Parents Object to this Method of Teaching
My child was in a religion class recently where they were asked to weigh out the consequences of a series of possible decisions, everything from cheating on a test to premarital sex. I object to this kind of teaching but am unsure as how to approach it with the teacher.
What you are describing may or may not necessarily be a bad thing depending how it is handled by the teacher.
Assuming the children are of an appropriate age to discuss such topics, some teachers will use the childrens’ own knowledge to draw them to the conclusion that whatever the perceived benefits of an action, these benefits cannot negate the fact that the action itself is still intrinsically wrong and therefore any “benefit” is more than nullified by the manner in which it was obtained. In other words, the ends do not justify the means. By guiding the students to this knowledge, helping the students to draw this conclusion for themselves, teachers can help the students assimilate the lesson more completely.
Where the danger lies is if the teacher were to offer no real guidance or incorrectly reassures the students that their considerations of the consequences is enough to determine the rightness or wrongness of an action. This is essentially proportionalism. Proportionalism would have one weigh the good and bad consequences in proportion to each other in order to determine whether an action is right or wrong, good or bad. In many areas of life we do weigh the effects of our decisions in the light of the foreseeable consequences, e.g. Shall we wear a sweater or jacket? Shall I answer the phone and risk talking to the aluminum siding salesman for the third time this week or shall I let it ring? These sorts of decisions appropriately belong in the realm of proportionalism. Decisions on moral issues, however do not.
To reduce morality to merely weighing the consequences of a decision makes in essence, the person the arbiter of good and evil. Unfortunately, even the best informed person cannot necessarily know all the possible consequences of a particular action, especially when that person is a teenager. Further, because in proportionalism there can be permutations of every possible situation perceived, the conclusion eventually comes that there are no moral absolutes, in so far as that a situation can be imagined that would make virtually any action permissible.
This type of argument is used in situations ranging from justifying abortion to why you weren’t told by your teenager what exactly he did to get that extra dent in the family mini-van. Regardless of the situation, the fact remains that there are certain actions that are intrinsically evil and therefore, always wrong. In other words, there are moral absolutes, things that simply cannot be justified no matter what their effects. A proportionalist would disagree with this.
If you decide to discuss this with the teacher, discuss it with your child first. Remember, that second hand information received through a 16 year old filter is not always the most reliable information. With no intention to deceive, your child still may not have fully understood or been paying complete attention to what was trying to be taught. The teacher may have been playing devil’s advocate. This can be a very effective tool for teaching children not only the lesson at hand, but how to intelligently articulate an argument for their point of view.
If you are convinced that the teacher was in error, educate yourself further on proportionalism, the sketch you have been given here will not suffice. When discussing the lesson with the teacher, tell them what your child seemed to have learned from it (that they decide the rightness or wrongness of an action by weighing the perceived consequences) and ask if that was what was intended to be taught. It may not have been. Even the best lesson may not be taught or received perfectly on any given day.
If proportionalism was the point of the lesson, be aware that the teacher may not know what proportionalism is, at least not by its proper name. They may be what we might call an “accidental proportionalist”, many people, perhaps most, may fall into this category at some level or another. Their mindset, the manner in which they are accustomed to thinking is incorrect, however there is no ill will on their part. Think for a moment of how pandemic proportionalism is in our society. Everything from how and what news is reported to the manner in which corporations justify some of their more questionable practices is filtered through the lens of proportionalism. The teacher may be well intentioned, but poorly educated. If you alienate them through accusations and threats they will most likely dismiss your point before you leave the room and you may end up creating a justifiable reputation for yourself as being unreasonable and difficult among the staff.
If however, you come across a teacher who, knowing full well that what they are teaching is contrary to Church teaching, and yet continues to teach proportionalism that is a different story. Engaging them can be difficult if you don’t have a background in philosophy or apologetics. If your discussion with the teacher bears no fruit you may choose to speak to the administration. Explain your concerns calmly and rationally. Speak directly to the situation at hand.
Most importantly, remember you are your child’s primary teacher. Do not dismiss your influence on them. They learn from you, and that is especially true in how you handle difficult situations. Even if you feel that you have exhausted every avenue available to you at the school and gotten nowhere, talking honestly with your child about what they are learning, not attacking the person of the teacher, can go a long way in helping your student see the error of the situation. If you are able to speak the truth firmly and charitably you will go much further in educating your child than a school will.
Lastly, pray for your children’s teachers. They teach your child, they deserve that much. So does your child.
“He works on us in all sorts of ways. But above all, He works on us through each other. Men are mirrors, or “carriers” of Christ to other men. Usually it is those who know Him that bring Him to others. That is why the Church, the whole body of Christians showing Him to one another, is so important….The Church exists for no other purpose but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs…It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other reason.”
— C.S. Lewis
“Break the Conventions…Keep the Commandments”
— G.K. Chesterton
“I matter, you matter. It is the hardest thing about theology to believe.”
“You can’t reason with a man about his opinions if he didn’t use reason to arrive at them.”