Good intentions lost in political correctness

  • January 13, 2011
Politically correct booksWhat does Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson and Malcolm X have to do with teaching children about the Catholic faith?

According two new books for Catholic students, teaching kids about Catholic saints and traditions means teaching them about multiculturalism and social justice, while skimming on details about the Catholic Mass.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with introducing children to the hot-button issues of our time like combating racism. In fact, it’s crucial to make the connection between faith and how it is lived out in society.

But in trying to be all things to all people, Jeanne Hunt’s Celebrating Saints and Seasons: Hundreds of Activities for Catholic Children (St. Anthony Messenger Press) and Lisa Freemantle and Les Miller’s Words for the Journey for Kids: Ten-Minute Prayer Services for Schools (Novalis) may be taking kids on a detour that falls short of teaching kids what their faith is really about.

Instead, the books give a kind of politically correct interpretation and miss an opportunity to teach the next generation of Catholic leaders about the underlying principles of their faith.

The books begin with a good premise by focusing on family oriented and social justice activities which do make the connection between faith and how it has or has not been lived out in history. For example, Hunt recommends creative activities on inclusiveness such as a meditation on how Jesus’ teachings “taught me to see the beyond the colour of someone’s skin” and a Thanksgiving activity reflecting upon hunger. Meanwhile, Freemantle and Miller suggest a prayer service marking February as Black History Month to celebrate “the contributions of black individuals” and “remember these times so that we don’t repeat mistakes of the past.”

Hunt also recognizes multiculturalism by including National Hispanic and National American Indian Heritage Month, Kwanzaa and the day when the first slaves landed in the United States.

But in its prayer service for Black History Month, Words for the Journey for Kids may fall into the trap of cultural stereotypes when it asks students to “celebrate the fastest and best such as sprinter Donovan Bailey” and “entertainers, such as Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby.”

While it’s important to pray for all people, regardless of their religion, a Canadian book intended for Catholic school children could confuse its intended audience by honouring non-Catholics (and several non-Canadians) who may or may not practise or advocate Catholic principles.

To their credit, the books do pay homage to Jesus’ teachings such as the parable of the Good Samaritan and the lives of the saints, which offer solid examples of Catholic leadership for kids. Words for the Journey for Kids highlights biblical stories on the faith of children like Samuel and Josiah.

And Celebrating Saints and Seasons introduces ecumenism and respect for other religions which are important Church teachings. (This book mentions the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr, the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Shinto feast of Shichi-Go-San and the Taoist festival of Tachiu. It also refers to the voodoo religion and a Native American prayer service.)

But to introduce the celebrations of other religions without any context or explanation as to how they relate to Catholicism would likely confuse children, as opposed to enlighten them.

How can Catholic children be prepared to speak intelligently about their faith to their friends or critics if the foundation of their own faith is weak?

Although being Catholic doesn’t mean spending all day in church with a long face, how are the celebrations of National Ice Cream Day and Henry Ford’s birthday meaningful Catholic activities for kids?

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus refers to the parable of the house built upon a rock which withstood the floods compared to the house built on sand. In this same token, books for Catholic students should help build a solid foundation for their faith so that when anti-Catholic mudslinging comes their way, especially when a crisis like the sex abuse scandal shakes the faithful (and unfairly brands all Catholics with the same brush), children would be able to explain how such abuses are aberrations of the true practise of the faith.

Overall, the books have good intentions in inviting children to pray and attend Mass, and introduces them to many saints and core Catholic traditions.

Yet the books fail to answer basic kids’ questions about the fundamentals of Catholicism like why Catholics attend Mass or what the Mass is really about.

And with both books’ focus on social justice activities, students aren’t informed about how these are connected to the Eucharist, which many saints have referred to as the inspiration for their work serving the poor and marginalized.

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