Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Religious Education - What's the Best Way?

So, I read this little article this morning on Yahoo news. Based on a recent Pew poll, apparently most Americans are actually fairly ignorant of, you guess it, religion. Even their own. The atheists and agnostics did the best, answering 21 out of 32 questions correctly, followed by Jews and Mormons who got about 20 correct. Protestants averaged 16 correct and Roman Catholics about 15. (No Muslims? Why not?)

My first thought (thinking back to the article that Sarah had linked to over on one of Susanne's posts) was, 'well there's your problem'. We're counted as a 'religious' country because most people will answer that they are religious, but we're apparently mostly ignorant of our religions! I believe if people actually knew and understood their faiths that we'd be much better off as a country. Individuals would have to take responsibility for their actions and curb their own darker impulses - not that I think it'd be a utopia by any stretch, but if people *knew* what their faiths taught, what they were claiming to be when they said 'I'm Christian' and understood it and actually *followed* it, how many abuses and crimes wouldn't occur?

But the question is, how do we correct this problem? For adults, they have to choose to learn. I mean, you can't force them into religious ed classes, really. So I think the best thing there is to have the information and the opportunity out and available so that if and when a person becomes interested they have the opportunity to learn. Sure, there's a million books out there on pretty much every religion imaginable but it's not the same as interacting with people of that faith and seeing how they live their faith, being able to ask questions.

And what about the children? Clearly the only way a child is going to get religious education is if the parents send them there. So the parents must be, at least a little, involved in their own faith. Obviously the more involved the parent, the better because then the child would not only be getting their faith from classes but also be seeing it lived out in their home. So assuming that the child is being sent to Sunday School or CCD or whatever the program is called, what's the best way to actually educate them? Not just get them through the years and let them have fun while they do it, but actually get them to know and understand their faith?

I've experienced two different religious ed programs for kids - one from the position of being a kid and one from the position of being the teacher. When I was a kid we were sent to Sunday School because kids were disruptive to the church service. Our program went on at the same time and we sat back there and colored and made dolls and sang, etc. All Lutheran oriented, of course, but still. Not a whole lot of educating going on, as I recall. It certainly didn't make a huge impact on my life. The second, the CCD class I helped teach for a while was a bit better, I think. There was a focus on actually teaching the kids things but it was an odd situation (at least for me) since we weren't really given a curriculum so we were sort of making it up as we went. The information we taught was correct, but I think it could have been much better if we'd known what we were doing! :) In that case the classes also went on during Mass and what typically happened is that the parents would drop the kids off to CCD and attend that Mass so that they could pick the kids up and go afterward. Some of the parents went to the Mass *after* class ended and took their kids with them, and I can honestly say that those were the kids who already knew some of the material we were teaching.

So. I think my problem here is this: we've shunted the kids off into another room for the church service. They're made to seem not welcomed. The church service (Mass, sermon, Divine Liturgy) is the culmination of the Christian week, isn't it? Even for those who believe that it's just a chance to gather with like minded believers and hear the word of God and worship, isn't that the high point? And for those of us who believe that we are actually communing with all the believers and heaven and are taking the Body and Blood into ourselves and strengthening ourselves for the trials of the world, isn't that the high point? But we don't want kids there. (I'm actually not speaking of the Orthodox here, because Orthodox children receive Communion as children and I've yet to be to a Divine Liturgy where there weren't any children.) They're noisy and disruptive and we glare at them and their parents.

It's rude and disruptive to the unity of the church that we don't want the children there! Sure, if the child starts to cry the parent needs to walk out with them and get them calmed down. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't bring them at all, or that we should just put them off in a room to 'educate' with crayons.

It's my opinion that (aside from the religious education that the children should be receiving at home from their parents who are responsible for this in the first place) there needs to be a serious religious education program but that the time should either be before or after the actual religious service so that the children can (and should be expected to) attend.

And I realize that I speak from the peanut gallery, not having children myself, but I do believe that being a part of the community from the beginning, from their earliest memories will help children to be interested in their faith. To absorb and internalize the knowledge that they're supposed to be taught.


  1. My churches always had "children's church". There were Sunday school classes in the first half, for both adults and children, and then some time with everyone together singing (I hated that part), and then children split off and went to have their own church service w/more singing (really really hate that part. :D) and then a sermon. I guess it depends on how you view that "high point" and what is important, and if there's a big community aspect where the kids are being left out, that's one thing. But I don't think it was viewed that way in any of my churches. Kids sitting in the adult service would be bored and not learn anything...I know, I tried it a few times. When they go to their own service, they can learn in their own way. The same way you don't teach a first grade class the same way you would teach a tenth grade class, what works for adults doesn't always work for children in worship. If it's not actually education or worship and it's just baby-sitting the kids, I can see that being a problem, though.

    In my field ed, I teach the Sunday school "class"...it is made up of one student. I think before I took it over she was basically just being baby-sat, but now I plan lessons for her and try to involve her in learning what it means to be a UU. But I do that in a way that lets her be a little more free to move around and talk and ask questions. I guess I just don't see the point in making her sit through an adult sermon.

  2. Hmm...see, we didn't have children's church, though I have heard of it. At my parents old church they had children's church but I just assumed that it was like the Sunday school I remembered. With coloring and all. :)

    See, in the services I've been too (though I've been to the Protestant services where it's all sitting and listening and then some singing) and am really thinking about there's a lot more involvement with the congregation. Catholic and Orthodox services are very physically involved so the kids are moving with the adults all the time. It's the being included in the community aspect that I think is important about them attending the services. Obviously they have to be taught at their own levels in the religious classes.

    Sitting through a sermon can be boring even for adults. Participating in the service isn't, and I really do think the kids get something out of it. They've all been so very well behaved and respectful in the Liturgies I've been too and I have to think it's because they've been involved since as long as they can remember and are actually given a part to play. :)

  3. Oh we had children's litergy too! It was rather helpful...though they stopped doing that when you hit like 3rd grade and then we just had facts babbled at us...thats when the learning stopped.

    I'm actually one of those people who gets annoyed at children during any prayer service. But its not because of them, its their parents. DONT LET YOUR KID RUN BACK AND FORTH ON THE PEWS DURING MASS!!!! Seriously people! Its so annoying and it happens every time I go. Or they run in the aisles or run their trucks up and down the wood making a ton of noise. Parents gotta teach them manners BEFORE they can go to church is all I'm saying.

  4. Ohh, that makes sense. See, I'd never been to a church that did anything more than sing and listen. I think a more involved service like you're talking about would be a cool thing for kids to be a part of. :)

  5. Here is the CNN article with 10 sample questions and a bit more info than the Yahoo article. I found it all interesting and was glad to see you wrote about this topic!


    My nephew goes to Sunday school and children's church and he really loves both. I assume he's learning about his faith - hope so! :)

    I also think Americans are known to be religious - yes, but they don't really KNOW the tenets of their faith. THIS to me is part of that "they worship me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from me." Anyone can say "I'm religious," but that doesn't mean they know much. Of course this survey was of info in MANY faiths and maybe some people just don't study anything outside of their own. Atheists, on the other hand,maybe HAVE searched other belief systems to see if one rings truer for them.

    I'm glad you wrote about this! Enjoyed it!

  6. I read that article, too. I also jumped in to see how I'd do on the test. I got 14 out of 15. : ) I actually did know a lot of that stuff - including the questions that were featured in the article - beforehand. It was a neat quiz. Did you take it?

    But, I agree. My old church had children's church. It wasn't all coloring or anything. Sometimes they'd put on a Veggie Tales video if it went along with the sermon being taught in the main hall that day, so the kids would get the same message, but at a level they could understand.

  7. Soli Deo Gloria

    Got 100% on the quiz. I used to travel in circles where the kids attended Sunday school from infancy and began Scripture memory work at age 2. And the parents basically from Day One looked for an opportunity to lead their child to a personal decision to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It was not uncommon for that moment to come at age 3 or 4 - for example, during a conversation about why the child is attending a different nursery school than other children in the neighborhood. And I am 110% convinced that this is the right way to do things - if I ever have children, that is precisely what I will do. Maybe not at Sunday school. I might choose to do the educating myself at home.

  8. My children go to the mosque, their school's church and the UU Center. I think it is important to expose them to religious discourse.

    Really enjoyed this post, Amber! Thank you.

  9. LK,

    Oh we had children's litergy too! It was rather helpful...though they stopped doing that when you hit like 3rd grade and then we just had facts babbled at us...thats when the learning stopped.

    See? I feel my point has been vindicated! :) You can't just babble facts at kids. They have to learn them at their level, but also see them put into action. *nods*

    Hah. I totally get your problem with the kids. But it's (like you said) not the kids' faults. The parents have clearly not taught them how to behave and aren't willing to step out with them when they do misbehave. Maybe we should have a parents training before they're allowed to come back to church after having kids? If the kids are brought up going to church all the time they'll learn how to behave properly faster, as opposed to the parents just one day saying, 'okay, church! and be quiet!' Sure, they'll still misbehave, they're kids. But the parents have to take control and not let them get away with the behavior!

  10. sanil,

    The kids I've seen all seem to be into it. There'll still be fits and such with the younger kids, but that's normal and the parents just need to take control and take the kid out and calm them down. It's not impossible - I've seen people do it!

  11. Susanne,

    Oh, I checked that out. I aced the questions they had there. *preens*

    I'm sure Michael is learning. From what I read, if he wasn't, you'd hear about it! :)

    I really think most Americans are religious in name only. They think that they should be, so they say they are. But it's not the same as *really* having a faith. Very important and critical difference.

    I thought about that too, that people were just ignorant of other faiths, but they appeared to be ignorant of some major tenets of their own faiths as well, so who knows. It's sad either way.

  12. Heather,

    I took the quiz and aced it. I am a font of useless knowledge!

    I guess children's church is different from the Sunday school I went to. Hopefully it's better all over!

  13. caraboska,

    Got 100% on the quiz.

    I am utterly unsurprised! :)

    See, I think Sunday school can be great, as long as the children are actually learning something, and not just being kept out of the adults hair with a little Christian flavor for the heck of it. :)

    Though I do question the ability of 3 or 4 year olds to really understand the 'personal decision' to have a relationship with Christ. Most children at that age will believe pretty much anything and their comprehension isn't quite up to par yet. I think the usual 'age of accountability' for those who don't believe in infant baptism is 7 or so, when the children have a better grasp of reality though I personally still question that for most kids. But that whole thing is a separate kettle of fish, really. The children need to be raised as an active part of the community and as they grow their part can grow commensurate with their abilities.

    if I ever have children, that is precisely what I will do. Maybe not at Sunday school. I might choose to do the educating myself at home.

    You would have to educate your children religiously at home, really, wouldn't you? Your understanding of Christianity is so variant from everyone else that the only way the children would get the 'correct' understanding is from you.

    That being said it is the parents' responsibility to ensure that their children are being taught correct doctrine and the first and best place for kids to learn is at home, from their parents. Parents have to be good examples for their children in all things. :)

  14. Suroor,

    Wow! They're getting a nice exposure to different faiths.

    That's another consideration - how do you make certain that not only is your child firm in their own faith, but also exposed to other faiths so that they aren't ignorant and prey to the lies and exaggerations about other people that float around. Ah, so much to cram into their little brains! I'm almost glad that it's not an issue for me right now! :)

  15. Amber: But I also believe parents need to go through a screening a training program before they should be allowed to procreate...but thats just me lol

  16. LK,

    I'm actually going to agree with that. People have to be screened to adopt puppies, for pete's sake. There should be a process before they're allowed to breed.


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