Deschooling Religious Ed

Deschooling Religious Ed February 8, 2014

The ideological assumption that ‘schooling’ and ‘education’ are synonyms, that they both describe the same exact thing, has sunk so deeply into our collective consciousness, that it is at this point ubiquitous. Common sense has gone insane.

Homeschooling, for the most part, is nothing more than schooling in a home. The kitchen table replaces the desk, but the textbook and the formulaic curricula remain.

So much of the dreary  institutionalization that measures-out time into Mondays, TGIF’s, and blessed weekends, so much of our so-called work, from which we pine to escape and dread to return, is a natural extension of schooling: the schedule, the divided walls, the authority and compulsion, the mindless curriculum and assignments, the homework called “working from home,” the rules and the stupid, palliative reliefs that make life barely livable.

The television shows that show us how schooled we are and then ask us to laugh at it and ourselves, with advertising in between.


Society itself can at times seems like nothing other than a school. The world has become a school, with discipline and pedagogy everywhere. We are taught how to shop and how to live and where to go to have a good time on billboards and flashing textbooks. Our cars and our glasses and our toilet paper are all included. The world as a school is a place where no person can be trusted — everyone must be trained and formed and protected from themselves.

Algorithms predict our desires. Oracles. Someday, we too will become programmable computers.

The generic idea of school is harmless and old. The modern version, beginning with the Prussian research university, followed by the Prussian compulsory schooling system, the first of its kind and a blueprint for the United States and now the rest of the world, is an extension of the now-failed political project of protestantism, modernity, colonialism, and (neo)liberalism.

You can see school in the prison, the hospital, the buildings and programs that divide and herd and apply newfangled technologies of disciplinary cafeterias.

The sort of schooling that now exists is much more vast than the local schoolhouse and its students, staff, teachers, and administrators. Today’s schooling is an ideology, a metanarrative, a messianic axiology that tells us that without schooling we will be left jobless, wretched, and unredeemed.

Salvation today is given in degrees and diplomas and credentials. God is dead because we sent him to school, too.


In our parishes and churches, the sacraments have been thoroughly schooled. We treat them as we would a high school diploma. A religious credential. A passing grade.

Catechesis, then, has become the required schooling for the credentialing of the sacraments. This is the logic of most religious education nowadays, even the ones that seem to be thoughtful and alternative thinking. Even the nice people who give up their time. Volunteers.

There are no alternatives to schooling today. Our Church itself, the ecclesial structure and bureaucracy and petty ethics, has been schooled.

Francis is radical because he is an unschooled pope.


Religious education has become religious schooling. Mystagogy has been emaciated into pedagogy.

We do not have good religious education because we do not intend to educate in the first place. Plus, religion itself has been schooled into argumentative sets of rigorisms and sentimentalisms.

What we want is “learning”: skilled recitations and formulaic mastery of the Catechism’s words, forgetting the Rabbi who taught in silence, story, parable, and aphorism. This is why today’s religious education must ignore the mentally disabled, the illiterate, the ones who schooling has condemned to nothing.

A creed and a confession have been reduced to mental epistemologies, lacking soul and devotion.

The school is Cartesian, it is a cognitive institution. It has no place for lepers and for poor people who only see a priest every two months, because they live in seclusion. Nursing homes will school the dying.

Religious education is failing because it is not education. It is schooling.


The solutions are themselves problematic, repackaged as “reform,” and sold in bulk. Or given away, for free, like Matthew Kelly.

There are no solutions to schooling because it is a false problem to begin with, it works on assumptions that are as fake as they are pernicious.

The first rule to deschooling is this: to change everything you must work to change nothing.

No externals. No blog posts or books or time to contemplate the contradiction. The work of deschooling is a work of the heart, a return to what is real and lasting in the midst of a world we have turned into a school because we cannot run the mutual risks of love and suffering, a forest we have burned and neutered to save the trees.


Those who worship a living God, a God beyond all the gods and idols of our era, a God who cannot be named or contained or described, a God who is a terrible student, a God who is beyond the intellect, a God who is not “smart” or “successful” or a CEO, a God who dwells in darkness and pain and misery, who doesn’t forget the needy, a God who is not a catechist or a dog trainer, those who worship this impossible God, already know that CCD and catechesis and adult formation and all the classes and courses and old cassette tapes are nothing, and must remain nothing, in comparison to the real stuff of mystagogy: the Liturgy, prayer, life and work, and love. Conversion.

There is so much we already have and do that is religious education, the real version, the kind that cannot be schooled. The world is not a school. We live in a Divine ecology and economy. Find it. Beauty. Cherish it. Embrace, forgive, dwell, and maybe keep going to school for the sheer fun of it — or not.


For more Patheos articles on Rethinking Religious Education, see #RethinkingRE on Twitter, and this and this, from The Anchoress and Egregarious Twaddle, with links galore. To read an enumerated sequel to this post, click here.


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