The 28 September issue of America has a very interesting article by Alfred McBride, titled "A Sturdy Framework: A Defense of the Bishops' New High School Catechesis." Recently, on this blog, I tried to buck up William O'Malley's splendid article raising questions about the new US Bishops' document on high school catechetical curriculum -- while gently raising a few questions about O'Malley's case. (See my post "O'Malley's 'Faulty Guidance' is Refreshing Guidance"). McBride's article is a response to O'Malley.
In the spirit of helping keep these issues in the open (insofar as the blogosphere represents open dialogue), I would like to post a few thoughts on McBride's article. He takes an easygoing approach to O'Malley's rather pointed analysis, finally agreeing with O'Malley that the Framework needs (at least) a prologue to help contextualize how it might be most profitably used in catechetical contexts.
But McBride's most fundamental point is that the Framework is, after a fashion, the rational, doctrinal guts of the Christian story, which is "the grandest narrative in all of history." (Whether "grandest narrative in all of history" is the most credible way to, in McBride's words, "communicate and defend the faith," especially in, as he notes, a religiously pluralistic culture, is a question.)
But let's grant that what is given in the Framework is a love story written through "doctrinal study," as McBride suggests. This approach is necessary, because "Faith will give [students'] lives purpose and focus. It must be taught in a way," he argues, "that is rationally secure..." But McBride also discusses, before his more detailed apologia for the Framework, how a good story "temporarily subverts logic-chopping and communicates the peaceful meaning of divine truth." Indeed, before, during, and after making his case for the Framework being an example of the doctrinal fine points of a divine love story, McBride tells no fewer than three faith-related stories, more or less "logic-chopping," about Abraham Heschel, Cardinal Newman, and John Paul II. He rightly cannot keep himself from trying to clinch the case for the cultural importance of the proposition-intensive Framework without recourse to the kinds of stories that he wagers will truly persuade his readers.
Whether the Framework is susceptible to being pedagogically characterized as being part and parcel of a wondrous story is what seems to divide O'Malley from McBride. O'Malley seems to me to carry the weight of lived authority in his questioning whether the lack of derived contact with contemporary adolescent life has hampered the Framework'spastoral relevance from the outset, whatever creative "translations" or "inculturations" of it -- and those will inevitably appear soon -- there may be. McBride, by contrast, cannot counter this point and so offers to "comfort teachers" by quoting the Framework's Introduction to the effect that more materials are coming that will make this material teachable.
O'Malley stated in his article that, based on his own investigation, "no veteran high school catechists were involved in the document." McBride, in a sort of countermove, states that "Drafts had been sent to bishops, diocesan leaders, teachers and religious communities for consultation." Let's call this an unresolved matter.
If I am not entirely persuaded that the separation between theological content and pedagogical method toward which McBride urges readers, and which O'Malley (in his older Catholic style) questions, I am even less persuaded by McBride's rhetorical flourish following on his citation of Malcolm Gladwell. "Why repeat," McBride asks, "in the four years of high school the review of the grand narrative of divine salvation?" His answer: "Why not?"
Sensing this is not enough, he adds, "Has anyone, student or teacher, yet spent the requisite 10,000 hours to pierce the wall of love and mystery that is the divine desire to be with us?" Now that's a subtle question because it is so impossible to answer. If you say you've spent 10,000 hours in service of the church and/or of theology, one could of course argue that not enough of those hours were truly dealing with "love and mystery" or "divine desire." Who could quarrel with that? On the other hand, many of us who have given our lives to theology and ministry have spent much more than 10,000 hours on love and mystery. But is this really a case for a 4-year "review of the grand narrative" as currently envisioned?
McBride and O'Malley's arguments do share one thing: queasy metaphors. I wrote (in my above entry) of O'Malley comparing his catechetical task to that of a "Panzer commander." McBride, for his part, warns of "some educators becom[ing] 'soft' in teaching the faith." Followed by: "The old adage 'knowledge maketh a bloody entrance' is still true." I know that catechists have other metaphorics from which to choose.
Hastings-on-Hudson, New York