Homeschooling High School Catechesis

Reprinted with permission from the blog DarwinCatholic

A friend dropped me a note suggesting a blog topic:

What’s your opinion of how a four-year high school religion course of study should be organized?

I went to public school and never received any catechesis as a child or teen, so I don’t have a mental model of how things should go. I went looking around at various homeschool curricula and at the religion coursework at different area Catholic schools, and discovered there’s quite a bit of diversity in the approaches.

This is the sort of question that I would have jumped at a lot more eagerly 5+ years ago. Having been homeschooled, and being a bit of a know-it-all type, I was pretty well assured of my ability to come up with comprehensive curriculum ideas back when our kids were young enough that theory didn’t have to meet reality. What I’ve run into as I get older is:

1) A general realization that I don’t know everything — perhaps formed to a great extent by knowing more than I did before.

2) That while MrsDarwin and I really enjoy working on high concept, we tend to bog down when it comes to producing the kind of detailed breakdown necessary to operationalize an educational high concept — especially for 4th and 5th graders like we have now: kids of an age to still need detailed direction, and a lot more than at the tender age when the curriculum really only seemed to need to consist of “teach them to read, teach them some basic arithmetic, and read lots of good stuff to them”. I think what formed a lot of the way I thought about “designing your own curriculum” was dealing with the high school “humanities program” which my parents put me through. Since I was high school age, the plan for the year consisted of a two page long reading list roughly broken into weeks. That kind of two page plan I enjoy working on. However, we’ve found ourselves repeatedly wrecked upon the rocks on not getting around to forming a weekly, much less daily plan, and with our kids being the age they are, that’s the kind of planning that’s actually necessary.

All of which is a long way of saying I don’t feel like the wise resource on homeschooling I once did. However, it’s a good question, and one that I opinionated on a bit when I was a homeschooled high schooler (who hated the parish religion education/confirmation program he had to go through) so I’ll take a shot at saying a few things and then turn things over to the hopefully greater experience and wisdom of our readers.

I had two sources of high school level religious education: the two year program in our parish leading up to confirmation at the end of my sophomore year in high school, and homeschooled religious instruction all four years.

The parish program was uniformly terrible in the way that one could really only expect from the 1990s in Los Angeles Archdiocese. Instruction was on Sundays and started off by attending the 10:30am “rock mass”. And hour-and-a-half classroom session then followed which was heavily focused on small group discussion to draw out from us “how we felt” about… well… that was never all that clear.

The reason I bring this up is basically to say: While I experienced parish religious education, it was virtually content-less. There was no book, and no program. And so I don’t really have a good way to compare that with what we did at home or with the sort of actual catechetical programs that exist these days.

The homeschool program that my parents laid out for me in high school in terms of catechesis was not necessarily hugely structured. In the Humanities Program I was slated to read a number of works from throughout Christian history, so there was additional material beyond what was strictly in the “religion” part of the program.

I was a fairly bookish and argumentative teen, so what we did was also slated towards my strengths and interests. The first year was structured around reading a catechism — this was before the Catechism of the Catholic Church was issued, so what we used was Pocket Catholic Catechism by Fr. John Hardon. These days, I think one would clearly use the CCC or perhaps more appropriately one of its variants such as the Youcat or the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. I used the latter when helping to teach RCIA back in Texas, and although I was initially hesitant about a “simplified” catechism for adults from the USCCB I was pretty impressed with it.

I also read the New Testament straight through, something I hadn’t done before.

The later years were more focused on apologetics books, something that I thrived on given my argumentative turn. I remember some of the titles (What Catholics Really Believe, Catholicism & Fundamentalism, etc.) but in a sense apologetics books tend to age faster than many other books on the Church. I think at this point one would want to sit down and assess clearly what would be a good collection of apologetics books to read.

I was also assigned a couple of books dealing specifically with morality, including one focused on sexual issues. This was before the popularizing craze around Theology of the Body, and the specific text we used as a textbook for teens from Ignatius Press which I can’t recall the name of and may well be out of print these days. It was good, but not earth shattering.

I found some of the things I read in the Humanities Program deeply formative to my religious understanding. The big ones were: Augustine’s Confessions, the Rule of St. Benedict and Dante’s Divine Comedy. The first two are very accessible, the latter is probably not something that would appeal to all teens.

The biggest area I feel like I don’t know how to fill in is some sort of formation in prayer and personal spirituality. My family certainly went to mass together, and we prayed together as well: morning offering, rosary, evening prayer from the Liturger of the Hours. And I’d read about prayer in the catechism and various other books. Somehow, though, I’ve always felt like there’s a lot to prayer that I just don’t “get”. I was reading Fr. Dubay’s Fire Within at one point, and I remember feeling like I was a blind person reading about color. It all sounded fascinating and entrancing, but not like something I could actually experience. I’m really not sure how one teaches prayer and spirituality, though, so I don’t have any particular recommendations beyond the obvious point of making sure to have a family prayer life, and one which is not strictly relegated to the level of the youngest members.

So to summarize, to the extent that I have recommendations on a high school homeschooling program for relgious instruction I would suggest:

– A catechism of appropriate level
– The New Testament
– Several books dealing with basic apologetics
– A good teen-level book on sexual morality
– Several classic works from great Christian writers (I’d primarily suggest Confessionsand Rule of St. Benedict for readability and applicability to the age level)

I’m not sure how helpful this is, so I appeal to readers to provide their own suggestions.

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March 22, 2013


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