Primary Educators League

Assisting parents in the eternal vigil of protecting the freedom and holiness of their families.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Do Secular Programs have a Place in Catholic Schools?

Are secular programs compatible with Catholic education?

The vast majority of parents who make great sacrifices to send their children to Catholic schools do so in order to provide their children with more than a purely secular education. They do so in the knowledge that a purely secular education does not address the totality of the human person as body AND soul. They do so in the confidence that there is more to reality and to man’s place in the world than a merely secular culture will admit or address.

Does it follow, then, that secular material has no place in a Catholic school? And in light of the current “safe environments” discussion, is it possible that secular “safety” curricula have no place in a Catholic school or religious education program?

At first glance, it seems that secular programs have no place in a Catholic school because parents expect and indeed deserve more than purely secular education, especially in the area of human sexuality. However, in the spirit of St. Thomas Aquinas’s maxim “test everything and retain what is good”, it seems that Catholic parents do not need to eschew all things secular in their children’s education, provided that the material in question is compatible with Catholic teaching in the areas of faith and morality.

The concept of “personal safety” curricula, it seems, is not in itself inimical to Catholic education. It is the particulars of the curricula that may be incompatible with Catholic teaching in the areas of faith and morality, and thus parents, pastors, principals and teachers should carefully evaluate each curriculum against those criteria.

The parents of Primary Educators League have evaluated some of the proposed “safety” curricula and determined that some may not be compatible with Catholic faith and morals, while others may be. For instance, the “Talking About Touching” curriculum for Pre-K to fourth grade does not seem to be compatible with Catholic faith and morals, as it is a program developed and recommended by groups that do not share the Catholic vision of human dignity and human sexuality. Thus the appropriateness of its use in a Catholic school seems questionable. Furthermore, TAT introduces very young children to information and scenarios for which they are not ready and which could violate their “years of innocence and tranquility”.

The “safe environment” program for grades five through eight, “Out of Harm’s Way” from the KidWISE Institute, contains valuable lessons about internet safety, responsible decision making, and heeding one’s “inner alarm”; all of which are compatible with basic standards of personal safety and decency. Where the program seems to depart from Catholic moral teaching, however, is in the emphasis on a child’s body as being his or her “possession”, which could lead to the dangerous logic of “abortion rights” and the right to “do what I want with MY body”. Furthermore, the KidWISE Institute’s philosophy of helping children cultivate their “personal power” may place too great a burden on them to protect themselves, not to mention giving them a potentially false sense of confidence in confronting evil in the world.

On the other hand, the “safe environments” component of Formation in Christian Chastity uses material from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the US Dept of Justice, both of which are secular sources. The Guidelines for personal safety measures, while secular in their presentation, nonetheless do not confront children with scenarios which could compromise their innocence. Nor does the program seem to present children with directions which may place too great a responsibility on them for their own protection. Thus, the "safe environment component of FICC does not seem to be incompatible with Catholic faith and morals. Furthermore, FICC is especially attractive to Catholic parents in that it provides the proper context for any discussion of human touch and it fosters collaboration between parents, churches and schools in the task of both educating and protecting children.


Primary Educators League recommends that every parent evaluate the proposed “safe environments” curricula and discuss them with other parents. Then, parents will be equipped to continue the discussion with their pastors, principals, DREs and anyone else responsible for teaching/leading their children. It is Primary Educators League’s mission to encourage parents in this direction and provide a forum for the discussion. Some components of secular “safety” programs may indeed be helpful to Catholic parents in this present culture, and thus should be considered rationally and prayerfully.

Monday, April 17, 2006

EMPOWERING PARENTS TO PROTECT CHILDREN

It seems in this whole discussion of creating “safe environments” for children, the leaders of our dioceses have overlooked or ignored one very important tactic: empowering parents to take up their rightful role as primary educators of their children.

If the time and money invested in programs for clergy, staff, and now children had been spent educating parents in the rich heritage of the Catholic teaching on human dignity and the “theology of the body” of John Paul the Great, parents could then be the ones responsible for protecting their own children from “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. Churches and schools, of course, would assist parents in this task by reinforcing what parents first taught at home. Educated and involved parents are perhaps the best asset a child can have as he or she navigates the rough seas of a thoroughly secular culture.

How could people of good will realize such a course of action? Perhaps, rather than investing time and money into ‘safety’ curricula and training teachers to teach the curricula, the same expenditure of resources could be employed at the parish level to conduct education sessions for parents who may be unfamiliar with documents such as “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality”. DREs, pastors, teachers, and fellow parents could collaborate to create a program for parents, and could share the duties of conducting seminars for each parent in their own parish. This would be the principle of subsidiarity at its best.

Religious education programs and schools could then teach an appropriate children’s component to the parental sessions; flowing from the guidelines and standards presented to parents through the documents they study (chiefly TMHS). Thus, teachers at church and school would reinforce the wisdom that parents themselves pass on to their own children. This would represent a true collaboration between parents and church and school leaders.

Such a program would involve sessions for parents, lessons for parents to then teach their children at home, and a few lessons for church and school that reinforce the lessons taught at home. Each parish would conduct its own sessions for parents, thus ensuring that the program meets the specific needs of that particular parish and its families.

Such a program would be free; it would be easily accessible to all parents, teachers, priests and staff. Such a program would flow from the heart of the church and her rich wisdom in the area of human dignity. Such a program would be sensitive to the innocence of the young and committed to giving parents the tools that they need to educate themselves and their own children. Such a program would, finally, put the greatest weight of responsibility on parents for the protection of their own children. It would not overly burden children with the responsibility for their own safety, while at the same time it would give them age appropriate tools to learn caution and attention to their own safety.

Such a program would use stories of the saints and other holy people to teach children about proper behavior and human dignity. It would encourage children to pray: to God for protection and guidance, to the saints for help and prayers, to their guardian angels for extra help and protection, and to Our Lady for her loving, maternal care for each of their souls. It would discuss the importance of the vocation to which God calls each child, and the importance of remaining pure in body and soul in order to be able to respond to God’s call. It would never disturb children with unnecessary information about sex or scenarios of abuse.

Does such a program exist? Can parents find such a program that offers so thorough an education? Can churches and schools employ such a program that would empower parents first, and then give children the reinforcement of what they learn at home?

Primary Educators League believes that this program does exist. It is a program called Formation in Christian Chastity. Catholic teachers, clergy, and parents of the Diocese of Harrisburg (PA) developed the program to use in their own diocese. The Diocese of Harrisburg made the program available online so that others could use it. The Dioceses of Arlington (VA) and La Crosse (WI) use FICC. Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul/Minneapolis approved the use of FICC in parishes and schools in the archdiocese. Pastors, principals and parents can view the program at www.primaryeducators.org . The program is Catholic, affirms parents’ roles as primary educators of their children, protects the innocence of children, assists in the education of both parents and children, fulfills the requirements of Article 12 of the USCCB Charter for the Protection of Youth and Young adults, is easily accessible, and it is FREE. Pastors of the archdiocese need only to write to Archbishop Flynn to request approval to use FICC (also known as the Harrisburg program). Please spread the good news to others that this is the best way to empower parents and protect children.

Friday, April 07, 2006

"It may not be very Catholic, but it's real" Sr. Fran Donnelly - Relevant Radio

Yesterday on the Drew Mariani show on Relevant Radio (http://www.relevantradio.com/), 1330am in the Twin Cities, Sr. Fran Donnelly and Sharon Tomlin were on the air. During that program they confirmed several key items. (Note, we have recorded the show and should have audio clips available within the next several days. We will send out a message once they are ready).

First of all, if you recall, Sr. Fran Donnelly had sent an archdiocesan-wide e-mail stating that an organization called PrimaryEducators.org was spreading "inaccurate information" and had "flaws and misinformation in their presentation." This is false and misleading information. We sent an e-mail to Sr. Fran asking her to clarify her comments and to let us know what information was incorrect. If we were wrong, we would correct the error and state it publicly. However, we received no response and no correction from Sr. Fran.

From what we learned on the radio yesterday, we believe that we continue to state the facts of this situation in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis accurately.

For the record, here’s what we learned yesterday:

1) Sr. Fran Donnelly confirmed publicly, that yes, “Formation in Christian Chastity” has been approved for some parishes and schools. (Please make sure your pastors know this!)

2) Sharon Tomlin confirmed that the Ian lesson plan is recommended/required but that they are working on the “wording” of the language in the lesson plan so that rather than the lesson stating Ian’s mother’s boyfriend put his hand down Ian’s pajama bottoms it will be changed to Ian’s mother’s relative putting his hand down Ian’s pajama bottoms. (We can all feel more comfortable about this now, right?).

3) Sharon Tomlin did not deny that the Kerry lesson plan is recommended/required. There was no mention about changing any wording for Kerry.

4) It remains unclear as to whether the lessons selected by the Archdiocese are required to be taught or merely recommended. Catholic schools must teach four lessons each year. Religious Education must teach two lessons. So if the lessons aren’t necessarily required, that must mean that administrators/teachers might be able to select from the other lessons that are included in the 40 lesson kit? Is this supposed to make us feel more confident in the situation?

5) It was stated at the February 10, 2006 Archdiocesan rollout meeting that since all the schools will have the complete kits and since the folks at Committee for Children/”Talking About Touching” recommend that it’s best to teach these lessons to the children in the context of a full “safe environments” curricula, teachers can feel free to teach more of the lessons in the kit should they choose.

Sharon Tomlin denied this on the radio yesterday. So now it appears they do not recommend teaching more lesson plans than the four.

6) They disclosed yesterday that the Archbishop gave his approval for “Talking About Touching” at the end of January. However, on February 6, 2006, John Murphy had a conversation with Sharon Tomlin about the selection of the children’s curricula. Sharon Tomlin said, at that time….just four days before the rollout, that they still had not made a final decision. Why the lack of transparency? Why not just say, "yes, we have chosen a program, but we cannot disclose that until the February 10, 2006 meeting." For the record, after a couple of e-mails and a phone conversations, it was Sharon Tomlin who encouraged John to continue to call her back during December – January to see if a decision had been made.

7) Just before Drew went to a break, Sr. Fran recommended that parents should opt their children out.

8) After several questions, Sr. Fran made the statement, “it (meaning “Talking About Touching”) may not be very Catholic, but it’s real.”

Welcome to reality – “Talking About Touching” coming to a parish near you in the fall of 2006.

"Talking About Touching" Teacher's Guide - Shattering the Innocence of Children?

Teacher’s Guide: “Talking About Touching” Grades 1-3, Third Edition 2001, p. 29

This is the teacher’s guide that comes with the 40 lesson kit for grades 1-3. The comments immediately following are to give guidance to teachers instructing our young Catholic school children ages 6-8 year olds. Remember, those in second grade are preparing for the Sacraments of First Confession and First Communion.

“When one student’s behavior threatens to disrupt a lesson, gently remind him or her of classroom ground rules. Restless fidgeting can sometimes be curbed by letting the child hold a stuffed animal or squeeze a soft ball. An extremely disruptive student can be directed to sit nearby but slightly apart from the group. She or he can still benefit from the lesson but be less of a distraction to the other students. If the disruptive behavior seems to be directly related to the lesson content, this may be an indicator that the child has been abused. Follow up later by talking with that child one-on-one" (emphasis added).

This couldn’t possibly be the way children respond when their innocence is being shattered, could it? It’s interesting to note that they assume that the child may have been abused rather than the possibility that he or she is squirming because he/she can’t mentally process the deviant sexual scenarios being presented by a trusted authority – his/her teacher.

Secondly, is anyone else reminded of the fraud that was perpetrated on the parents involved in day care centers in the 1990’s when the so-called experts questioned small children as to whether or not they had been sexually abused? What are we setting ourselves up for here?

Remember that the VIRTUS Parent’s Guide, which all of you received and read, states that one of the reasons why it’s important for your child to know the proper names of his or her private body parts is so he can “accurately communicate about his or her body to parents, medical personnel, or even to the police if the child is ever harmed.” In other words, the children need to be able to give a good interview to the authorities.

Immediately following the statement above in the “Talking About Touching” Teacher’s Guide, it goes on to say:

“If a child discloses during a lesson, explain that you will talk to him or her privately after the lesson.”

So, not only do we have to be concerned about dealing with such a sensitive topic as child sex abuse in our Catholic elementary classrooms, but we also have to be aware that a child might disclose that they have been sexually abused. The other children will be subjected to this.

Additionally, does anyone else have a problem with a teacher pulling aside your little 2nd or 3rd grader, without your permission or presence, and asking them questions as to whether or not they have been sexually abused?

But remember, the archdiocese continues to say they respect the rightful role and duty of parents to be the primary educators of their children in areas of life and love.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Rant

I'm rather confused about the actions of the chancery of late.
I know the Church educates through letters & encyclicals, through the pulpit and through special programs for adults (such as CCD or adult education classes).
I know that parents educate in the home and through the proxy of teachers within the parochial, private, or public school systems.
Why won’t the Church adopt a program to teach parents and the teachers who act as proxies in order that they can better teach their children? Why are they pushing a program that seems so contrary to what we are about as parents?

Here's an idea, create a program that disseminates the teaching documents that are already out there!

Such a program could involve a five part organization.
First, the issuing of a letter on the part of the USCCB or individual bishops advocating Church teaching about human sexuality.
Second, consistent and frequent teaching of the Church’s position on human sexuality from the pulpit. Forego the exegesis of the texts for a time and other social concerns and concentrate instead on disseminating the knowledge of what the Church teaches.
Third, offer programs through parishes which focus on educating adults in the teachings of the Church.
Fourth, insist that all teachers within the parochial schools teach this program faithful to the Church’s views on human sexuality.
Fifth, encourage parents to teach their children according to a program faithful to the Church.

Why doesn't the diocese do this? Why are they pushing on us a program like "Talking About Touching"? They don't have any kids and yet they presume to force me to teach something I would never allow into my home? Here I've been trying to help my kids grow up free from the crud on TV the looseness of advertising barrages, the titillation of popular music, doing my best on a tight schedule and budget to really keep them as happy, pure, and good as I can and instead of helping me in this job the chancery, the diocese offers something that is a hindrance to my job as a parent? A program upon which I was never consulted? A program which undermines what I've been trying to do for these last 10 years? And demanding that I teach it to my kids? And making it difficult not to teach it? And making it difficult for me to see how bad it is? Like they're sneaking through the back door to snatch my little ones while I'm busy trying to keep the house together?

What NERVE! How dare they presume to usurp my role!

I trust in the parochial system, I trust in the goodness and universality of the Church, I trust in the inherent goodness of each human person... but this galls me like nothing else. The sheer arrogance of it all. And treating me like I have no say simply because I'm a layperson and a parent? ...

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Homosexual Rights Group - Early Supporter of VIRTUS in Twin Cities

Catholic Rainbow Parents, a homosexual rights organization, was one of the first groups to publicly support the efforts of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in its choice to use VIRTUS.
Catholic Rainbow Parents are part of an active GLBT (Gays, Lesbians, Bi-sexuals, and Transgenders) network in the Twin Cities. The network includes the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) and Dignity/Twin Cities. Perhaps you saw these groups in the news recently during their vocal protest at the Cathedral on World Marriage Day, February 12, 2006.
The GLBT network is actively pushing for homosexual rights including making gay marriage the law of the land in Minnesota. Catholic Rainbow Parents has called the Minnesota Bishops stance against gay marriage as "spiritual abuse."

In their inaugural public statement, Catholic Rainbow Parents proclaimed their support of VIRTUS in July 2005 before 99% of the Twin Cities parents had any idea what VIRTUS or "Safe Environments" were. How is it they had the early track on VIRTUS? By not revealing all the facts about homosexual predation in society, is VIRTUS providing cover for the homosexual problem plaguing the Church?

Catholic Rainbow Parents state:

We share the perspective of the National Catholic Risk Retention Group's VIRTUS programs, with which the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis collaborates in response to the mandate of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002.

The VIRTUS programs report that, "It is a myth that most sex abusers are homosexuals. Most sex offenders are not homosexual; they are heterosexual . . . Studies repeatedly show that most male molesters of boys are not homosexual with adults. It is a faulty assumption that an adult male who selects a young boy as a victim is gay."

Recognizing that homosexuality is an expression of the sacred gift of human sexuality, we bear public witness to the joy and blessings that our GLBT children bring to our families and our communities. We celebrate our children as gifts from God in all of their aspects, and regard them as full-fledged members of both Church and society.
Given that homosexuals make up 2% of the population, it is a correct statement that most of the child sex abusers are heterosexuals. However, VIRTUS is not providing the full truth and that is that homosexuals make up a significantly greater percentage of child sex abusers than their 2% of the population number would imply. For an excellent analysis on this, please read Brian Clowes and David Sonnier's report, "Child Molestation by homosexuals and heterosexuals" published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review.