I recently received a critique of Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America, from a Cistercian who teaches at a Catholic high school run by his religious community. Actually, I didn't receive the critique directly, rather, I received it second-hand from someone who had given a copy to the monk. The response to the book was quite remarkable.
The Cistercian Critique:
I did get to look at Designed to Fail for a little bit last night before bed. I liked a lot of the points and the style was lively and engaging. I think he's right about the neglected importance of adult catechesis and the importance of its "trickle-down" effects in the family, and I also feel deeply that he is correct that the "ecclesia domestica" cannot rebuilt so long as anti-child sins are not preached against -- or as long as integral family values are not preached for, more importantly -- in the Church. It's also true that parochial schools often trade-off with the resources that could be spent on adult faith-formation (although I suspect that's not the real reason why contemporary adult catechesis is so weak .).
[Editor's Note: I didn't formally respond to this paragraph in my reply below, but I found it interesting that he essentially denies Catholic schools are causing any problems in the Catholic community.]
Still, alongside the basic distaste for the importance of professional assistance/ guidance that Catholic schools can provide, I ultimately take exception to the apparent assumptions that all real Catholic parents can and should homeschool, and that all good lay Catholics should be attending didactic faith-formation classes at their parish. Maybe I'm misreading the tone, but if that's the big idea, I'm not sure I can buy into it.
As you would expect, I also don't really appreciate the implication that teaching children in schools is a misguided ministry. Although I am confident Steve would say different things about Cistercian than about most Catholic schools, the ideas that most families are equipped to homeschool, that well-raised Catholic children can reliably remain Catholic in (note I didn't say "endure") the current public school system, and that the "ex opere operato" grace of matrimony makes most parents sufficient (note I didn't say "basic" or "fundamental") catechists of their children -- these ideas I think are dicey.
The "subsidium" provided by priests, religious, and the greater lay community must be very substantial indeed in many or most cases. Professional theologians and catechists are often needed, as are professional Christian educators in secular subjects, if our children are to really go beyond the anti-modernist ghetto and become robust lay disciples in service of Church and society.
I also wonder if the idea of abruptly switching parish efforts from child-formation to adult-formation would result in grave frictions; for example, the teacher-mothers who are so comptently (or at least potentially competently, given adquate guidance themselves) able to nurture and catechize children would have to be replaced by an entire class of professional and full-time catechists (mostly male, I intuit) who would have to be the primary income-earners of households, thus inevitably promoting a dangerous kind of careerism and cutthroatness around things most sacred.
These are just my brainstorms on the topic; whether they really apply to Steve's view or not, I can't yet tell. It has certainly been a stimulating and thought-provoking book, and I look forward to delving into it again another time. My impression is that, for all of the distaste I have for bombastic Catholic lit that identifies the one "real problem" in the Church today, this book has some very important, provocative, and worthwile insights.
* On further reflection, I thought it might not hurt to explicitly mention that my concern about a full-on class of professional lay catechists has no relevance to the kind of work for parishes that people like you and Steve do now. You are of course welcome to share my thoughts with Steve; I hope he finds them helpful. (You can also paste in the second paragraph above, *if* you wish.) Like I said, I think he's on to something important, and if you think that could help him refine it, so much the better. And also I again emphasize that I didn't catch the whole context, and it's clear that he's done some important factual research. As far as further interaction about my comments, I'm open to that if he wants, because it is a topic of import to me, but maybe we can just leave that as an open question based on his wishes and my energy level! In Christ, Brother XXX
[Editor's Note: I did not respond to this paragraph in my reply either, but it is also interesting.
He is fine with having Directors of Religious Education or Adult Formation at the parish level, yet how is this not a "full-on class of professional lay catechists"? Why would his remarks NOT be relevant to work in parishes? Are parish workers immune from careerism or the need to be paid a living wage? These remarks are quite curious. In any case, my response is below.]
Thanks for sending me the interesting critique. I've noticed that the book seems to be a Rohrschach test in which different people "see" different sections of the text and fail to see other sections. As a result, it has been quite interesting to read reviews.
In the book, I explicitly point out that: 1) homeschooling is not for everyone and 2) the sacrament of matrimony does not provide the graces necessary to homeschool in every subject (rather, it provides only the graces necessary to do sacramental prep).
It seems to me quite obvious that having the grace (the power) to do a task is not identical to having the knowledge necessary to do the task. I don't have a copy of the book at my elbow, but if I recall correctly, I do have a section on the difference between grace and knowledge in the book itself. I know I certainly emphasize this every time I teach adults about sacraments.
Indeed, I believe I quote at least one papal document concerning the fact that the family is incomplete in itself in order to demonstrate to the more rabid members of the homeschool crowd that Rome does not believe homeschooling in all subjects is the answer.
Likewise, the Magisterium is quite clear on the importance of Catholic schools - my point is that very few of the parochial schools, high schools or "Catholic" higher education in the United States today actually conform to Rome's description of what constitutes a Catholic school.
In short, I agree that Catholic schools are necessary, I simply don't believe we have any (or at least, not many) in the United States.
Furthermore, I never say well-raised Catholic children can reliably remain Catholic in public schools, instead, I point out that there is little functional difference between the current Catholic school system and the public school system - rather a different emphasis. Again, if I recall correctly, I point out that public schools will crucify well-catechized Catholics. It is well-known that not every Catholic responds well to the opportunity for martyrdom.
The idea that all good lay adult Catholics should be attending didactic faith-formation classes at their parish is described in at least one Magisterial document and in the proceedings of the Council of Trent. One might argue that today's cultural circumstances call for different measures, but it's hard to see what else they would be. Thus, it is not clear why this idea is "dicey."
As for the transition to primary focus on adult formation causing grave frictions, it is not clear why that would be the case. Certainly the transition to a six-month preparation requirement in all dioceses for marriage prep went fairly smoothly, and it is not clear why this kind of transition need be any more stressful than that transition was.
Precisely because adults, especially parents, are more responsible individuals than are children, the actual investment in training personnel would be less, not more, than is currently required. As I point out in the book, if we rely on the well-catechized parents in the parish (i.e., the homeschooling parents) we have already gone a long way towards providing the necessary catechists. Even professional speakers in a year-long series would cost less than the grade school teachers.
Finally, if avoiding "careerism" and the need to pay a living wage to teachers are the objections to teaching adults (lest these attitudes grow up around things most sacred), then could not these charges be laid equally well at the door of every Catholic school in the country? Indeed, do I not lay these very charges at the door of every Catholic school? Is it not the case that the Catholic schools currently suffer from exactly the problem of careerism and the need to pay a living wage to people incapable of guarding things most sacred?
Put another way, do even the Cistercians refuse all moneys paid to the school, instead teaching without any recompense at all for their time? To the extent that any Cistercian accepts any recompense at all for his teaching, is this money, food or lodging not part of the "living wage" that comprises his ability to live in community? Is there no "careerism" among any in the community? Perhaps I am a cynic, but I do not believe religious vows strip away concupiscence, so I would find any answers in the negative in these areas rather hard to credit.
And why should the Church find the payment of "the living wage" a problem? Certainly Brother XXXX is not advocating the completely unworkable solution of staffing all Catholic schools with religious orders? The problems with doing this are laid out rather clearly in the book - it is a solution that has been tried and has been found wanting, at least in the United States.
So, while I appreciate the kind words he has to say about the importance of adult formation, I find his objections either seem to ignore passages in the work itself or seem to ignore the conditions in the Catholic schools.
The problem here revolves around enabling Catholic parents to do what they are ordained to do. If we consider Catholic parenting to be the foundational religious order of the Catholic Church, then this is the one order which cannot be allowed to fail. The Church can and has survived without Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, even without Cistercians, but She cannot survive, She has never lived life, without the order of Catholic parents.