Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Christian Education

Learning and formation occur through both immersion and repetition.

As a high school English teacher, I would use this approach to the various "language arts". Things like grammar, vocabulary, writing and reading comprehension were immersed in the context of our literary texts and students' own written work. Instead of having a separate vocabulary workbook, we used words from the stories we read as vocabulary words. Similarly, instead of performing grammar work in an isolated context, we would study grammatical constructs like semicolons in light of what we were reading or what students were writing. This integrated approach allowed students to see the interconnectedness of these concepts and skills. Their reading comprehension increased because they knew the meaning of complicated words. Their writing improved because they were able to get instruction on how to grammatically support their writing, instead of a fabricated and isolated sentence about Johnny throwing a ball. They saw that good readers re-read and that good writers re-write. They saw that their advancement in one of the language arts helped them advance in others. This, in turn, helped students to apply these concepts and skills across various contexts and even subjects.

They didn't just become better readers, or writers, or grammarians.

They became more effective communicators.
In his book, The Talent Code, author Daniel Coyle details the success of the Brazilian national soccer team. Coyle recounts the journey of Simon Clifford to Brazil in an attempt to discover the secret to the country's soccer success. Once there, Clifford uncovers the game futsal or futebol de salao - soccer in the room - and credits its fast pace, small yet heavy ball, and short-sided teams all as reasons that contribute to Brazil's dominance in soccer on the world's stage. This "deep practice" is immersive and repetitious. Players in futsal touch the ball more often than in traditional soccer - six times more per minute (Coyle, 27). Passing and ball handling, because of the size of both the field and the ball, become imperative skills in order to find success. These compressed characteristics of the game also demand improvisation; merely trapping, dribbling and kicking as you would on a broader field will result in more errors and turnovers. Instead, players must come up with tricks and tactics yet unseen in order to maintain control of the ball and the game.

In other words, futsal is soccer's baptism by fire. Immersion and repetition reign as king and queen.

The same is true of our spiritual life, too.

We can't just be faithful on Sundays or while at Mass or even just when it's convenient.

True faith cannot be compartmentalized; it naturally influences every aspect of our lives. In this way, the development of our faith will be most successful when it is integrated into all aspects of who we are.

Consider the following:

-You listen to music. Why not listen to Christian music? Some of it is really good:

-You read books. Why not read books about Christian themes? C.S. Lewis, GK Chesterton, any of the saints?!

-You listen to podcasts. Why not listen to podcasts about Christian topics? It just may be better than your Sunday homily:

-You watch TED Talks. Why not watch videos from Catholic speakers, too?

-You watch TV, but do you need to? Why not spend time with your wife, kids, parents, friends, in prayer? Really...

In other words, imagine the lift your spiritual life could receive if you started to integrate Christianity into all aspects of your life.

In the same way that your physical fitness would improve if you biked or walked to work, in the same way that your soccer or language arts skills would improve through immersion and repetition, our spiritual lives would receive an awakening if we started to allow faith to permeate all facets of our lives.

And as for Catholic schools, imagine if all parts of the school were infused with Christianity. The Congregation for Catholic Education states,
"Complete education necessarily includes a religious dimension. Religion is an effective contribution to the development of other aspects of a personality in the measure in which it is integrated into general education” (The Catholic School, #19).
The Congregation also declares,
"We need to think of Christian education as a movement or a growth process, directed toward an ideal goal which goes beyond the limitations of anything human. At the same time the process must be harmonious, so that Christian formation takes place within and in the course of human formation" (The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, #98).
Imagine discipline policies that focused on formation instead of punishment.

Imagine athletic teams that focused on sportsmanship, teamwork and development of skills instead of winning.

Imagine teachers who understood that their subject and their delivery of it created an atmosphere in which students became smarter, better, and holier.

Imagine Catholic schools that focused on the Eucharist and bringing students, teachers and families into deeper communion with Christ and each other.

Imagine a Catholic school that has, as the Congregation writes in The Catholic School, "the courage to follow all the consequences of its (the Catholic school's) uniqueness" (#66).

We wouldn't just have better soccer players, or better writers, or higher test scores, or more students.

We would have World-Changers.

We would have Christians.

Coyle, D. (2009). The Talent Code: Greatness isn't born. It's grown. Here's how. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.