Silver Burdett religion series: “This Is Our Faith”
“This Is Our Faith“, published by Silver Burdett Ginn, Inc., Parsippany, NJ
Second, Fifth and Sixth Grade Texts
Reviewed by: LeAnn Belisle, B.A. – College of St. Catherine.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS:
The second grade text from this series does an adequate job of introducing topics in such a way that they will appeal to the student. These techniques fall flat, however, when it comes to the fifth and sixth grade texts which I consider to be very weak and superficial.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with learning how to behave according to Christian principles and deal with conflict, there is an over-emphasis on feelings which leaves little room for a thorough study of the scriptures and the history and concepts of the Catholic faith. To refer to the coverage of the various topics as “discussions” is certainly being generous when it often consists of only a few sentences. The student is left ill-equipped to deal with any real challenge concerning his knowledge of scripture or the unique aspects of Catholicism. In an age when religion and particularly Catholicism are under attack, this is so important.
The discussions of Catholic tradition are left in the back of the text almost as an afterthought.
Most, if not all, of the activity sections should simply be eliminated as they are just “busywork” and it is often a strain to see how they are even relevant.
As a child of the Seventies it is very reminiscent of the CCD (cut, color and draw) type of catechesis which leaves the child responding “nothing” to the question of “what did you learn in religion today?” I speak from experience on this because my own children, now teenagers, were taught from this series at our former parish. I believe our children deserve much better and that they recognize when their time is being wasted.
I strongly recommend that parents compare this series to one such as “Image of God”and see for themselves which does a better job of helping their child to know God so that they may then also grow to love and serve Him.
GRADE 2 TEXT
Overall, the second grade text of “This Is Our Faith” is a good basic introduction to the faith. The text is colorful and uses a variety of methods to hold the child’s interest and it conveys each lesson in language geared toward the reader’s level. The units in the text focus specifically on the sacraments and the Mass. The text opens with basic prayers such as the Hail Mary and the Glory Be and conclues with a section called Our Catholic Heritage, so the reader is introduced to the unique prayers and traditions of the Catholic Church. That being said, there are a couple caveats I will mention in the review of the individual units.
Unit 1 is entitled “Our Church Celebrates Sacraments” and introduces the concepts of community, Christianity, the Catholic Church, Baptism and Confirmation. Like all the units, it is comprised of a few chapters which each discuss a particular topic. Each chapter contains a writing activity, and one or more simplified Bible stories to reinforce each concept. The introduction to baptism and confirmation is well done. The author might have made clearer, however, the definition of the Catholic Church. Chapter 1 defines “Christian” as “a friend and follower of Jesus Christ,” a “Church” (capital “C”) as “a community of Christians,” and “Catholic Church” as “the Christian community to which we belong.” I would have liked to see mention of the fact that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ. The unit ends, as do the others, with review activities, a section called “Day to Day Skills for Christian Living” and a take-home leaflet for parents called “Opening Doors.” The “Day to Day” section gives some practical advice to help the child improve his listening and communication skills in everyday life and pay more attention to the thoughts and feelings of others. Each “Opening Doors” leaflet contains “Closer Look”, which lets the parent know what the child is studying, “Being Catholic”, which educates the parent on some aspect of Catholicism, and “Growing Closer,” a suggestion for a family activity. Being a child of the Seventies, I have a special appreciation for material which educates the parent as well as the child about Catholicism and perhaps other parents appreciate this material as well.
Unit 2 is entitled “Our Church Celebrates Reconciliation”, devoting all its chapters to the introduction of this very important sacrament. It begins with a discussion of responsibility and making choices and goes on to discuss forgiveness and the sacrament of reconciliation. The gospel stories are well chosen and are each followed by a section called “Understanding the Message” to help the child relate the gospel to his own life. The author introduces the concept of sin as hurting someone on purpose, doing something we know is wrong, or not doing something we know we should do. The unit includes a Prayer of Sorrow, photographs of a girl making a face-to-face confession, and an Examination of Conscience. The author does not shy away from discussing the existence of sin but also emphasizes God’s great mercy. Mention must be made of a couple of items in the “Opening Doors” leaflet for this unit. In the “Being Catholic” section for parents, mention is made of communal reconciliation as one of the ways to celebrate the sacrament “with the opportunity for private confession.” No mention is made of the fact that this option is only to be used in the case of grave necessity, as the Catechism states, when there is imminent danger of death without sufficient time for the priest to hear each confession. To leave the reader with the impression that individual confession is only an opportunity rather than a requirement is a disservice. The “Closer Look” section lists “waving at others” as one of the ways of sharing the sign of peace. This could have been omitted in light of “Redemptoris Sacramentum” which states that it is appropriate “that each one give the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner”. I don’t think second graders should be encouraged to start waving to their friends at Mass.
Unit 3 is entitled “Our Church Gathers for Mass” and takes the reader through the first part of the Mass. It begins with the reason we gather together, to celebrate the special meal called the Eucharist. It goes on to explain the importance of the gospel, the homily, and the Liturgy of the Word. It concludes with a discussion of the Prayer of the Faithful. The text includes gospel stories, pictures, photographs and short-answer activities to reinforce the material. The “Being Catholic” section provides parents with a discussion of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Unit 4 is entitled “Our Church Celebrates the Eucharist” and devotes its chapters to an explanation of the Liturgy of the Eucharist including the bringing of gifts, the Eucharistic Prayer, the sacrifice of Jesus, Jesus as the Bread of Life, and Communion. It includes the story of the loaves and fishes, the leper who returned to thank Jesus, and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The author explains that “[d]uring the Liturgy of th Eucharist, bread and wine become for us Jesus, the Bread of Life…[c]ommunion is the part of the Mass that unites us more fully with Jesus and with everyone in the human family.” I think the author does a good job of not only introducing the correct terms for the different parts of the Mass, but also emphasizing the sacrifice of Christ and the transubstantiation of the bread and wine. As a caveat, there is a photograph of a priest giving Communion but there is also a photograph of a lay person giving Communion. In this way I think there is a tendency to “normalize” the widespread use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion when the terms of Redemptoris Sacramentum would prohibit this practice except in cases of true necessity. Paragraph 158 of that document states: “Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason.” In addition, the text uses the term “eucharistic minister” rather than “extraordinary minister of Holy Communion”; paragraph 156 of Redemptoris Sacramentum specifically prohibits use of terms such as “special minister of Holy Communion”, “extraordinary minister of the Eucharist” or “special minister of the Eucharist”, “by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened.” We should not minimize the impact of these early impressions on the child and the importance of unity of practice and obedience to the Holy See in these matters.
Unit 5 is entitled “The Eucharist Is Jesus With Us” and is the concluding unit of the text. It describes the Eucharist as a sacrament of unity and peace, a call to love and serve others, and a promise of new life. There is a story about the death of a child’s grandfather being a part of living but not the end. This is followed by the gospel story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ at the tomb and a discussion of Christ’s presence with us in the Eucharist. In some parts of the text, the author states that the risen Jesus is present “in the bread and wine that we share” while in other parts stating that “the priest changes the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood.” It may be left unclear to the second grader whether the bread and wine have become Christ’s body and blood or whether the bread and wine is still there.
Following the units, the text briefly disusses the celebration of Saints (specifically Mother Frances Cabrini), Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Mary, Holy Days (specifically the Feast of Corpus Christi) and Pope John XXIII. It was disappointing to see Mary get so little emphasis. A brief description of the feast of the visitation is given and the text simply states that “[e]very year on May 31 the Church remembers Mary’s visit.”
The final portion of the text is a section called “Our Catholic Heritage” which covers four topics: what Catholics believe (about the Bible, the Trinity, the Catholic Church Mary, New Life Forever); how Catholics worship (the sacraments, the Mass, reconciliation); how Catholics live (the Commandments, vocations, religious sisters); and how Catholics pray (kinds of prayer and The Lord’s Prayer). Some of this very brief material covers the same material as that presented in the study units or could have easily been incorporated into those discussions. For example, the author briefly mentions the Pope in the section on what Catholics believe about the Catholic Church, but there is no mention of the Pope in Unit 1’s coverage of the Catholic Church. I’m not sure why the author chose to treat topics such as the Trinity and Mary as footnotes. The text does give a good treatment of The Lord’s Prayer by separating it into the seven petitions and discussing the meaning of each one. It is accompanied by a photograph of the congregation holding raised hands during The Lord’s Prayer. This is a controversial practice, and the Holy See has used language discouraging it, but it has not explicitly forbidden it. For a discussion I direct the reader to Tim Ryland’s article entitled “Show of Hands” on the Catholic Answers website (www.catholic.com/thisrock/1999/9905up.asp).
I consider the second grade text of “This Is Our Faith” to be a good presentation of reconciliation, the Eucharist, and the Mass. I have a few reservations about some the material as noted above but I believe these do not create sufficient cause to dismiss the text in its entirety.
GRADE 5 TEXT
The fifth grade text of “This Is Our Faith” is devoted to a discussion of the sacramental life of the Church and the Church as a sign of Christ in the world. In many ways it is very similar to the second grade text. It is very simplistic. The units again concern the sacraments and the various topics are covered very briefly while many pages are filled with activity items. My overall impression is that there is not a lot of “meat” to the topics covered and that the activity pages, stories and cartoon pictures, while perhaps useful for holding the interest of a second grader, take up valuable space which could be devoted to a more sophisticated discussion of the topics. Like the second grade text, the fifth grade text also opens with basic prayers and conclues with a section on Our Catholic Heritage. The prayers are the same as in the second grade text with the addition of the Nicene Creed and the Act of Contrition. The prayers are also given in Spanish (it would be nice to see them in Latin). Each chapter of the text begins with a story (in chapter 1, for example, a story about a friend who moves away), follows with questions for discussion of the story, an activity, a Gospel story, a short “Understanding the Message” discussion of the topic, a few vocabulary words, and a couple more pages of activity. Also like the second grade text, the Gospel stories are very simplified stories based on the actual readings. There is no coverage of the Old Testament or Church history. Each unit concludes with a section on skills for Christian living. For the fifth graders, the focus is on peacemaking skills, coping with difficult feelings, and learning how thoughts influence behavior.
Unit 1 is entitled “Sacraments: Celebrations of Life.” It discuses how things, such as sacraments and sacramentals, are signs of God’s love; how places, such as the Holy Land or a cathedral, are signs of God’s presence; how time, such as Lent or the liturgical year, are celebrations of God’s constant presence; and how people, such as the saints, are images of God’s love. The discussion of places includes the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. An example of an activity is “Think of what time feels like to you. Then finish the sentence: Time is….”
Unit 2 is entitled “Jesus: Sacrament of God’s Presence” and discusses that Jesus is teacher and prophet Who heals with God’s power and brings us to God in prayer. It discusses that Jesus also prayed and that His life and teachings make known the loving presence of God with us now. It introduces terms such as blasphemy and Incarnation. The “Being Catholic” section of the unit includes for parents a description of the Lectionary.
Unit 3 is entitled “The Church: Sacrament of Christ’s Presence.” It explains that Christ teaches through the Church, primarily through Her bishops; that Catholic social services bring Christ’s healing to others through the Church; that Christ’s presence can be recognized in the Church at prayer and in the breaking of the bread; and that the Church is the sacrament of Christ in the world and the members of the Church reveal the presence and activity of the risen Christ in our lives. The unit includes a short biography of Thomas Merton and an explanation of the marks of the Church. For parents is a section covering the various ways in which the Pope teaches, i.e. through ex cathedra statements and encyclicals and how the bishops teach, i.e. through synods and pastoral letters.
Unit 4 is entitled “Saraments of Initiation.” The first chapter states that there are 7 sacraments and identifies them. The next chapter describes baptism as a sacrament of welcome. At first read I could not locate any mention of original sin; it is only mentioned in the vocabulary section that baptism cleanses us of original sin. The chapter on confirmation contains a cartoon story of a boy’s confirmation and states that at confirmation the Holy Spirit makes us stronger to live and share our faith. The chapter on the Eucharist shows a photo of a mass at a modern-style church. Behind the priest’s chair is a very large tapestry of the sun; there is no crucifix or tabernacle in sight. The text simply states that the Blessed Sacrament is kept in a special place called the tabernacle. An activity for this chapter is to take each letter of the word “unity” and write a word or phrase that describes how unity in Jesus feels, looks, tastes, smells, or sounds. At the end of the unit is an activity on “God, the Environment, and Me.”
Unit 5 is entitled “Sacraments of Healing and Vocation.” Four of the six pages on reconciliation are activity pages. The text does define mortal and venial sin and states that mortal sin breaks off one’s relationship with God. There are no examples, however, of mortal or venial sins. The coverage of the Annointing of the Sick gives a good description of the sacrament and defines viaticum and the symbolism behind anointing with oil and the laying on of hands. The chapter on Holy Orders provides a description of an ordination service and defines terms such as deacons, vestments and chasuble. It also contains a brief biography of Pope John Paul II, which is the first mention of the Holy Father I have encountered in my review of the series. The chapter on matrimony is disappointing both for its brevity and some of the statements it makes. It does describe matrimony as a sign of love between the risen Christ and the Church. Covenant, however, is simply described as an agreement or contract between two people or groups with no emphasis on its solemnity and binding nature. The text almost seems to sanction the idea of divorce: “It is not always easy to love. Some couples experience difficulties they cannot overcome. They may not be able to live together in love all their lives. Even though they may try hard to love one another, they may someday decide that it is better for them not to live together any longer. When their best efforts at marriage fail, Christ and the Church allow them to separate for their own good and for the good of their children.” An activity at the end of Unit 5 is “God, My Culture and Me” which for example asks the student to cross out from a list of words three modes of transportation that connect the East and West Coasts.
The Grade 5 text concludes with short sections on All Souls’ Day (purgatory is not mentioned); Advent; Feast of the Immaculate Conception; Christmas; St. John Neumann; Lent (no mention of fasting or penance); Easter Vigil; Easter; and Dorothy Day. The “What Catholics Believe” section at the back of the book introduces concepts such as works of mercy, the precepts of the Church, the Way of the Cross and the Rosary.
Overall I find “This Is Our Faith” for fifth graders to be very weak in that it covers topics in much the same way as the second grade text and is very superficial. In my opinion too many pages are filled with cartoons, stories and activity items, some of which have little to do with a study of the Catholic faith. The gospel stories are very simplistic and watered down. Very little text is devoted to actual instruction; the “Understanding the Message” section of each chapter is generally no longer than half a page.
GRADE 6 TEXT
The sixth grade text has the same format as the 2nd and 5th grade texts and focuses on the roots of the faith found in the Old Testament. The prayers in the beginning of the text are the same as those found in the 5th grade text, again also in Spanish. Like the previous texts reviewed, the individual chapters within each unit begin with a family story followed by a few discussion questions, an activity, a gospel story based on the actual text, 3-4 short paragraphs of “Understanding the Message, a few vocabulary words, and more activities. Each unit ends with a short review such as matching a word with its definition, more activities, a section on conflict resolution, and a take-home section which includes a section for parents on “Being Catholic.”
Unit 1 is entitled “Creation, Sin, and Promise.” The messages given in the chapters are (1) the Bible is God’s revelation through inspired human words; (2) the story of creation does not attempt to give a scientific explanation of the origin of the universe but is a myth that attempts to explain the meaning and purpose of life; (3) God is totally good and human evil comes from original sin which leads to suffering and death; and (4) God established a never-ending covenant with Abraham which reaches all nations through Abraham’s descendants. The authors are careful to point out that a myth is a type of literature and does not mean that the story is untrue but rather that it tells us that creation began with God and belongs to God. The review for the unit includes some “fill in the blank” sentences, a few true/false questions and matching words with definitions. An example of an activity for the unit is a drawing with spaces which the students are to color to reveal the qualities of trust.
Unit 2 is entitled “Freedom and Covenant” and focuses on the Exodus. It includes stories of Joseph, Moses, the journey of the Israelites through the desert, and establishment of the covenant between God and the Israelites. The story of God’s care for Joseph is used to illustrate the concept of providence. The epic of the Exodus includes an explanation of the Passover and describes a Jewish family’s celebration of the Seder. The story of the Israelites in the desert emphasizes the temptation to give up faith in God’s presence and guidance because of life’s difficulties. A chapter on the covenant at Sinai discusses the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments. A review exercise for the unit includes placing Old Testament names on a family tree. One activity is filling in a “respect-o-meter” with ten examples of respecting the freedom of others. The “Being Catholic” section for parents reviews the Precepts of the Church.
Unit 3 is entitled “Land and Kingdom” and follows the Israelites into the promised land, sees the establishment of a kingdom, and recounts the building of the temple. It includes the stories of Joshua, Samuel, Saul, David and Solomon. There is a comparison of the promised land to heaven. The prophets are described as people called by God to speak in God’s name. David is described as a gifted leader whose story helps us to realize God’s gifts to us and God’s mercy for us. In the discussion of the temple it is explained that God dwells in different ways: in the place of worship, in the Church and in ourselves. The review for the unit includes placing events correctly on a time line. An activity example is connecting dots in numerical order to draw a picture of a menorah.
Unit 4 is entitled “Exile and Return” and describes the events leading up to the exile of Israel in Babylon, the eventual return of the Israelites to Jerusalem, the rebirth of the people, and the rebuilding of the temple. It discusses that the prophets called people to renewal. One rather disturbing activity in Chapter 13 is a page asking the student to think of a celebrity they admire and answer questions framed in movie clapboards such as “why do you like him or her.” It concludes by saying that some celebrities are the prophets of our time and that they follow the example set by the prophets of the Bible. In light of the earlier definition of prophet as someone chosen by God to speak in God’s name and call people to renewal, today’s celebrities hardly fit that definition. The story of the exile is called a reflection of our own experiences of suffering and that the words of the prophets can give us hope. The unit concludes with short discussions of theWisdom Books, the Book of Jonah, and the Book of Ruth. It is explained that after the exile Jewish life centered around observance of the Torah. The review of the unit includes a matching exercise and a time line. One activity is entitled “God, the Environment, and Me” and contains cut-out sentences such as “Blessed are they who recycle” to use for a matching game.
Unit 5 is entitled “Fulfillment of the Scriptures” and focuses on Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah who fulfillls the prophecies of the Old Testament and how our sacramental signs are rooted in Old Testament symbolic actions. It includes a discussion of the different groups existing within Judaism in Jesus’ time such as the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots. The birth of the Church is portrayed in the telling of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. It is explained that the early Christian communities gradually came to understand themselves as the Church and that the word “catholic” means universal and that the Catholic Church is for all those who believe in Jesus as Lord, in one Baptism, and one faith as handed down from the apostles. Another chapter discusses how many sacramental actions grew out of Jewish practices such as anointing with oil, laying on of hands, ritual washings, and meal sharing. The final chapter focuses on the Holy Spirit’s presence with us and describes the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
The final portion of the text is a section called “Our Catholic Heritage” which goes into some detail regarding certain Catholic beliefs and how Catholics worship, live and pray. Included, for example, are discussions on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the theological and moral virtues, sin and grace, the capital sins, vocations and discernment, contemplative prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Stations of the Cross, and the mysteries of the Rosary. It is rather unfortunate that these topics are in the back of the book where the catechists may not notice them or leave time to cover them. The problems with the sixth grade text are very similar to the problems noted in the fifth grade text. While there may not be any glaring errors in the coverage of the chosen topics, the coverage is so light and superficial that there is not much with which to take issue. Certainly at the fifth and sixth grade levels students should be able to digest a more extensive discussion of the topics. I happen to have a copy of the sixth grade text from the Image of God Series on the Old Testament and found This Is Our Faith to pale in comparison. The differences are stark. The Image of God text demonstrates much more faith in the intelligence of the reader when it asks the student to read the Bible stories from the Bible as they appear, includes thorough discussions, open-ended review questions which require the student to verbalize what they have learned, and relevant worksheets which require the student to do some digging into the Bible, and few pictures.