatures, above all, to men, to try to see the image of God in each person and thereby to become a lover. That's not easy, but the basic Yes, the conviction taht God has created man, that he stands behind them, that they aren't simply negative, gives love a reference point that enables it to ground hope on the basis of faith." (Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth)
Also see: Fear Undermines Talents, Says Pontiff

B. Developing Your Skeptometer
(tools of discernment, critical thinking)

1. Become a Learner

Your children will learn from what you learn.

You'll set a great example to them that learning is for always.

It helps build a learning environment/atmosphere.

They enjoy learning more if they do it with you (e.g. informal discussions around the dinner table).

Reality, long term goals are more important than "current events". (My suggestion is to shift some of your focus - watch less news and read more books).
"One is entitled to think that the future of humanity is in the hands of those who are capable of providing the generations to come with reasons for life and optimism." (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1917)
2. Don’t expect perfection – books are written by people.

3. Some things are black and white, some aren’t.
"In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity." (attributed to St. Augustine)
4. Recognize Your own Danger Spots

5. Look Below the Surface

6. Know your children – become their mediator and advocate

Adjust things according to their needs.

Remember the diversity of the saints.

Recommended: Learning Style Test

Beware of surrendering your entire thinking process to the experts - you need to weigh and consider each issue. cf. Listening To Experts Inhibits Decision Making


1. Somewhat harmless but annoying things.

e.g. Books that use CE and BCE instead of AD and BC.

2. inaccuracies

Recognize them, but don't always reject the book. If worthwhile overall, it can be a great teaching moment. cf. David Macaulay's Cathedral

3. bias

Half the battle is simply recognizing bias. I like to have my kids practice recognizing things by analyzing TV commercials with them and talking about what the commercials are trying to sell.

4. anti-Catholic slant vs. non-Catholic perspective

anti-Catholic examples:

Atheistic direction:
"Then suddenly all this wondering and figuring stopped. Christianity was a new religion, fighting for survival, and in A.D. 391 Christians burned the city of Alexandria and its famous libraries, which contained, along with many ancient treasures of scholarship, the work of Ptolemy. Christians did not believe in scholarship. They thought it was sacreligiuos to be curious. Anything people wanted to know, they said, could be found in the Bible." (Around the World in a Hundred Years by Jean Fritz)
Protestant direction:

"With such a lack of spiritual leadership and the Romanist emphasis on works for salvation, it is little wonder that the common people lived under such spiritual bondage." (United States History for Christian Schools, Bob Jones University Press)
Not necessarily anti-Catholic:

Making mistakes about Catholics
Criticizing Catholics

non-Catholic perspective:

Can be very worthwhile. e.g. All of a Kind Family

5. Catholic books with authority problems

This comes in two basic varieties:

Cafeteria Catholics
Those who think they're more Catholic than the Pope.

6. Fundamentalism

7. Condescending materials

8. Secular (and its various meanings)

a. Materials with no religious content. e.g. An Egg is Quiet

b. Something with an atheistic bias.
Worth reading on this topic: 10 Books that Screwed up the World by Benjamin Wiker

9. poor pedagogy (teaching philosophy)

10. good intentions aren’t always enough


nancy said...

t sounds like a wonderful talk! I wish I could have heard it!

Dawn said...

Me, too!