Alarm Bells

Let me set up some background.  Due to some bending of the rules so that DD#1 could get baptized without having already attended a year of RE (a requirement for those six and up in our parish), our daughter met a few weeks ago with the RCIA director (my husband’s confirmation sponsor) for a short assessment.  She was really impressed with our daughter’s understanding of certain things and felt that our daughter would be ready to receive her First Holy Communion next spring.  To be honest, our daughter cares more about receiving communion than getting baptized.  Transubstantiation makes more sense to her than Original Sin, which just seems so unfair in her eyes.

While we were waiting outside of the meeting (at our daughter’s insistence), we met the director of the Religious Education program of our parish.  For the non-Catholics out there, Religious Education (also known as CCD–Continued Catholic Development) is a weekly religion class for children who do not attend Catholic schools.  She gave us the form to sign our oldest daughter up for RE classes next year.  Then we started talking about what curriculum they use in their classes and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they use the Faith and Life series, which has the orthodox Catholic stamp of a approval.

We had assumed that we would put DD#1 in the first grade class next year, since she would be in first grade next year if she attended regular school.  After talking with the RCIA and RE directors it was suggested that maybe she should go into the second grade class since she already knows more about the faith than most of the students coming in.  (This is especially sad considering that even though we had discussed a few Bible stories in the past we really just started teaching our daughter about the faith about nine months ago, and I’ve documented before some of the struggles we had.)  The RE director gave me the first grade and second grade placement tests as well as copies of the first and second grade text and workbooks, which was very generous of her.  We also discussed the reading/writing level expected at these grade levels.

As soon as we got home, our daughter wanted to take the placement tests.  For some silly reason I started with the first grade test.  The first part was fill in the blank.  Do you know how hard it is to administer a fill-in-the-blank test to someone at a kindergarten reading level?  If she could read it herself she would have found it exceptionally easy since each blank was preceded by the first letter of the term the test was looking for, which they apparently tell other prospective students.  Which kind of tells me that they are not really gauging the child’s knowledge but their ability to match letters.  I decided to just ask my daughter everything in question form.  This quickly fell apart at number one.

I asked:  who are the three persons of the Trinity?  She quickly replies:  God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Which is obviously correct, except the blanks are looking for God the “Father”, God the “Son”, and God the “Holy Spirit”.  Now keep in mind that I’m trying to be a professional test administrator and not give any hint by word or reaction as to what the correct answers are.  However, I did have to reassess my method so that she would have a better chance of giving the answer that the test was looking for.

After the fill-in-the-blank were a few true/false questions (in which every answer was True).  Then we got to the bonus question:  Where is the Eucharist kept in the Church?  I could see my daughter’s brain straining as tried to think of the correct word.  When it wouldn’t come to her, I asked her to describe what she was thinking of.  She said “a big gold cup with a lid on it”.  Now here’s the thing.  The test was looking for the term “tabernacle”.  When I said that, her face lit up making it obvious that was term she was trying to remember.  However, she was confused about to what the term referred.  She was actually picturing the ciborium in her mind, and “ciborium” is also a correct answer to the bonus question because the Eucharist is kept in a ciborium which is placed in the tabernacle.

We moved on to the second-grade placement test which was almost identical to the first-grade placement test down to the bonus question.  It maybe had two or three extra concepts.  There were only two concepts that my daughter was unfamiliar with or confused about between the two tests.  Then I started looking through the two text books and workbooks and seeing where they differed in content.  They were really extremely similar except for the second grade one did include the sacraments.  I definitely feel that my daughter would probably do better in the second grade class.

However, I have to admit that the whole process gave me reservations about putting her in RE classes at all.  First of all, while Faith and Life seems good from an orthodoxy perspective, from an educational perspective it seems really repetitive from year to year.  It’s supposed to be a spiral program but it seems like a tightly wound coil.  I can see my daughter getting very tired of repeating the same material over and over.  (She already gets annoyed about hearing readings at Church that she already knows the story of.)  Secondly, I worry about the narrowness of the activities and assessments.  Will the RE teachers allow for more than one correct answer?  And if my daughter finds the classes boring and tedious will this turn her off the faith completely?  Basically, some of my reasons for not sending my children to school in the first place have started setting off alarm bells in my brain when it comes to RE classes.

Catechesis was not the only reason we decided to send her to RE classes next year.   We also thought it would be a good opportunity for her and us to meet other people in the parish.  I had even considered teaching RE classes in a year or two (and not just because of the money it would save us).  So, we’ll probably go ahead and send her for the first year and then take it year by year after that.  I plan to be completely involved with my daughter’s religious education whether she is in parish classes or not.  After all, I hope that religion is something that my children live and not just something to which they belong or study in a class.  That’s pretty similar to my educational philosophy in general.

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One Comment on “Alarm Bells”

  1. LeeAnn Says:

    First, I am astounded and amazed that a parish program has a placement test! What a concept. Here, I guess we just have social advancement. 😛 Whether your parents have never taken you to Mass since you were baptized or if you are a regular parishioner, if you are 7, you get to join the First Communion class. Wish I had the wisdom to figure out the best way to deal with that! But Pope Benedict did say to “fan even the smallest flames.” So hopefully that covers it.

    Second, I think your opinion on F&L is interesting. I never realized that until this year–our 3rd year using Faith and Life at home–that it IS awfully repetitive. I am thinking of perhaps changing things up for my 6th and 4th graders next year.

    Over on the 4real forums, I have this idea of alternating Image of God and Faith and Life for the Grade 1-2 kids. But the IOG books for the older kids I don’t like as well. Very VERY wordy I thought. However, maybe I should look at them again for the sake of variety.

    I enjoyed your Harry Potter predictions too! 🙂 My 11yo is re-reading them for maybe the fifth time now. Once was enough for me–though I look forward to the next movie.

    God bless!


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