At SCC, religious education across curriculum connects faith and reason
A retreat at St. Charles Catholic last year fostered trust in your neighbor.
Photo | COURTESY ST. CHARLES CATHOLIC
Ten years ago, the four members of the religion/campus ministry department of St. Charles Catholic High School – Connie Cambre, Jeff Montz, Lee Ann Kliebert and myself – sat together in the old library as we worked on a self-improvement plan for our accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
One proposal proved to be very significant – having the faculty include a religious-thinking question on every exam given at our school in order to help students anchor their Catholic identity in each subject. Those questions would become known as “Catholicity Questions.”
The basic idea was to ask students to use a reflection process to relate their faith to subjects outside of religion class. The school implemented the proposal the following year.
As the first-quarter exams approached for the 2002-03 school year, nothing had been done to move the action plan forward. Connie, who has a way of making us stay on task, lit the fire. At the faculty meeting leading up to the exams, I presented the directions for teachers to include a Catholicity Question on their upcoming exams.
Some initial resistance
Let’s just say that met with mixed reviews. Most teachers seemed willing to comply, but some were outdone with being given a responsibility they interpreted as outside their expertise. After listening to the feedback, I saw that those with strong objections – and even those who seemed compliant – had a misunderstanding of what was being asked. Their discomfort seemed reasonable because this was completely new, something outside the culture of the subjects (math, science, social studies and language arts) that had been shaped by the secularism of the past 400 years.
It was clear we needed to give more direction. Exams were fast approaching. Over a weekend, I came up with a battery of 15 to 20 model questions for each of the seven departments, not including religion, which already was covered.
When teachers reviewed the model questions, it was as though light bulbs started going off. All the objections and misunderstandings quickly faded away. Teachers were able to plug in their first-quarter curriculum into the Catholicity Questions, and it all went off without a hitch.
To our surprise, Fox 8 News got wind of the innovative application of faith across the curriculum and showed up to do a story. Rob Mason dropped in on Kathleen Deroche’s geometry class and asked students how they would relate geometry to their faith. The students gave great answers, and it was wonderful seeing a new idea featured on the nightly news.
A boost from OSV
A good motivation to develop the program further has been my association with Our Sunday Visitor’s curriculum division. I attended the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) Convention in 2006 and brought along the Catholicity Questions, and we have been working on a possible book involving religious education across the curriculum.
At the 2012 NCEA convention in Boston, my workshop on religion across the curriculum attracted teachers and principals who are very interested in strengthening the Catholic identity of their schools.
This summer I consulted with Dr. Kathleen O’Gorman of the Loyola Institute for Ministry on an online course that she designed and implemented called Religious Education Across the Curriculum. We included audio interviews with six teachers from St. Charles Catholic about how easy it has been to implement. Our language arts teacher commented that writing in general helps students create and discover things about themselves, which is something we try to do in religion class. Our chemistry teacher explained how everything is so connected – as a unifying principle, God is making clear that all things are part of the same sacred creation.
Adding to the ‘recipe’
How can teachers outside the religion department bring religious education into their curriculum without taking away the rigor of their own subject matter? Fortunately, it’s not about asking teachers to add the teaching of religion to their already crowded curriculum. It’s about inviting teachers to use religious reflection to teach the curriculum they are already responsible for.
Teachers outside the religion department may not have the depth of knowledge of the faith that religion teachers may have, but religious reflection is a natural gift that can be used to apply to any subject. Using a cooking analogy, it is more like adding Catholic seasoning to the dish that teachers already serve. It is a new recipe, not a new dish.
The recipe comes from our Catholic tradition, which always examines God’s creation with the Creator in mind. Furthermore, not only did our Catholic faith hold the original recipe, but it also was responsible for delivering the original dishes.
The core subjects of Western education – math, science, language arts and social studies – owe their place in our world today to the Catholic Church.
The skills for developing the sciences that characterize the modern age come out of the Church’s application of analytical and deductive reasoning, especially in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, in solving centuries of theological questions.
This may seem odd given that science and religion seem to have been opposing forces from the 16th to the 20th century, but note that those at the center of the controversies – Copernicus, Galileo and Newton – were all highly religious and believed they were making important contributions in support of religious understanding.
The Catholic Church has always held that reason is a gift to faith. Doing religious thinking in all subjects across the curriculum may seem new to many of us, but it has actually been the accepted practice of our Catholic faith all along.
Doug Triche is assistant principal of curriculum at St. Charles Catholic High School in LaPlace. He can be reached at triche.douglas@stcharles catholic.org.