Sam Rocha’s Primer for Philosophy & Education – A Gentle Wake Up Call for Catechists

Sam Rocha’s Primer for Philosophy & Education – A Gentle Wake Up Call for Catechists August 31, 2013

I accepted a review copy of Sam Rocha’s A Primer for Philosophy and Education with trepidation: Academics tend to write horribly, and philosophers are the worst of the lot.  Well, I found a jewel. Not only can the man write clearly and well, he can think straight, too.  Sam Rocha’s Primer is a treasure trove of measured, thoughtful reflection on what makes education, and how to become educated.

I recommend his book wholeheartedly to anyone who is serious about education – teachers, catechists, parents, principals and directors of religious education, pastors, students.  The reading level isn’t babyish — you have to put on your thinking cap and reflect on what you’re reading — but it’s geared toward the intelligent layman who truly cares about the topic.  Pour a cup of tea, put up your feet, and get your pencil ready to highlight your favorite lines.

Today I’d like to share a few quotes from the book that I think speak to the state of catechesis today, and share my own reflections on what we educators need to consider.

“Students like these are motivated by a sense of entrapment, a feeling that they must go to school and get good grades in order to get a respectable job, good reviews and promotions, a pay raise for having an advanced degree, so on and so forth – to avoid disappointing family and friends.”

This doesn’t just happen in academia, it happens in the parish.  How many teens are cycled through confirmation because it will please Mom & Dad?  How many parents baptize their children in order to silence Grandma’s nagging?

When someone walks through the door seeking sacraments the way they seek a diploma or their 1st Aid certification, we should welcome them wholeheartedly.  And then show them a better way.

“The problem with grades, credentials, and formal schooling is that it generates a culture and mentality of fear, distrust, and paranoia.”

Our diocese, like most, sets out a few minimum educational requirements for persons requesting the sacraments.  These standards are, at their heart, ordered toward a very serious matter: We must ensure that the individual is indeed prepared to receive Our Lord in a worthy manner.  But it is important that we communicate – in our words and in our policies – that what matters is not the sitting in a room, or the checking off of to-do items, but that the soul be prepared.  Classes are a tool that can help prepare students for the sacraments, and I am grateful for the excellent volunteers who’ve helped my own children grow in their faith.  But education is different than attendance.

“Of course students who attend a school that assigns grades should want to get good grades.  They should obviously not want to get bad ones.  However, you should not confuse this institutionalized process of grade-getting, school-going, degree-worshipping, and job-seeking with what philosophy and education have to offer you. . . . Formal schooling does not have the monopoly on philosophy or education.”

Our courses should be such that students and parents want to attend them.  And in guiding parents and students, we need to direct them not towards the checklist as the measure of spiritual growth, but to the serious questions of heart, soul, and mind.

“Google is full of information, but it has no wisdom of its own. A person who is full of information is not necessarily full of wisdom. . . . To win at games like Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit does not require wisdom, it only requires information.”

In catechesis, information nutures wisdom, and wisdom thirsts for information.  If I love God, I’ll want to know more about Him.  The more I know about God, the more reasons I’ll have to love Him.

We tend to slip into a false dichotomy, setting up hard facts against feelings, or precision against grace.  Not so.  The human mind and soul languish when the scales are loaded on one side only.  Demanding love without knowledge is an arranged marriage; demanding knowledge without love is a business relationship.  In our catechesis, we need to help our students love God in all four ways that He Himself has directed – heart, mind, soul, and strength.

“Read for the truth.  Write and speak to show what seems true.  Ask questions to get at what might be true.  Attend classes to seek the truth.  Do not settle for shallow, impoverished grades, and cheap, degrading awards. . . . Philosophy and education require courage.”

Recently a catechist (not from my parish) approached me privately with a difficult situation: Several fellow catechists in her program had shared with her various ways in which they are freely, and with full knowledge, choosing to act, in serious matters, in ways contrary to the Catholic faith.  They are committing no crimes, and they are not actively teaching dissent in the classroom.  But they clearly do not believe that the Church in her wisdom possesses the fullness of the truth.  The catechist asked what she should do.  She didn’t want to be a tattle-tale, and she did want to address the problem in a way that would help her colleagues grow in their own faith and embrace the fullness of the Church’s teachings.

She also knew instinctively about the essential relationship between education and truth: You can’t teach something you don’t believe is true.


Read the whole book. Beautifully written, and the whimsical line drawings create delightful moments to pause and reflect.  Well worth your time.

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