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Voices Online Edition
Volume XVIII, No. 1
Talking about Love...
Commentary on Growing in Love --
A "Catholic" sex education program
by Margaret Whitehead
In the year 2000, Harcourt Religion Publishers came out with Growing in Love (GIL), a program for Catholic grade schools (K-8) aiming to provide a "Catholic education in relationships". The family is mentioned as the "primary community" that is to be "helped" by this program to provide children with what is described as "a systematic presentation of our Catholic Tradition". This will be done, it is claimed, with the help of the "whole Church community" as "co-partners"; and the presentation will feature a "multi-cultural approach [that encourages] diversity [and] non-stereotypical roles", and takes into account a "broader idea of family beyond the nuclear family".
How all these fashionable contemporary concepts such as diversity and non-stereotypical roles suddenly became part of "the Catholic tradition" is not explained.
The program will also present what it calls the "reality of reproductive rights" -- again, the very language employed seems to reflect today's "culture of choice" rather than the authentic Catholic tradition.
Why do we need this new program? The Reverend Richard C. Sparks, C.S.P., Ph.D., one of the three principal advisors (called Program Consultants) to the series -- all of whom appear in the implementation videos, and are authors of three essays reprinted at the beginning of each Teaching Guide1 -- answers this question in his essay, "Education in Family Life, Healthy Relationships, and Human Sexuality". Father Sparks says that growing up today is far different from the experience that most of today's adults had. Children today have access to much more information earlier and earlier in life, he says. "Children face a variety of relationship choices and challenges beyond the home" and they therefore need to:
... learn how to choose friends wisely and how to be a good friend; and that respect, honesty, responsibility, temperance, and modesty find their place alongside the Christian virtues of love, justice and the quest for genuine peace.
This sounds very reassuring. But Father Sparks then reveals what the program is really all about -- which is more than "love, justice, and the quest for peace":
And then there is the whole realm of human sexuality. Far more than reproduction and biological science, learning about ourselves, our bodies and our sexuality -- how to be sexually responsible and chaste -- is a lifelong task.
Father Sparks believes that previous sex education programs provoked controversy because, in his words, "some programs seemed to be biologically too graphic"; and also because there were other concerns about what should be taught about "controversial issues like sexual abuse, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, contraception, and homosexuality". He assures us, however, that "most parents welcomed the involvement of schools, parishes, and professional educators in this touchy area of ... education". And the Growing in Love program, of course, is nothing more than the involvement of today's "professional educators" in what he styles the "touchy" area of moral and sexual education.
According to Father Sparks, this new program is "scrupulously age appropriate", and firmly rooted in Scripture and Church teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC, 1994), the Holy See's Educational Guidance in Human Love (1983), and The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (TMHS, 1995) are all cited as sources.
However, the most important source for the series, it turns out, is a 1990 statement put out by the US bishops' conference entitled Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective on Education and Lifelong Learning (HSLL), published as a booklet.
The HSLL booklet is the least authoritative of all the Church documents listed and certainly the most controversial. When it was issued, the chairman of the task force that produced it, Bishop William C. Newman, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, stated during the bishops' discussion that it contained only "guidelines", which did not have the authority of a pastoral letter and were not mandatory.2 Further, the Introduction to the HSLL booklet states that its "guidelines" are only being offered as the task force's "contribution to the on-going discussion about what it means to be mature, sexual persons".3 For the authors of Growing in Love, however, HSLL seems to be the most important source both of their ideas and of their authority for writing what they present.
Father Sparks ends his introductory essay with a call to grow in what he styles a "universal call to wholeness and holiness" (HSLL, Chapter 2) -- seeming to equate psychological "wholeness" with the "holiness" to which Vatican Council II has called all believers. In fact, there is consistently a greater emphasis on a secular concept of "wholeness" than on "holiness" or any supernatural goals in the GIL program. Father Sparks writes:
It is my hope that the faith, talent, time, energy, and finances that have gone into designing Growing in Love will bear great fruit -- a commitment on the part of parents, clergy, publishers, educators and catechetical leaders to help the next generation grow -- in family life, in human love, and in sexual maturity and responsibility.
He follows this with a beautiful quotation from the Catholic marriage ceremony: "Love is our origin ... love is our constant calling, and love is our fulfillment in heaven".
This is illustrative of the way this series simply throws specifically Catholic ideas into the mix of what is basically a secular, psychological, and very this-worldly approach throughout. The mention of heaven here, for example, is one of the very rare references in the entire nine-year program to what is, in fact, the ultimate goal of Christian life.
The GIL introductory materials generally are both very revealing and very concealing -- even deceptive. There are references to Church documents and even many quotations from them. However, by just reading the above introductory excerpts, it is not hard to pick up the basically secular focus of the overall framework of the series ("wholeness" emphasized more than "holiness"); of its content ("learning about ourselves, our bodies and our sexuality"); and of its goals (helping the "next generation grow -- in family life, human love, and in sexual maturity and responsibility").
But there are hints of a number of problems to come. For example, the principal role of parents is as "co-partners" with the "community", and not as the primary educators of their children, as the Church teaches. Multicultural and "non-stereotypical" approaches are taken from today's culture at large, as if these ideas were necessarily compatible with Catholicism. Getting "beyond the nuclear family" is presented as if there were some valid reason to get "beyond" it when discussing the meaning of the family in the Christian perspective. The "scrupulously age-appropriate" nature of the information presented is asserted in words, but without any indication of just what age-appropriateness might be in the minds of the authors.
Growing in Love is not -- as claimed -- a new approach to sex education that overcomes all the problems found in previous sex education programs. Rather, it represents the still-very-recognizable old problem-ridden approach to classroom sex education that parents, pastors, and teachers have been concerned about for more than 30 years -- with the addition of new problems!
In fairness, Growing in Love does break some new ground for a Catholic sex education program. It includes consistent teaching about the love-life connection of the marital act and information about different vocations and the necessity to serve the "common good" and develop virtues. It mentions the Ten Commandments, though only briefly in grades 4-6. It discusses "conscience"; presents a positive picture of "parenting" (though not motherhood or fatherhood). It also discusses the sacraments, the Magisterium of the Church, includes stories about the saints, and even has a "Salvation History" strand. There are also quotations from Scripture and Church documents throughout the series. And Jesus is mentioned on almost every page -- although almost always as a model or an example; usually as our brother, but rarely as our Savior -- and never as our Judge. He is sometimes described as the Son of God and as fully human, but very much in the manner in which all people are described as children of God.
If a bishop, pastor, educator, or parent were to go through the GIL series with a checklist of all the things that are supposed to be included in any truly Catholic treatment of the subject of sex, most -- if not all -- items on the list would be found to be at least mentioned somewhere. One might plausibly conclude, therefore, that the program is really all right, that authentic Catholic teaching about marriage and sex and morality is "in there".
This would be very wrong, however. Many of the "Catholic" things in the series appear, in fact, to have been included in order to be found in accordance with any possible Church "checklist" that might be employed. Often, however, the Catholic things found in these books bear little organic relation to the overall framework and content of the program. Meanwhile, what is really intended to be imparted to children through this GIL series, what is effectively being taught through frequent emphasis and repetition is an almost wholly modern secular approach to the subject of sex.
Why is such a seemingly sound and attractive Catholic sex education package unable to deliver the true Catholic goods to young people? After having carefully read through all of the materials, I believe the series would be, in fact, very harmful to Catholic children. This will be apparent in examining a number of what I call "myths" that pervade the entire series, and that effectively supersede and cancel out the superficial Catholic elements it contains.
First, however, I will summarize the program components, and enumerate the seven key themes that are supposedly the basis of the program. Then I will describe how parental rights are actually undermined by the GIL program, despite its claims to have eliminated or overcome the objections so often made against "Catholic" sex education programs.
Components of the program
There are four main components to the Growing in Love program:
1. A Student Activity Book for students in grades K-2; or a Student Textbook for students in grades 3-8.
2. A Teaching Guide.
3. A Family Resource book, containing extremely graphic materials and diagrams along with chapters that include various quotations from Church documents; a Meditation Section; a summary of the students' text; suggestions for discussion at home; definitions of words; and suggested resources for further reading.
4. A Program Resource that "contain[s] an abundance of resources to assist the teacher or catechist" -- meaning that it has the same extremely graphic information found in the Family Resource book, as well as reproducible activity sheets, sample letters to be sent home to parents, and a program evaluation form. The Program Resource also contains "Supplementary Lessons ... for conveying sensitive materials in class with parents' authorization, or where parents and children are meeting in group sessions led by teachers or catechists".4
The GIL program also includes two "implementation" videos, one for parents, and another for teachers and catechists; also a Parish Resources program manual for implementing the program on a parish-wide basis.
Notably, there are no graphic diagrams or descriptions in the student materials nor in the Teaching Guide, although the Teaching Guide refers the teacher to the Program Resources book for supplementary materials, if the parents, or some of the parents, have authorized this.
Very graphic materials are contained in the Family Resource book, however, and the parents are encouraged either to teach this material to their children or are strongly encouraged to authorize the teacher to teach it in the classroom (supposedly with the parents discussing it at home as well).
A third alternative offered is to participate in a student-adult group session led by a trained person. All these group sessions would be based on the very explicit materials in the Program Resources book.
Clearly the authors of the Growing in Love program have tried to anticipate every possible objection that has ever been made to sex education as such, and then to provide an acceptable "Catholic" solution.
Unfortunately, however, the program is still based on the same exaggerated preoccupation with the physical and the psychological and the this-worldly, at the expense of true moral and Catholic principles. This same defective approach characterizes virtually all of the other modern sex education programs to which so many Catholic parents, pastors, and teachers have been obliged to object. They have equal grounds to object to Growing in Love.
Moreover, nothing is ever said about how the students who have been "opted out" of the program will be handled if some parents authorize the teaching of explicit material in the classroom and others parents have not. This is a common situation and a very sensitive one, but the authors of the GIL series seem to assume that all parents will approve and that they have effectively laid all possible objections to rest.
Key Themes of Catholic Education in Relationships, Family Life and Human Sexuality
There are seven key Catholic themes that the GIL program claims are taught at each level: Created in God's Image (Creation); Called to Communion with God who is Love (Trinity); Incarnational (Jesus Christ); Responsible to One Another as Members of Christ's Body (the Church); Called to Holiness and Wholeness (Christian morality); United, Faithful and Life-giving (the Sacraments); Part of the Love Story of Salvation (salvation history).
But some key theme are missing -- for example, the Fall (sin), for which mankind had to be redeemed by Christ. As in a number of other modern catechetical and sex education series, the authors like to talk about God as Creator while having precious little to say about God as Redeemer. The reason for this seems to be that, in the authors' typical glossing over of the reality and nature of sin, it is never exactly clear what we have to be redeemed from. There are other significant lapses, omissions, and "myths".
Parental Rights and Privacy
At first glance, the GIL program seems to offer some support for parental rights and for the privacy of the family and of the students. One of the four principles for providing information about sexuality, which is found in the front of every Teaching Guide, states: "Parents should provide this information with great delicacy, but clearly and at the appropriate time" (TMHS, #75).
There is also a quotation from Pope John Paul II emphasizing that "sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them" (emphasis added). Also, as indicated above, the most explicit sexual information is not supposed to be taught to the students without parental authorization.
In the program itself, though, the parents are told that they are "partnered" with the teachers (this is found in the letter home). One of the main program advisors, James J. DeBoy, Jr., in the videos and in his essay (reprinted in the front of each Teaching Guide) on "Who Is Responsible for Doing Catechesis in Human Sexuality?", makes it very clear that "the teaching of human sexuality requires the partnership of the family, the parish community and systematic catechesis in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs. This essential partnership is fostered by Growing in Love." (emphasis added).
In other words, Church documents may be quoted and the pretense maintained that the parents are in control, but the authors meanwhile have their own philosophy, which requires the parents to cooperate with the sex education experts strictly on the terms of the latter.
Parents are discouraged in other ways. In the Family Resource Book (page 7), parents who might be considering teaching their children at home are told that this can be done, but by "limiting your child's exposure ... to the home, however, you lose the benefits of the give-and-take of discussions with peers or other families, as well as the immediate support of a teacher, catechist, or other facilitator" (emphasis added). It is to be noted that these "give-and-take discussions" certainly do not indicate much delicacy or sensitivity in these "group situations"; it is unlikely that they meet the criteria spoken of in the official Church documents. On the other hand, what parents ever want to "limit" their children? Most parents will be only too inclined to go along with the program.
Another difficulty about really ensuring any parental control of the "sensitive" material is that the textbook information and the classroom discussions stir up ideas and questions, some of which might -- almost certainly will -- come up in class. For example, in the Teaching Guide for Kindergarten (page T40), we read: "Remind the children that God made boys and girls different from each other. (Some children may note anatomical differences; use a matter-of-fact tone to remind the children of correct terms)". Or again: (page T69): "Explain that God made families for love. When a mom and dad love one another in a special way, they can welcome a new baby into their family".
Starting with the Grade 3 Program Resource book (page 4), there is a preliminary section describing four ways to use the Supplementary, i.e., the sexually explicit, lessons: 1) in regular classroom sessions, if all the students' families have given permission; 2) in special classroom sessions for those students whose families have given permission; 3) in student-adult group sessions; 4) "as a resource for answering, on an individual basis, questions the students may have about sensitive issues" (emphasis added).
One way or another, it seems, the children are simply going to get the "sensitive" material. Even if the parents do not think this is age-appropriate for their child, it will be hard to avoid the pressure to give it, considering what is going on in the classrooms.
These examples, which could be multiplied from every grade level, demonstrate how little control the parents would actually have over the sexual information their children get, or the way it is imparted to them. The elaborate machinery provided to ensure parental involvement and "control" turns out to be quite cosmetic in the end.
In spite of the claims to the contrary made by the GIL program, then, none of this really accords with the emphasis in the Church's official documents that such "sensitive" material is to be imparted "delicately" under the "control" of the parents.
Growing in Love -- Not Truly Catholic and Harmful to Children
Even though an enormous amount of thought, effort, pedagogical talent, and professional expertise have gone into the making of the GIL series -- and there are some good lessons and ideas in it -- it nevertheless remains a fundamentally flawed and harmful program. It is harmful because it is ultimately based not solidly and organically on Catholic truth, but rather upon on a this-worldly philosophy and upon a number of misconceptions that eclipse, vitiate and -- in some cases -- flatly contradict the Catholic elements that the authors have been at such pains to include. I will list and briefly comment on just a few of these myths to show why this series is not suitable for the instruction of Catholic schoolchildren. Each of the following "myths" is extracted from the GIL program's presentation.
Myth 1 - That we can teach Salvation History by focusing on the creation by God out of love and omitting entirely the Fall of Adam and Eve, which is nowhere mentioned.
Remarkably, this nine-year program, which ostensibly teaches at every grade level about our Creator, who made us out of love and for love, never mentions the Fall. There are references to sin and to "bad choices," but I found only one reference to the doctrine of Original Sin in the entire program (Grade 5 Student Text, page 36). The term "Salvation History" is used, but when it is defined (rarely), it regularly downplays the seriousness of our need for a Savior; it also fuzzes over the authentic identity of the Savior. It confuses more than it explains.
Salvation History, the story of God's saving love, is full of people who've learned to trust God's wisdom. Jesus' death and resurrection is a vivid and empowering lesson in trusting God through the most difficult times. We learn that God offers us eternal life with him by giving us in Christ the power to follow Jesus (Grade 7, page 68).
Myth 2 - That students can be given a true picture of who Jesus is, if the Fall of mankind is omitted, and the subsequent need for a Savior thereby diminished.
In GIL, Jesus is presented on almost every page as an example and a great model for us but is rarely presented to us as our Savior. The most common references to Jesus as Savior that are found occur in the prayers at the beginning of lessons and not in the teaching sections. Even in the text, where Jesus is referred to as our Savior or Redeemer -- since this has never been adequately explained in the full context of the Fall -- it is usually in a confusing way or in a way that diminishes its full significance.
At the Last Supper, after telling his apostles about the challenges of love, Jesus said, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13). His was the ultimate sacrifice. Most of us will not have to prove our love by giving up our lives. However, Jesus' words also teach us that we need to ask, "What can I do that is for the good of the other person?" (Grade 6, page 24)
"We believe that the Son of God became human in every way but sin. God became human in Jesus to save us. He helps us better understand how to be the people God created us to be". (Grade 7, Teaching Guide's definition of the Incarnation, page 24).
Note that the meaning of the Incarnation here is greatly weakened and confused by giving as its purpose helping us "to better understand how to be the people God created us to be". It turns the focus way from the divinity of Jesus and what He is saving us from and onto us. There is little if any sense of a supernatural dimension to human life. Logically as well as pedagogically, this definition correlates more with a self-esteem agenda (wholeness) than with a Salvation (holiness) agenda.
Myth 3 - That merely calling Jesus "the Son of God" and "fully human" is enough to explain accurately who and what Jesus is and why He is able to redeem us - especially since we too are regularly called "children of God" and "fully human" in the text, just as Jesus is.
The most frequent references to Jesus in the entire curriculum are made to Him as an example and a model. There are, however, references to Jesus as "Son of God"; sometimes, but not usually, "fully human" is added; sometimes He is referred to as our "brother". Even so, the references to Jesus as "Son of God" occur most often in the opening prayers of various chapters, while the references to Him as an example or model are part of the text and the teaching lesson that is emphasized and repeated.
Chapter 3 in the Grade 7 textbook, entitled "Fully Human", does refer to Jesus as "completely God and completely human at the same time" (page 24). This is exceptional, however5; and even in this chapter, Jesus is referred to as "our brother" in the opening prayer, and then as an example in every other reference. The title of the chapter, "Fully Human", also gives a clue to the basic emphasis.
There seems be a form of neo-Arianism operating throughout this program.
Lesson 3, in the Grade 1 Activity Book, is entitled "God and Human". There is no reference in the children's actual worksheets to Jesus as God. He is shown as someone who was a child of Mary and who lived in a family and did all the usual things that children do -- except in a more loving way. The children are told to ask themselves in certain situations, "What would Jesus do?"
The vocabulary section of the Teaching Guide provides this background information for the teacher: "We use the word human to describe a person made up of body, mind, and spirit...." (no soul!) "We believe that Jesus lived as a human with a human family. As a child Jesus did the things that human children do except for sin. Throughout his life Jesus showed us how to love" (P.T51).
How significant, then, is Jesus as Savior and Son of God? On page T64, Chapter 5, of the Grade 1 textbook, in the summary of the chapter, in order "to help the children recall what they have learned", we find the following as one of the questions asked:
"Who can help us do better when we do wrong?" Answer: "God and people in our communities" (emphasis added. Throughout the program, our responsibility is consistently to others and to the "community", rather than to God. This fits with the third theme of GIL).
In Chapter 6 of the Grade 4 text, we read further: "Jesus served God the Father and the community. He taught people about his Father and helped those in need. All vocations follow the example of Jesus in different ways". While none of this is false, it represents a series of affirmations about Jesus that do not give a clear picture of who and what Jesus is. Chapter 2 of the Grade 8 textbook tells us: "Jesus, God's Son, is the most complete revelation of God's love. He revealed that God is a Trinity of Persons -- the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit -- a communion of relationships" (page 14). In the accompanying Teaching Guide, the teaching emphasis is all on the relationships! One of the most dramatic examples of how easily the emphasis is switched from Jesus to what the authors really think is important occurs in grade 5, page 21. In the Teaching Guide, the teacher is directed to write the word Jesus, on the board and circle it. She then asks "What are some words that describe how Jesus showed love for others?" Around the word Jesus, she is directed to write the students' answers, such as kindness, forgiveness, respect etc. Then the Guide directs the teacher: "Erase the word Jesus and replace it with the word relationships. Ask the students: How can the words in the web guide us in our relationships? Possible answer: They remind us of the attitudes and actions that nurture relationships". Jesus, meanwhile, has disappeared from sight.
Myth 4 - That God made us good and sin has not changed that.
There is an almost neo-Pelagian emphasis on "celebrating the goodness" of everyone and, especially, of celebrating a healthy sexuality. This is true throughout the program. Sin is mentioned, though sins are sometimes referred to as "risks" or "bad choices". Similarly, there are several references to "everlasting death" and "everlasting life"; but the overall sense we gather from the program is that we are all almost equal "partners with God in making the world a better place" (Grade 7, page 25). Again, in the Grade 8 textbook and Teaching Guide, there is a reference to the "last judgment" but no mention of heaven or hell (in fact, hell and the devil are nowhere mentioned).
"We believe that when we die, we will be judged by how well we loved one another and God. We will see the consequences of each loving action we took and the consequences of each failure to act lovingly" (Grade 8, page 66) -- but there are no consequences for us, apparently!
Even in the Grade 8 Teaching Guide (page 67), the Background Information is given as follows: "The last judgment is one of the 'last things'. At the end of time, all will rise from the dead. Because each person will already have experienced a particular judgment, there will be no surprises. Every consequence of our good choices and our failures will be revealed. Indeed, as the Catechism says, the last judgment is the fulfillment of our hope in Christ".
"Because you were created by God and created to be like him, you are good, too." (Grade 5, page 4).
"All that God created is good and not even sin can change that" (Grade 5, page 40). On the contrary, sin does change the goodness of what God created by introducing evil into it; the fact that this does not destroy or annul the goodness of God's creation is what needs to be taught, not that sin does not change it.
Myth 5 - That a program based on building self-esteem and relationships, establishing sexual identity, and teaching children the language of choice (which, not incidentally, ties in with the feminist and abortion agendas) is compatible with a program based on character building, authentic sexual roles, and awe and respect for -- and obedience to -- God.
Probably no word or concept is used more in this program than the word "choice", except possibly "relationship". "Making choices" is a major emphasis of the GIL series. Many of the uses of the term are perfectly all right, but there are at least two problems: 1) the term "choice", and some of the other sexual and self-esteem terms used, are, in the secular culture around us, connected to anti-Catholic and anti-supernatural agendas; 2) over-use of these terms supersedes the use of other words that would fit better with Catholic belief -- namely, terms such as "obey"6, "doing God's will", "learning humility", and so on. These terms are conspicuous by their absence. The way "choice" is used instead of them will be confusing to children at best.
Kindergarten Teaching Guide, T64: "What are the kinds of choices that we make? (loving choices, unloving choices, and choices that are neither good nor bad)". Grade 2, Student Activity Book, page 43: "Making Good Choices - Read each story. Look at the pictures. Color each picture that shows a good way to act on feelings" (emphasis added).
Grade 3, Chapter 5, page 28: "Part of growing up is learning to make good choices. When you were small, you made a few choices for yourself. As you get older, you will make more decisions for yourself". The book mentions ways that we learn to make good choices, namely: rules; people in authority; God; Jesus (by his example); praying to the Holy Spirit.
Grade 5, Chapter 3, page 25: "When you become one with Jesus in the Eucharist, you receive strength to make choices and develop habits that show respect for yourself and for others."
Grade 6, page 9: "Your spirit helps define who you are. You care for your spirit by accepting yourself with all your strengths and weakness. Find out more about yourself by staying close to God through prayer and the Sacraments.... Pursue interests and activities that help you be the best person possible".
Grade 8, Chapter 5, p. 52: "[Saint Agnes] was remarkable because she refused to be treated as an object. Even facing death, Saint Agnes stood up to others who wanted to control her body and her future". This depiction of Saint Agnes fits with certain modern views of how women should act but distorts the historical and religious reality of her life quite markedly.
Myth 6 - That all traditional male-female roles have been shown to be false and are ineffective stereotypes, while more recent ideas have been proven to be beneficial to men, women, children, and society.
On the contrary, our modern society is experimenting with role changes that have never been proven to be beneficial, and, as a result, there have been many negative impacts on both families and children. The uncritical adoption by this program of fashionable contemporary ideas about male-female roles raises serious questions about how well the program's authors even grasp Catholic tradition and teaching concerning the respective natures of men and women. Throughout the GIL program, there are pictures, exercises, and discussion questions that call into question the traditional roles of men and women; and, although GIL does emphasize the sexual characteristics of male and female persons, it can be very fuzzy on the true significance and innateness of these qualities. The program's authors do sometimes use the word complementarity, but they seem oblivious its meaning and to the significance of natural differences between men and women.
Grade 5, Chapter 1, pages 6-7: "Different but Equal", the Teaching Guide Background explains: "Gender Differences -- In speaking about genders and gender traits, there are few absolutes. The prevailing culture plays a strong role in dictating gender differences" -- and the "Catholic tradition", which the authors claim to reflect, presumably has nothing at all to say on what the respective roles of men and women might be!
Myth 7 - That the greatest public health problem in the nation today is HIV/AIDS - so much so that this problem, and the people who suffer from it, must be preferred over all others; and
Myth 8 - That the homosexual "lifestyle" is on a par with heterosexual relations and that anyone who disagrees with this is a "homophobe".
Both Myth #7 & Myth #8 are closely related, and hence are treated together. Here again, the program's authors seem to have bought uncritically into some common "compassionate" and "non-judgmental" modern viewpoints on homosexuality and the current AIDS epidemic.
Throughout the GIL program, there is a strong emphasis on the care of HIV/AIDS victims (as if this were a primary concern of children in grade school - the concern taught should surely be for the care of all who are ill or victims!) Strong emphasis is also placed on the "equality" of homosexuals with heterosexuals (again, a false distinction taken from the secular culture: "equality" is properly predicated of persons, not of their sexuality). Church teaching is stated in words, but is more than a little undermined by the presentations. This is surely the wrong emphasis, especially considering how this topic is handled by the definitive edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
No suggestion is being made here, of course, that homosexuals are lacking in human dignity or that care and compassion should not be given to HIV/AIDS victims (as, indeed, the Church has not failed to do). But Catholic students are not going to understand important distinctions here from the way the whole subject is presented in this series.
Grade 2, Lesson 2, Teaching Guide, page 44: "Explain that some people today are feared because of an illness they have. Write the word AIDS on the board or on chart paper. Pronounce the word for the children and use Vocabulary to help them understand the term ... they do not need to be afraid of being friends with someone who has AIDS or any other serious illness".
Grade 6, Chapter 4, page 33: "As Jesus cared for those whom others shunned, so does the Church. This is particularly evident in the way it reaches out to those infected with HIV and those suffering from AIDS". Teaching Guide, page 33: "Why are people afraid of those suffering from AIDS or of those infected with HIV? (Possible answers: They are frightened that they may get the disease; they don't know exactly how AIDS-associated illnesses are transmitted; they hate people who are homosexual)".
Grade 5, Chapter 7, pages 54-55: "As our bodies develop and mature, most of us become attracted to people of the other gender. This tendency is called heterosexuality... Some people continue to be attracted to those of the same gender. This tendency is called homosexuality. The Church teaches that two people of the same gender may not express affection in ways that are appropriate for married love only. One of the reasons for this is that their physical relationship cannot be open to new life".
Myth 9 - That children are helped to have a "healthy sexuality" by references to the erotic qualities of relationships and by highly-sexualized ways of talking about bodies, about parental relationships, and about friendships of various kinds.
On the contrary, in a society that most people agree is already sex saturated and over-eroticized, it is surprising to come upon a sex education program claiming to be Catholic that is nevertheless immersed in the same kind of preoccupation with the erotic -- a preoccupation that would seem to be far from healthy. One would think that a truly Catholic program would partake, at least in some measure, of Saint Paul's admonition that "immorality and all impurity... must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints" (Eph 5:3). Instead, the authors of this program seem to want to initiate Catholic children into acceptance of the unhealthy eroticism of today's society at large.
Grade 4, Chapter 3, page 19: "At your age, your sexuality wisely includes having both boys and girls as friends. Friends of different genders can grow to understand and enjoy each other. Understanding will help you respect others and their sexuality and learn to express your own sexuality appropriately." One might legitimately ask: what is an appropriate way of expressing one's sexuality in the fourth grade? And why are fourth-grade children being asked to dwell on ways to express their sexuality in the first place?7
Grade 5, page 47: "To celebrate their special bond of love, husbands and wives have the gift of the intimate expression of their sexuality called sexual intercourse... The pleasure the spouses experience in sharing this special joining of their bodies is intended to deepen their love and unity and demonstrate their willingness to welcome children".
It should be noted that the children are being asked to focus on the "pleasure" of sexual intercourse in the fifth grade. What could possibly be "age appropriate" about this?
Grade 5, Chapter 7, page 54: "At your age, you are probably attracted to people of your own gender. This is normal and natural... Some people continue to be attracted to those of the same gender. This tendency is called homosexuality". Attraction in the context here carries obvious sexual overtones. Do the authors mean here that fifth-graders are sexually attracted to those of the same sex, and that this is normal? The presentation could also lead the children to think that homosexuality is both normal and natural.
Myth 10 - That exhaustive and graphic physical information must accompany moral formation - beginning in the early grades.
Giving out this type of information to pre-adolescents was never even imagined until about 40 years ago. Most people in most times and places have believed that a sense of privacy and modesty should prevail when dealing with sexual information. The Church's official documents on the subject emphatically stress the same thing. Maintaining privacy and modesty has never kept people from developing a sound sense of sexual morality; quite the contrary, this has served as a protection for sexual development and morality and personal privacy. The virtual immersion in a kind of eroticism that is found in this program, however, is not likely to help in the development of proper moral formation.
Myth 11 - That experts have established that it is age-appropriate to teach graphically about body parts and intimate sexual practices to children in a classroom setting (or in any setting).
There is no scientific data or research results, anywhere, on the subject of "age appropriateness" that proves that this kind of teaching is appropriate or beneficial; it is simply an assumption of sex educators. The theories of Alfred Kinsey, of course, have served as the basis for this kind of approach; but his theories are based on ideology, not on science.8 Although sex educators like to speak of the benefits of this kind of explicit education, no serious studies have established the need or value of explicitly teaching children about sex, sexual desire, sexual relations, etc., as virtually all sex education programs -- including this one -- consider it so appropriate, indeed imperative, to do.9
Myth 12 - That there is a significant difference between the de-personalization of pornography and the de-personalization of teaching children the graphic explicit sexual information that is found in this program.
It is generally understood today that one of the evils of pornography is that, by focusing on bodies and body parts divorced from real persons and personal relationships, human dignity is gravely violated and persons come to be treated as mere objects. Modern sex educators do this too often, and thus share, to a greater or lesser degree, in the same kind of evil that pornography is widely understood to be.10 This bad effect is made worse by transforming sexuality into something that must be treated "objectively", or in an eroticized context, and by means of formal programs, whether in the classroom, in groups or counseling sessions, or even between parents and children, and if the children's questions have been prematurely thrust on them.
The GIL program cannot escape from negative judgment; on the contrary, GIL takes for granted the assumptions of modern sex educators that human bodies and their sex may be properly treated as mere objects. Indeed, it insists on this.
General Observations and Conclusions
In all other times and places, except our own, apparently, it has been understood that the sexual dimension of the human person is both mysterious and powerful and needs to be surrounded with a protective mantle. This has been understood to be especially true where children are concerned. Our modern society, though, has a tendency to confuse the proper roles of adults and children and to place burdens on children that can disturb and even overwhelm them. Instead of forming children in the virtues that will help them deal with all aspects of life, too many modern adults just want to give children information -- and then let them make use of it as best they can.
We should understand, however, that some kinds of information and skills cannot be utilized very well by children. They cannot always appreciate the meaning of what they are being told, and they cannot always foresee the consequences of acting on the information they are given. In her autobiography The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom recounts an incident from her childhood when she and her father were traveling on a train and she asked a question that her father did not answer. Then, when they were preparing to leave the train, her father asked Corrie to pick up their heavy suitcase and carry it off the train. Corrie protested that it was too big and she could not lift it. Her father then told her that the reason he had not answered her question was because it would have been an inappropriate burden for her to try to carry at her age. This is also true of much of what modern sex education programs think they have to impart to children.
The GIL program claims to be a program for our times and for modern children who are exposed to many immoral and inappropriate information sources. It is supposed to provide a moral formation along with explicit sexual information. The kind of "moral formation" that it provides is presented in a way that will more likely confuse than inform children and families. In addition, it has serious deficiencies from the viewpoint of Catholic teaching and Catholic belief.
But even if the moral formation found in the program were perfect, the format and the graphic information in the supplementary lessons found in the Program Resource books and in the Family Resource books would still be harmful to children. These lessons offend in at least two ways: being excessively graphic and depersonalized; and being excessively "eroticized".11
The de-personalization involved in the graphic diagrams and descriptions throughout the Supplements is pretty easy to see. The usual recommendation to parents and teachers is to always be "clear and candid" and "honest"; or to "point out that children benefit from knowing the facts about the natural process of pregnancy and birth. Be matter of fact in your presentation and correct any inaccuracies of misunderstanding" (K, PR, page 65). Why not be honest with the children in teaching them that, in healthy societies, "letting it all hang out" in sexual matters is not necessarily the wisest course?
The one exception to always being explicit and graphic that I found in the series was, by the way, when the discussion dealt with abortion. There were no diagrams here, and the recommendation was: "Group discussions may raise questions about abortion procedures. If you must address the issue in a student-adult setting, use caution and avoid sensationalizing or dwelling on graphic detail" (Grade 4, PR, page 48). Why not employ some of the same caution in discussing graphic sexual details?
The fact is, though, that rather frank eroticization is quite pronounced in the supplementary materials. It starts in kindergarten and continues throughout the series, both in the student textbooks and in the supplementary books. Two examples from the Family Resource Books:
Kindergarten Family Resource Book, pages 15-16:
"Answering Your Child's Questions: What does having sex mean?... When a man and a woman really love each other, they may get married. They then show their love and closeness by kissing, hugging, and holding each other in a special way. This special loving embrace is called sexual intercourse, or 'making love'.... Why do people need privacy sometimes? Sometimes your dad (or mom) and I need to be alone together so we can share our loving feeling in a special way...."
This is age appropriate for children in kindergarten?
Or again: Grade 7, Family Resource Book, page 15: "What is anal sex? What are 'sex toys'? What is 'S and M'?" The answers to these questions in the GIL book are so explicit that I am not going to repeat them in this article. Enough has already been said to demonstrate the true nature of this program.
The Harcourt Religion Growing in Love program is not suitable for Catholic children, contrary to the claims made for it. Rather than being part of the solution to the sex-saturated society of today from which it purports to save Catholic children, it is part of the problem. Parents, pastors, and teachers -- concerned for the well-being of their children -- have ample grounds to challenge the introduction or use of this program in any educational setting that purports to be Catholic.
1 The principal Program Consultants to this series are: James J. DeBoy, Jr., M.A., a diocesan official in Baltimore, MD; Toinette M. Eugene, Ph.D., a diocesan official in Oakland, California; and the Reverend Sparks, who is described as a speaker, lecturer, author, consultant, and associate pastor in Chicago, Illinois. Their explanatory essays are found on pages T12-T17 in every Teaching Guide. Numerous other consultants and reviewers are listed.
2 On the background of this document, see this writer's booklet: Whitehead, Margaret M., Sex Education: The Catholic Scene (St. Louis, MO: Women for Faith and Family, 1993), especially page 9. Note that this document is out of print. You can now view the web version by clicking here.
3 The committee that produced the HSLL document in 1990 consisted of five Bishops, publicly identified, and an Advisory Committee, the identity of whose members was scrupulously kept confidential, even from the other bishops. This was just one of the controversial aspects of the document. Over time, however, some of the members of the secret committee have become known. Father Richard Sparks was, reportedly, one of them.
4 Teaching Guide, page T-9.
5 There is at least one other reference to Jesus as "fully God and fully human" in the Grade 3 textbook, page 17.
6 The words "obey" or "obedience" are used only a few times in the whole program: once in Grade 3, page 42, of the Teaching Guide; and twice in Grade 8, page 37, e.g.: "People who enter religious life make a public commitment to chastity, poverty, and obedience as a way to imitate Jesus". Note that obedience seems to be something mainly for vowed religious, not for all of us. Then, again, in the same Grade 8 on page 56, we find this: "Because parents share with us their lives and their love, we owe them our respect and obedience" - only because they share their lives and their love with us, apparently, and not because of the Fourth Commandment?
"Rules" and "guidance" are mentioned only a couple of times, e.g.: in Grade 4, Chapter 5, page 28: "Rules are an attempt to put into words what we believe God wants and what will make us and our world better"; again, in Grade 8, Chapter 7, page 66: "Fortunately, Jesus and the Church offer us guidance".
The Commandments are shown in a picture in Grade 3; they are mentioned in Grade 4, page 29; in Grade 5, page 3; and in Grade 7, page 54.
7 Both the GIL authors and the 1990 Bishops' statement on human sexuality, HSLL, describe sexuality as simply the male or female components of personality and claim that the term can be separated from the idea of sex, which refers to biological aspects and sexual expression. See Grade 5 Student Text and Teacher Guide on p. 20 or Grade 8, p. 27 for examples of this all-inclusive definition of sexuality. This is a common but highly confusing methodology often used in secular sex education programs today. But the fact that the word sexuality already has meanings connected to sex and sexual expression cannot simply be ignored in the interests of what amounts to ideology.
In 1992, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement criticizing this kind of usage while commenting on certain erroneous theological opinions: "It becomes ambiguous and confusing, then, when all affective relationships, even those of parents with their children, those of celibates and so on are characterized as 'sexual'" (Origins, Feb. 13, 1992, Vol.21: No. 36, p. 575).
8 "It has long been recognized that one of the faults of the Kinsey research was the way in which the cases were selected: the sample is not representative of the entire U.S. population or of any definable group in the population. Some respondents were chosen because they were delinquents, criminals, or sex offenders..." (AIDS, Sexual Behavior and Intravenous Drug Use, Committee on AIDS Research and the Behavioral, Social, and Statistical Sciences, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1989, p. 82).
9 Onalee McGraw, Ph.D., Director of the Educational Guidance Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, has been researching this area and will soon be publishing a study providing "Foundations for Abstinence until Marriage Education". Dr. McGraw's publication should be an invaluable and much needed resource for parents and educators.
10 Wendy Shalit, in her excellent recent book, A Return to Modesty (New York: The Free Press, 1999), describes the de-stabilizing effects of explicit classroom sex education of children. This is an excellent book to give to parents, pastors, bishops, and educators to help them to understand the true ramifications of these issues.
11 Contrary to the claims of the authors of the GIL program, who downplay the immoral possibilities of the erotic (e.g., Grade 5, Program Resource Book, page 40), it is fairly well known that erotic fantasies can lead to deviant and inappropriate sexual activities.
Margaret M. Whitehead, M.A., is a professional Director of Religious Education in Northern Virginia. She is former president of the Educational Guidance Institute, an organization that conducted chastity education programs in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. Mrs. Whitehead is married and the mother of four grown sons.
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