Roman Catholic Education
Where Is It?
by Kathleen Hickey
used with permission
For My Family: Dan, Erin, Andrew, and Colleen, Karl and Anna Marie, Clair and Lois
Special Thanks To:
The Holy Spirit who gave me the courage and the words.
Trish and Michael for making it possible for this to reach so many people.
Michelle for helping me find my focus.
All who gave me support, encouragement and their prayers over the past year.
The first purpose of this paper is to inform parents about the present condition of the Roman Catholic Education System in Ontario. The second purpose is to educate parents in order that they may evaluate the performance of the "Educational Professionals", who have taken a position of authority, within this Roman Catholic System. Any reference to Catholicism in the following pages is Roman Catholicism. The question that needs to be answered is, if our present educational system is Roman Catholic?
God has been generous enough to give my husband and I three precious gifts; Erin, Andrew and Colleen. The youngest, Colleen, is a "special needs" child. It was her entry into the school system that began our journey to the truth. We encountered a long and discouraging string of broken and empty promises, a cavalier attitude about the special needs of our child, and an apparent rift between the Board and school when it came to implementing programs.
The above situation just begins to shed light on the flaws in our Educational System. I decided to take a closer look at other areas, namely Religious Programs, to see if they also were merely an illusion created by members of our Board in the Office of Religious Education. We would like to share this journey with others in hopes that more people will become aware of what is really happening in our Catholic School System. A system that is ignoring the real needs of children and is no longer God-centered and child-focused.
The first program I suggest all parents take a closer look at is the "Fully Alive" Religion Program that is sponsored by the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops. There is very explicit sexual material contained in this Family Life Program. This information violates the guidelines of The Pontifical Council for the Family published in The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (1995).
'parents should also be attentive to ways in which sexual instruction can be inserted in the context of other subjects which are otherwise useful(for example, health and hygiene, personal development, family life(my emphasis),children's literature, social and cultural studies etc.). This method of inclusion is used in particular by those who promote sex instruction within the perspective of birth control or in countries where the government does not respect the rights of parents in this field.'
The "Fully Alive" Program begins in Grade One and by Grade Four children are learning about sexual intercourse. This fact and, the above quotation, led my husband and I to remove our children from the entire program. A letter was written to the Chairperson of the Board outlining our intentions. The Principal of the school was not supportive of this decision. He said he would not give permission for my husband and I to remove our children from the whole program and the Board would also deny this. A short time later we received a response to our letter from the Director of Education(Appendix 5).
'I acknowledge receipt of your request to provide Catholic Family Life Education within the context of your own family exclusively.'
Since our family is a Catholic Family we thought this would be the best place for our children to learn about this subject. The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (1995) document is also in support of this - -the family "is in fact the best environment to accomplish the obligation of securing a gradual education in sexual life." In fact there are those that feel the classroom is not the place where this type of education should take place. David Elkind states in his book The Hurried Child that:
'sex education is impossible in the classroom, it is a continuous process and begins the moment you are born. How you feel about sex comes from watching how your parents live together, how they enjoy each other's company, the respect they have for each other. Not from what they do in bed together.'
So we feel quite confident that the decision to withdraw our children from "Fully Alive" is a positive one.
If Sex Education begins from the moment of birth and is greatly influenced by the family environment, then each child in that classroom would be at a different level of understanding concerning this delicate subject. The classroom Teacher is not in a position to deal with this diversity when given a structured program such as the one mentioned.
'Each child is a unique and unrepeatable person and must receive individualized formation. Since parents know, understand and love each of their children in their uniqueness, they are in the best position to decide what the appropriate time is for providing a variety of information, according to their children's physical and spiritual growth.'
The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (1995) also states that
'each child's process of maturation as a person is different . Therefore, the most intimate aspects, whether biological or emotional, should be communicated in a personalized dialogue.'
At this time it would be appropriate to look at some of the stages of development that all human beings pass through. Children pass through these stages at different ages but they move through them in the same order. Erik Erikson, a Psychoanalyst and former Professor of Developmental Psychology at Harvard, made a major contribution to Psychology with his Eight Stages of Man. Erikson's Fourth Stage of Development is Industry vs. Inferiority. This is generally from the ages of 6 to 11. In this stage children are laying the foundation for future confidence. The child is learning to play by the rules and is able to play games where there is turn taking.
Freud(a well known Psychoanalyst) called this stage the Latency Period. He feels it covers the ages of 5 to 12. This is the "childhood period" that Educators seem so eager to take away from our children. It is "a breathing space that prepares them to give and receive adult love". A Manhattan Psychoanalyst, Dr. Peter Blos, feels that this period of childhood should be lengthened and not abbreviated.
If we turn back to Catholic Schools and look at Documents from Rome, we can see that the guidelines also take into account stages of development. The Pontifical Council For The Family outlines the Holy Father's "Years of Innocence", which correspond to Erikson's and Freud's stages mentioned above;
'from about 5 years of age until puberty -- the beginnings of which can be set at the first signs of changes in the boy's or girl's body. This period of tranquility and serenity must never be disturbed by unnecessary information about sex.'
At this stage in the "Fully Alive" Program, there is an abundance of sexual information given to our children. At the age our children learn about sexual intercourse most of them show no interest in the opposite sex. More information from The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality that corresponds to this stage of development follows:
'children are still not capable of fully understanding the value of the affective dimension of sexuality'
'they cannot understand and control sexual imagery within the proper context of moral principles and, for this reason, they cannot integrate premature sexual information with moral responsibility.'
Erikson's next stage of development is Identity vs. Role Confusion and covers the years from 12 to 18. This is a time when children begin to look around them at the outside world and see it in new ways. They "can now think about other people's thinking and wonder about what other people think of them". This is why it is so important that the previous stage not be a time of confusion and instead used to build self-confidence.
Jean Piaget's (a Swiss Psychologist) stage of Formal Operations begins at about 11 or 12 years of age and continues into adulthood. It is not until this time that a child can begin "to deduce consequences from a variety of alternative hypothesis; the child can assimilate and combine information from a variety of sources". At the beginning of this stage, that is 12 and 13 years old, the "Fully Alive" Program is talking about sexually transmitted diseases and birth control, among other topics. This would be psychologically overwhelming based on these stages of development.
This stage, from the age of 12 to young adulthood is also addressed by the Holy Father. Even when a child reaches puberty it is "not necessary to give detailed explanations about sexual union". The "Fully Alive" Program clearly violates the guidelines from Rome that state --
'only information proportionate to each phase of their individual development should be presented to children and young people.'
It is only by respecting these developmental stages that we can help young people reach "adolescence with a vital sense of trust, autonomy, initiative and industry". If unnecessary information is given during the "Years of Innocence" the Holy Father feels that this "tends to shatter their emotional and educational development and to disturb the natural serenity of this period of life". Dr. Levine feels if these stages of development are interfered with "by presenting premature sexualization, the result can only be confusion, anxiety and stunted emotional growth".
If Catholic Schools used the earlier stage of development, from about age 6 to 12, to teach Catechism and show children how God wants us to live through Bible Study -- maybe children would learn how to look at the issues of the 90's through the eyes of faithful Catholics. The 90's seem to be a time of violence, abuses, and increasing sexual promiscuity. A time where the line between childhood and adulthood has become blurred. Real Religion classes like these would give children a strong moral foundation and they would then have the confidence necessary to separate themselves from the 90's mentality. Instead Educators have allowed the 90's to invade the classroom, therefore missing the opportunity to have these children go out and impact the 90's. The type of Catechism, in our Catholic Schools of the 90's, is a distorted one.
'Catechesis would also be distorted if the inseparable links between religion and morality were to be used as a pretext for introducing into religious instruction the biological and affective sexual information which the parents should give according to their prudent decision in their own home.'
This fascination with preparing our children for the 90's is the major argument for early Sex Education. Educators feel that children are already exposed to it so they should correct misinformation. According to Jean Piaget children relate and modify new information into their "existing schemata" and this process is called assimilation. When Child Therapist, Bruno Bettelheim, was asked if sexual information cleared up a child's distorted ideas about sexuality -- he replied --
'No, because correct information about sex does not do away with incorrect information. That's a prejudice. New information is just grafted onto the misinformation and leads to greater confusion.'
This is Piaget's assimilation in action.
Another argument is that children mature so much earlier these days. Girls especially seem to develop physically at an earlier time. Dr. Saul Levine, a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, states that
'the preteen girl, who thanks to better nutrition in 1982, matures early physically, is emotionally just as immature as girls were in 1882. But she is surrounded by incitements to adult sexual behaviour.'
Is "Fully Alive" choosing to be one of these incitements rather than protecting the psychological development of youngsters?
It appears that Educators are taking all the anxieties adults have about the 90's and inflicting them on children. Neil Postman in his book The Disappearance of Childhood warns that "if we turn over to children a vast store of powerful adult material, childhood cannot survive".
'By definition adulthood means mysteries solved and secrets uncovered. If from the start the children know the mysteries and the secrets, how shall we tell them apart from anyone else?'
David Elkind in his book The Hurried Child supports the idea that it is because of adult anxieties and concerns and, not those of children that:
'many young people are exposed to programs and information that reflect adult anxieties about teenage sexuality much more than the very real concerns and anxieties experienced by the young people to whom the programs are directed.'
An editorial in our local paper also stressed that such programs are not what teenagers need. The student, from the Public Board, who wrote the editorial appears to have more insight and intelligence than anyone who is preparing these programs and allowing them into our schools. Programs such as "Fully Alive" which give Sex Education at young ages:
'and without clear cut theoretical or research justification are another way in which some contemporary schools are encouraging their pupils to grow up fast.'
One more argument for early Sex Education is that it will decrease teen pregnancy and the spread of disease. Programs in the system now do not appear to be so much about prevention(abstinence might work), but about sexual adjustment. Programs that:
'aim to help young people feel more comfortable in expressing the many facets of their sexuality, to be sensitive to the needs of their partners and to enjoy their sexuality as a normal and healthy part of their lives . . . because of this emphasis upon sexual adjustment the new programs sometimes seem to be condoning, if not advocating, teenage sexuality.'
These Sex Education Programs are backfiring. Educators are providing information too early that does not coincide with the stages of development. If we force adult anxieties onto children "in every way...they will emulate adult activity". Dr. Saul Levine conducted interviews of precociously experienced youngsters and found that sexual activity was not due to ecstasy or desire but was seen more as an accomplishment. Much like doing well in Math or Science.
"Fully Alive" is taught in mixed company. Many Educators feel this is better because it makes children more comfortable about their sexuality and teaches them to respect the opposite sex. That is an adult talking, not a young child. It is time to think of Sex Education from the viewpoint of the child -- the population that the programs are intended for. Would these same Educators have been comfortable in mixed classes learning about sexual intercourse in Grade Four? Michael Jacques, a concerned parent, in his article Opting Out of Sex Education Classes states that
'teaching sex education in mixed company has a strong tendency to break down the children's natural modesty. This in turn has a strong tendency to contribute to sexual experimentation among our youth.'
Is modesty in Catholic Schools a negative quality in the 90's?
So, what are the present Sex Education Programs leading to? Teenage sex and pregnancy. It was recently announced on the news that they are on the increase (Editor's Note: But the young people seem to be smart enough to learn to ignore the adults, see Vindications. It's still a tragedy.) Educators have successfully prepared our children to participate in the culture of the 90's. Could we all not work together and prepare them for something better? Teach them the Roman Catholic Faith and have them create a new culture instead of participating in the present culture. The objectives of programs like "Fully Alive" are not being met. Neil Postman thinks "educators have become confused about what they ought to be doing with children in school". It is time to rethink the "Fully Alive" Program.
Armed with this information, I decided to contact the source of "Fully Alive". I phoned the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, where I was assured that this program was approved and followed all guidelines set out by Rome. I have already written in this paper a number of contradictions to this statement. I was informed that they would send me a letter from Cardinal Laghi in Rome giving full approval to the "Fully Alive" Program.
While I anxiously awaited this letter a new program -- AIDS: A Catholic Approach to HIV -- was brought to my attention. After reading some of the lessons for this program I decided to find out if it was coming to our School Board. I contacted the Chairperson of the Board by phone to see if he could answer this question. He said he had not heard of the program and had no idea if it was coming. I also asked him if he was aware of the content of the "Fully Alive" Program. He informed me that he had heard of the program but was not aware of the content. This surprised me because my husband and I had written to him three months ago to withdraw our children from the program. I assumed, if he was not aware at that point he would have made himself aware after hearing that parents found it necessary to remove their children from the program. He admitted that the focus of the Board seems to be money matters. I think maybe it is time the focus became the children. The Chairperson informed me that a Family Life Committee meets to go over these programs. Now we have a new program, that is much worse than "Fully Alive" in terms of violating the teachings of the Catholic Church, and the Chairperson is not aware of its existence.
After this conversation I decided to speak to the Board Office and was directed to a Religious Educational Consultant at the Office of Religious Education. Yes, this new program is on the Books for our Board in the 1998/99 school year. She feels that "Fully Alive" and "AIDS: A Catholic Approach to HIV" follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Consultant thinks "Fully Alive" and the "AIDS" program are wonderful. They are both approved by the Ontario Bishops and she informed me that our own Bishop Doyle is the Chairperson of the Education Commission. Other parents are not expressing concerns about these programs and she was surprised to hear my concerns. She let me know that there would be parent meetings when the new "AIDS" Program was being implemented. When asked repeatedly if these meetings would be an opportunity for parents to voice their objections and prevent the program from entering the school system, she finally said -- NO. These meetings are merely to inform parents about what their children will be learning. The program will already be being implemented by the school. She assured me that it had been very closely looked at by a Committee and the Bishops as well as the Board. If the Board feels a program is good for the students then it is implemented.
I let her know that the Chairperson of the Board was not aware of the content of "Fully Alive" nor was he aware of the new "AIDS" Program. She said this was not true, she spends her career informing them about such controversial material(controversy implies that people do have concerns about these programs). If it is so controversial why don't parents hear about it until it is too late? Her reason was that it would be impossible to inform everyone. I find this hard to believe in this information age. I also let the Consultant know that I was waiting for a call from the Editor-in-Chief of "Fully Alive". She claimed she was a wonderful person who thought these programs were fine.
While I was still waiting for the Cardinal Laghi letter to arrive, I received my call from the Editor-in-Chief. Since the "AIDS" Program was so fresh in my mind this was discussed first. She informed me that she was not a "fan" of this program. The new program comes from The Institute For Catholic Education. The Editor feels "Fully Alive" does follow the teaching of the Catholic Church and has the full support of the Ontario Bishops. I mentioned my concern about Sexual Intercourse being taught to a Grade 3/4 class and she responded that this was not allowed. I informed her that it had indeed been done at my children's school. The Editor stated that under no circumstances is the Grade Four program to be taught to Grade Threes. She mentioned a document from Rome entitled Educational Guidelines in Human Love. "Fully Alive" follows these guidelines. I could not comment because I had not seen the document but I did bring up The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality. This Editor did an analysis of this document for the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops to decide its status. It was decided this was an advisory document only and it did not have the authority of the document Educational Guidelines in Human Love. Was this because this new document was written to parents in response to their concerns about programs like "Fully Alive"? Can one conclude then that the Editor feels parents have no authority? I was informed that Educational Guidelines in Human Love and the letter from Cardinal Laghi would prove to me that "Fully Alive" is approved.
The day after this conversation, a package arrived from the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops. The document with the guidelines was included. Here are three quotations:
'The Holy Father immediately goes on to speak of the school which is responsible for this education in service and in harmony with the parents. Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must also be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in education centres chosen and controlled by them. In this regard, the Church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education, by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents.'
This quote can also be found in The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality:
'It being understood from what has been said on the primary duty of the family, the role of the school should be that of assisting and completing the work of parents, furnishing children and adolescents with an evaluation of sexuality as value and task of the whole person, created male and female in the image of God.'
This information can also be found in The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.
'From these reflections one can conclude that in the actual socio-cultural situation there is urgent need to give positive and gradual affective-sex education to children, adolescents and young adults, paying attention to the dispositions of Vatican Council II.'
Have the Educators taken this quotation as permission to bring into the school system these Sex Education Programs? They have done this with total disregard to the portions of the document that state the rights of parents and their role in sex education. They have reversed their roles with ours.
Let us now look at things chronologically before we go into the rights of parents. The first document that was written to Educators in 1983 is Educational Guidelines in Human Love. From this document came the Sex Education Programs that are in the schools today. Concerned parents wrote to Rome regarding these programs. In response to this, Rome sent out The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality in 1995. The problem for Educators seems to be that this document was directed at parents. The letter from Cardinal Laghi, that the Ontario Bishops feel proves their program is wonderful, was written in 1997(Appendix 8). This letter contrary to being proof just raises more questions for parents. Firstly, instead of mentioning "Fully Alive" and endorsing it, it states --
'asking them to draw attention of the Bishops of their respective countries to the current anxiety with regard to sex education in Catholic Schools and solicit their cooperation in correcting those situations in which such anxiety might prove to be justified.'
'in some cases a suitable approach to sex education has not been adopted, nor has due attention been paid to the obligation of subsidiarity where parents concerned.'
'from the point of view of doctrine and methodology, an examination of texts, teaching aids and questionnaires intended for the pupils, has revealed that they are not always faithful to the teachings of the Church and not always suited to the age of the pupils.'
In no sentence did it say "Fully Alive" was examined and had the seal of approval from Rome. The first paragraph of page three is very important. The new "AIDS" Program definitely has not observed the law of subsidiarity. Interestingly, Cardinal Laghi states that he is
'more than ever convinced of the validity of the principles set forth in Educational Guidelines of Human Love, principles that have been repeated and further developed in The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, the recent document of the Pontifical Council.'
It is confusing that they would send as proof a letter that states they must follow the guidelines in The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality when the Editor told me this document has no real authority. Now having read both documents I see that the second is in fact merely an extension of the first, as stated in the letter. In the more recent document the guidelines are more specific. Is this due to the liberties Educators took after the first document was published in 1983?
Over and over again I hear that we need such programs because of the 90's but Cardinal Laghi is very specific on this issue.
'Those responsible for sex education in Catholic Schools must not surrender to the temptation to conform to the permissive mentality which is prevalent today. On the contrary they must strive to follow faithfully the Church's teaching on sexuality...'
I find it interesting that what they call proof seems to confirm the fact that they are not within the guidelines. All the things the Holy Father is telling parents to guard against, our own school system has let into our Catholic Classrooms.
Is it possible then that the system has created its own 'reality' where these programs are allowed to exist? This is more dangerous than the programs themselves because it is this 'reality' that will permeate every aspect of the Curriculum and not Roman Catholic teachings and ideologies. In this climate more damage can be done. For example, a newsletter from our school mentioned that starting in September 1998, Kinark Child and Family Services will be coming to teach a Parenting Course. This is not a Catholic Organization, but one funded by the Provincial Government. A quick look in the Yellow Pages will find at least two Catholic Family Counselling Services.
I attended a meeting recently for Catholicity in Education. People seemed concerned with the Government and outside forces taking away our school system. It is time to focus inward and face the fact that the destruction of the Catholic School System is happening from within. All that is left is to hand it over to the Government. There will need to be no "taking".
Now I will make parents aware of some of their rights and duties. I encourage all parents to acquire a copy of the The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality. Here are some quotations from this document:
'the school, making itself available to carry out programmes of sex education has often done this by taking the place of the family'
'the Church has always affirmed that parents have the duty and the right to be the first and principal educators of their children'
'other educators can assist in this task, but they can only take the place of parents for serious reasons of physical or moral incapacity'
'all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization'
'based on the teaching of the Church and with her support, parents must reclaim their own task'
'by associating together, wherever this is necessary or useful, they should put into action an educational project marked by the true values of the person and Christian love and taking a clear position that surpasses ethical utilitarianism'
'this primary task of the family includes the parents' right that their children should not be obliged to attend courses in school on this subject which are not in harmony with their religious and moral convictions'
'parents have the right to be informed about the structure and content of the programme and to be present during classes'
This document also addresses Aids Education --
'another abuse occurs whenever sex education is given to children by teaching them all the intimate details of genital relationships... Today this is often motivated by wanting to provide education for "safe sex", above all in relation to the spread of AIDs'
I am not totally opposed to some form of Sex Education in our schools. It must follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, be age appropriate so as not to interfere with the stages of child development, and be approved by parents. I find the inclusion of Sex Education in Family Life Programs unacceptable. Unless they call it "Fully Alive" a Family Life and Sex Education Program and revise it to make it age appropriate and to follow the Church's teachings -- I would like to see it removed from our schools. I hope there is time to make sure the new AIDS Program never makes it into a Catholic Classroom.
I am also concerned that we want our children to grow up so quickly. Pius XII
'described a truly effective sex education as one that is always implicit in nature and teaches children only what they need to know for their personal conduct and relationships.'
Dr. Peter Blos says it very nicely --
'the most important step is bringing up boys and girls to see themselves as human beings -- not, for instance, as future daddies and mommies or pursuer and pursued.'
Why then does Sex Education in schools start in Grade One?
After all this time questioning and researching, I am sad to admit that even within the Catholic School System the truth about Sex Education still remains elusive. My husband and I, like Michael Jacques, "were completely ignorant and trusting of the educational system". This grave error in judgement will not be repeated. I hope that upon receiving this paper in Rome, Cardinal Laghi will finally put my concerns to rest one way or another.
In conclusion this paper has informed parents about the condition of the Roman Catholic Education System. This was done by showing them many contradictions between the documents from Rome and the programs that are in our schools today. It was also shown through personal conversations with Educators regarding Special Education and Religious Programming. It is hoped that this paper also helped to educate parents in terms of their children's phases or stages of development. If this goal has been met, then parents will gain confidence and realize the people with authority in the system have abused their power by interfering with these stages of development. They will have done this knowing the detrimental effect it can have on our children. These Educators have also ignored the authority of parents. In answer to the question -- Roman Catholic Education -- Where Is It? Roman Catholic Education is still going strong in Private Schools and Home Schools. It seems to be evident that our Separate School System is no longer Roman Catholic.
Anyone who accepted a position of authority within the educational system is responsible for the present state of Catholic Education. It has been shown that the following people and organizations have violated the rights of children and of parents:
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops
Chairman of the Education Commission
Institute For Catholic Education
Editor-in-Chief of the "Fully Alive" Program
Trustees of the Roman Catholic Separate School Board
Directors of Education
Religious Educational Consultants
Ministry of Education
Where do we go from here? Parents everywhere should make sure the people in authority take the time to hear their voices. Parents are the "Professionals" when it comes to their children. For the sake of these children, it is time to revive our Roman Catholic faith and get it back into our school system.
There are two important things to remember. First, this paper can cause no more damage. What is written in these pages already exists -- the damage is done. Second, on its own it cannot renew the system. But together, with God as our center and children as our focus, maybe we all can make this renewal happen.
(Editor's Note: This paper came with an extensive list of footnotes and appendixes. Anyone wishing to further research this question can contact us and I will gladly send you the rest of the supplementary material that Mrs. Hickey compiled.)
Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality : Guidelines for Education Within the Family by Pontifical Council for the Family Staff is available here at Domestic Church.Com. It is also available in paperback at Amazon.com.
Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality : Guidelines for Education Within the Family
by Pontifical Council for the Family Staff
Paperback (February 1996) $4.95 at Amazon.com
Availability: This title is currently (September 1998) on back order.
United States Catholic Conference; ISBN: 157455090X