Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's all my fault...

I don't really know what to make of this: A student approached me this morning before class and said that he spoke with about 10 recent alumni (Class of '09) who said that they are no longer Catholic. When he asked them why their response was, "Because of Mr. Basso's class."

First, I am taking this with a huge grain of salt because of the source: a student I know to be more a source of trouble than truth. In fact, I sent him out of the class yesterday because of repeated use of inappropriate language.

However, behind even the most outlandish claim their can still be a kernel of truth, which begs the question, if this is true, then why?

Initially, and perhaps most comfortably for me, I could point to the classic Stages of Faith development posited by James Fowler in his book by the same title. These young people are, I might assume, simply grappling with a stage 4 Individuative - Reflective Faith which is typical of late adolescence or young adulthood. This being the case, I am the last point of contact these young people had with any systematic presentation of Catholic doctrine, and as such I personify to them all that they are wrestling with and rejecting. In other words, it may simply be part of the growing pains of life and for a time I will be their scapegoat. Fair enough. I can be quite at peace with that. But is it that simple?

Was it because I presented authentic Catholic teaching and that didn't sit well with their prior catechetical experience? That, I could handle. In one sense it could be chalked up to a certain primacy given to one's first experience or impression. Their first experience of Religious education was likely in an environment that was high in compassion and low in substance. It is by far the most popular form of religious education available in our Church. And after years in that milieu being immersed in my class, which tends to be high in substance and low in politically-correct compassion, I can see how one might be inclined to reject the teacher. But that is not exactly the case here. It is not a matter of students rejecting me as a teacher. (Which I can handle.) It is a matter of students rejecting what the Church is teaching because of me.

A final, and more disturbing theory could be that I am so abrasive a personality that taking instruction under me is enough to make a teenager throw the ecclesial baby out with the bathwater. The flaw, I hope, with this theory is that if I am the repulsive element of Catholicism for the students then they would freely embrace the faith once again after they graduate and no longer have to contend with my personality. I sincerely hope this is so, for I would hope the students can differentiate the Truth of the Faith that I teach from the abrasive personality that I may exhibit.

Sadly, there could be more to it than that. As a high school student I experienced conversations with teachers that were detrimental to my opinion of religion, and I am sure to those teachers they would have been the most trivial of encounters. So while I do not quickly dismiss the claim that I have driven students from the Church, I also do not think I can autopsy my teaching method from years past looking for habitually offending words and actions that were actually passing comments or subconscious gestures. I will just have to continue, with humility and prayer, being cautious that in rooting out the weeds and softening the soil I do not damage the fragile crops.

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