By Joshua Palmarin
As a high school teacher of Christian Education, I get asked just about every question under the sun. At the high school level, students seem to be most especially interested in two topics of discussion: 1) sexuality; and 2) morality and ethics.
Above all, they seem to relish in discussing the most controversial issues, which as coincidence would have it, seem to be those areas in which the Church stands in stark opposition to the popular trends in society today; of course I’m referring to contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual relations.
What’s a poor teacher to do in the face of a constantly evolving culture of emotionally charged convictions that go against Church teaching on some of the most important and relevant issues pertaining to family and societal life?
Sadly, for many students, it is not enough to adopt a stance on any given moral issue based on religious conviction alone – there is a deeply rooted cultural mistrust of teaching authority in general, especially faith-based teaching authority, which is often perceived as antiquated and disconnected from the relevance of daily life: “Why should the Church’s opinion be any more valid than my opinion? What do celibate old men know about dating and sexual love that they should dare to impose rules on my life?”
Such sentiments are nurtured by an aggressive anti-Christian culture fostered in the media and pop culture, which students are now, more than ever before, bombarded with on a constant basis. Indeed, whenever they turn on their phones (which seems to occur more often than breathing, for some of them), they are met with toxic self-indulgent ideologies from marketers and also from their peers.
Tragically, there exists a drastic reduction of what constitutes a successful, happy life – namely, self-serving behaviors and ego-gratifying accomplishments, made abundant by wealth and wealth alone. Even if they deny these values in concept, it has become evident to me through daily interactions with my students, that many adopt these values in practice; “hot chicks and stacks of cash” seemingly constitute the life aspirations of an average pupil of this culture of death.
For any teacher dedicated to the salvation of his or her students’ souls, this uphill battle can, at times, feel overwhelming. After all, what can one teacher do against such a looming wall of opposition? Not much, it would seem.
However, there is a silver lining in all of this:
amidst the muddled mentality of one committed to suspicion of all things
religious, the door of logic has opened up. Indeed, there is nothing
threatening, or smelling of imposing authority when discussing – from a
standpoint of reason alone – the beliefs about happiness in life that are out
there. Such is the starting point of Healing the Culture’s Principles andChoices curriculum, and its approach is compelling and very well thought out.
Everyone wants to be deeply fulfilled in life, right?
It’s a safe, neutral topic to discuss. But beware – in so doing, we are led to investigate the types of behaviors that those various beliefs about happiness typically generate. As each belief is discussed from its theory and followed through to its praxis, students begin to see the unreasonable, unethical, unjust, and ultimately unloving nature of worldviews that have a false or incomplete understanding of the human person and human dignity.
Simultaneously, the great truths about life naturally boil up to the surface, unsuspecting, and unforced, and before students know what has happened, they have guided themselves into a logically sound worldview that values human life. From there, connecting the dots with their faith is easy, and the best part of it all is that you have not “shoved it down their throats” (something apparently Catholics are guilty of doing a lot, although my lived experience contradicts this sentiment thoroughly).
I think the thing that attracts us most to the Truth is its beauty. I think this is something that all people have in common, deep in our hearts – and a powerful teacher is one who touches the heart. We are bridge builders; we build bridges on which to bring students from what they know to what they do not yet know, but have been craving all their lives. This is the great challenge of educators, and the reason I am so excited about the Principles and Choices curriculum is that it is one of the best tools that I’ve come across to build the most solid bridges.
Josh Palmerin currently teaches
at a Catholic high school in Vancouver, BC.
This article first appeared in LifeCanada's Reflections Magazine, September 2016.