For the last few years, I’ve volunteered to teach a religion class for kids, one evening a week, at my church. When I was a kid, it was called Catechism, and it was taught by nuns. Today it’s called CCD, or Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, and the laity teaches it. I’m currently teaching a seventh-grade class made up of students who attend public and private schools, or are home schooled. It can be challenging to get children that age to focus on the lesson at hand when most of them are between their last after-school activity, dinner, and a long and tedious homework assignment.
Sometimes I think I get more from it than they do from me because I’m constantly researching material to enhance the text, or to answer questions that sometimes only indirectly relate to religion. This semester, there have been many questions and distractions. I’ll cover a few here because it provides insight into the distortions and misinformation taught in schools.
Some of the kids report they are regularly taunted by other students in school about the results of the Presidential election. Chants of “Not my President” or “Dump Trump” are routine, and a couple of kids asked me about a novel called 1984 which their teacher mentioned in reference to President Trump. Coincidentally we were covering the Cardinal Virtues that day, and I was able to recommend that they employ the virtue of Temperance regarding their classmates and their teacher. I mentioned that 1984 is a dystopian novel written in 1949 by George Orwell, much like the popular series of fiction books called Hunger Games, Divergence, or The Giver. 1984, as you may know, portrays the abuse of power over citizens and became noted for the concept of “Big Brother” watching over everyone.
A few weeks earlier, we were discussing war and the killing of people. One young lady mentioned her teacher explained how World War I was started by a sandwich — and that led to World War II and 80 million deaths. I did some research and found that the story was not true, but teachers use it to get kids interested in history. A couple of weeks later a boy mentioned the same story was told by his teacher with far more details. The most complete information I found was written by Mike Dash in Smithsonian Magazine dated September 15, 2011. Supposedly, the assassination of the Archduke of Austria occurred as a happenstance on June 28, 1924, when Gravrilo Princip stopped for a sandwich, and he heard that the car of the Archduke was passing. So he dropped the sandwich and shot him. Why this story was never told by teachers before 2003 was a mystery. The author discovered that the story came from a British TV program in 2003 entitled Days That Shock the World. The producers of that TV show got the information about the sandwich from a 2001 Brazilian fictional novel, published in Portuguese, called Twelve Fingers by a Brazilian TV host named Jo Soares. There was absolutely no testimony from witnesses of the assassination or Gavrilo Princip himself, or that he was eating a sandwich before the shooting. Teachers keep telling the story as true, years after it has been debunked.
One week while we were discussing freedom of religion in the United States, one boy said his teacher told him that there are only two theocratic countries in the world, Iran, and the Vatican. This is especially disturbing to me because of the amount of terrorism currently occurring in the world, primarily based on Islamic fundamentalism. So I first checked on the latest definition of “theocracy, ” and it still means the rule of a state where a deity or god is the source of all authority. I found almost fifty countries where Islam is the majority religion and source of all power. The blasphemy laws enforced in most of those countries do not come close to the dogma that comes from the Vatican. One can only guess at the intention of the teacher in relating the two theocracies.
One of the lessons we cover in CCD includes the seven cardinal sins or vices or Deadly Sins as they were known in the past. Pride, Avarice, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth. Funny how each is promoted as virtues in today’s society. Pride is considered Self-esteem. Avarice is propagandized as Equal Pay for Equal Work. Lust is upheld as Sexiness. Anger is Passion. Gluttony is Curvy. Envy is Goal Setting. Sloth is Entitlement. One of the kids said he told his teacher that self-esteem was a vice known as pride or ego, and his teacher’s head exploded.
The self-esteem movement began in 1969 with a paper by Nathaniel Brandon entitled “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” which caught the attention of the masses and educators. It resulted in decades of meaningless gold stars and trophies for young students who eventually realized that unearned rewards were as worthless as the psychology of self-esteem.
If every child is gifted, no one is gifted. If every child is profoundly gifted, no child is profoundly gifted. If most children are in Advanced Placement courses, the impact on those who aren’t is tragic. The concept of promoting self-esteem in school has been denounced by psychologists for a decade or more, yet it is still a virtuous thing with many educators.
I suggest that self-confidence, self-reliance, self-respect and humility are traits that are better suited for young folks, in the past and today. I’m not sure how much theology the kids in my CCD class will retain, but I have reinforced my own faith and learned a lot about the social and educational environment young folks have to face today.
I hope they are better prepared, to separate the virtues from the lies, distortions, and redefinitions that seem to control our culture and our children today. From what I’ve witnessed in class, it seems truth-tellers have a lot of work ahead of them.
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