I know we’ve moved on as a nation from the Great Religious Education Blogger Symposium, but like Pacino:
So here’s another post in the grand tradition of maybe by the time I’m done writing, I’ll know what I actually think.
Classrooms are not the problem.
It’s not that religious education shouldn’t be like (or at) school, it’s that we are measuring our success like we do everything else. We don’t really understand how to gather kids in a classroom and teach them about Jesus without then testing them about Jesus. Or maybe we don’t like those nasty old tests, so we craft about Jesus.
I will cop to becoming more and more loosey-goosey about things like tests and homework since I dropped out of the SYSTEM, man, and tuned in to homeschooling. At the same time, I, personally, adore the taking of tests. The scent of a freshly sharpened #2, the countdown of the schoolroom clock — how these little joys of childhood can warm one’s heart when faced with the cold reality of adulthood, and its absence of gold stars. My pulse quickens at the thought of a scan-tron.
But this is mostly not about me.
There are different reasons to assess a child.
First, to determine whether the child has mastered a group of concepts, information, etc., in order to move onto the next stage – or the next chapter.
Second, to evaluate whether you, the educator, have succeeded in conveying to said child the concepts, information, etc.
Third, to (educare means to draw out, not to shove the brain full of facts, okay, that is not education, man, expand your horizons, okay) help the child recognize what he knows and how he can build upon said knowledge.
Fourth, to make sure we don’t get in trouble for passing the kid on to the next grade/sacrament/quiz round, because we need to make sure we at least taught the kid this much.
And then there’s the long-range goal of catechesis, which is: getting the kid to Heaven.
But no pressure!
Religious Education that “Sticks”
“Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me.”
– Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being
Whenever I get one of those Teaching Company catalogs, I dream of an alternate reality in which I learn ALL the things! There’s no limit to what I could know, if I just spent enough time watching DVDs! Then I wonder, “did I already learn all of this in college, but just forgot?” and despair.
It seems to me that the danger of assuming we’re doing a great job with religious ed. because the kids’ scores on the ACRE test were up three points from last year is that the kids might not remember any of the answers on the multiple-choice section six months from now. At the same time, without any sort of assessment, there lurks the spectre of FELT BANNERS, which have apparently become the go-to symbol for namby-pamby catechesis. (I’m kind of tempted to develop a super-rigorous theological curriculum based entirely on felt, just to redeem this humble fabric.)
It’s the biggest challenge for the Group 3 Kids – those who are only there for the bare minimum of classes in order to receive First Communion/Confirmation. They’re the most likely to do poorly on whatever assessment they’re given, because there’s no reinforcement at home of what we’re talking about in class. And their attendance is usually compulsory, due to the need to make sure they understand what the sacraments even are before they receive them. (Which is why one of the questions we’ve asked before in pre-First Communion interviews was “Is Jesus God?”)
So we make those kids come to classes, so as to be sure they’re as prepared as possible to receive the Sacrament. But if they do poorly on the quizzes, then we…
That’s all the time we have for now! Tune in next time when we collaboratively figure out the answer to that question!
Changing the Paradigm of Inside-the-Box Thinking re: Assessment-Based Measurement of Catechetical Learners
It is possible to teach children about Jesus in such a way that they actually grow in faith, and to assess how well you have done so without the assessment getting in the way of the teaching. I truly believe this. Whether I succeed at doing so – well, my mom had this friend who wanted her headstone to read “SHE MEANT WELL” and that’s about what I aim for.
I think you can do this and still have review games and the occasional quiz. The key is to approach catechesis as (gulp) relationship, maybe? And I might have some ideas about how to do that, I think? And a vague intention of writing more about this? Because Jennifer says we all have to post every day this week and last time I only made it through one post before I dropped out.