By Carole A. Buleza, Director, Department of Christian Education
A few weeks ago I taught our parish high school students. When in the course of our discussion I asked what happens when we die, according to our faith, they were silent. I was puzzled.
My puzzlement was due to the fact that these students had all been taught in 8th grade from the textbook, The Way, The Truth, and The Life, which contains the basic tenets, prayers, and practices of our faith. During the course, the students take four exams, covering 100 questions, which are called educational standards. These were determined by the members of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission. They had all passed the course. So, why were they vague on my question, which is one of the standards?
Maybe they just didn’t feel like speaking; or maybe they actually knew the answer, but weren’t confident to say it. I am betting it is the latter. While they learned the answer for the exam, they had not been taught about “what happens after we die,” before that year. One of the theories of education is that learning takes place with repetition, with an ever-deepening understanding of a concept from one year to the next. This hasn’t happened in our church schools, since the OCEC materials are not written according to that theory. A second reason why they might not have remembered the lesson is because they have never been asked to remember anything, except a few prayers, until 8th grade.
A Plan to Build Knowledge of the Faith
Shortly after publication of The Way, The Truth, and The Life, I compared its 100 questions (educational standards) with the contents of the books we use for Kindergarten through Grade 5, namely, those published by the Orthodox Christian Education Commission. As The Way, The Truth, and The Life provides the teacher with four exams the students need to take during the course, my thought was to find the 100 questions in the earlier texts and to draw attention to these as “essential,” so the teacher would emphasize that content, and the students would get a “head start” on knowing the material, while we revised the K-5 books according to the new standards. I called this comprehensive program, “Knowing Your Faith.” I provided, online, materials for use in the classroom, and a packet for the parent. This program can be found on our website under the “Curriculum” tab.  Open a grade-level to see sample questions.
I do not believe “Knowing Your Faith” is being utilized.
It is not perfect—it does not correlate perfectly with the texts, it does call attention to the important content of each text. If it were being used throughout a church school, we would see the children increasing in knowledge from year to year, and church schools would gain more credibility in the eyes of the parents.
Plan B: Passports for the Journey of Faith
I plan to rework “Knowing Your Faith” in two ways, by providing a tangible item, a “passport” for each grade, and an award. I hope teachers and parents will see its value and adopt it for their church schools. This is how the program will work.
The passport book will have a page for each question or prayer. The answers, with brief background on the question, will be in the back so that parents can feel confident working with their child.
• The teacher will have a stamp. Keep in mind that the passport book is used in conjunction with lessons from the OCEC text for each grade. A week after the student has learned material for the first question, he or she is quizzed. If they know the answer they get the first of three stamps.
• The parents will work with the students at home using the passport book in anticipation of the remaining quizzes. A few months later, the question will be asked again, and another stamp will be received if they know the answer.
• Finally, at the end of the year, the student will be asked the question. Now, with three stamps for each question, they receive their award. If they need to, they will have a retake session.
• The awards will be specific to each grade and will be objects that will contribute to a child’s personal icon or prayer corner. The passport books and awards will be available through the Archdiocese.
Will this work?
Will the students feel good about receiving an award for knowledge gained that year? Will that induce parents to make time to help their children learn their faith? Will teachers who don’t use OCEC material make the effort to also teach lessons for the passport questions and prayers because they see the value of building the students’ knowledge of the faith? Can we get everyone on board with this program?
As this will involve a large outlay of money for the passport books and awards, I will be forming an advisory committee consisting of my staff , church school directors and teachers. It will be piloted first. You can let me know your stand on this via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .