THE INTERIM IS CONCLUDING ITS DISCUSSION OF FULLY ALIVE IN ITS FEBRUARY ISSUE. ANYONE WISHING TO PARTICIPATE SHOULD SEND US A LETTER RIGHT AWAY. CUT OFF DATE WILL BE JANUARY 13.
Subheadings and numbers have been added to some letters in order to aid comprehension.
To the Editor:
I am bewildered by the overwhelmingly negative perspective in the October 1991 Insight regarding the Fully Alive program. My own personal experience with Fully Alive is overwhelmingly positive.
I admit that my experience with Fully Alive is limited. My wife and I, along with another couple, worked with the editor and publisher on the Parents’ Guide for the Grade 7 book, which represents the total of my experience with the Fully Alive material. But what I do bring to the discussion is the fresh and new perspective of an involved parent. I am unaware of, and untainted by the history and evolution of the program. My judgments are based only on what I see today.
In the opening article, the Editor says the October 1991 issue of Insight is focused on the Fully Alive program. My perception is that the issue is focused only on the opinions which demonstrate that Fully Alive fails as a Catholic-based sex-ed program. In this letter I hope to explain how I view Fully Alive, and why I like what I see.
1. Is it a religion program? My reaction when I first read the text was disappointment. The Grade 7 book missed many opportunities to discuss and teach our Catholic religion. However, I learned that Fully Alive is meant to complement the religious education program, with religion being taught for four days and Fully Alive for one day in a five-day cycle. I can accept this.
I think [therefore] that the bigger issue is not the content of Fully Alive, but the content of the religious education where 80 per cent of the [student’s] time is spent. As stated in the “Problems with teachers” article [in the same issue of Insight], I find it frightening [to read] that “nowadays, it is quite possible to have a teacher who knows next to nothing about our Faith, or who isn’t even Catholic.”
2. Is Fully Alive based on Catholic values? It more than satisfies me and the Catholic views that I have. I am not a theologian, and cannot debate such grand concepts as original sin. Nor am I an educator, and [I] cannot advise how to translate these concepts into messages that children will easily understand. But I do know right from wrong and good from evil, and I consider myself a traditional and devout Catholic.
While reviewing Fully Alive, I was touched many times by the sensitivity and loving approach taken by the authors when discussing difficult or painful issues that are a part of some children’s lives. In every part of the Grade 7 book, I always found the text to fully support my Catholic values and not those of today’s materialistic, secular, modern world. I was never offended.
3. Is Fully Alive a sex-education program? In my opinion, the answer is ‘no’. It is a lot more than that since only one of the five themes actually deals with sexuality. And since Fully Alive is only used one day in a five-day cycle, the mathematics says only four per cent of the classroom time is spent on sexuality.
The topic of ‘sexuality’ is a broad one, and not limited to a narrow focus on sex education. I found the Grade 7 text was presented tactfully and factually, and was helpful and supportive of the parental role in sex education. I certainly did not fine evidence of erotic and suggestive material that leads children into experimentation as some people seem to fear.
I wish I could say the same about TV shows and videos.
4. What about promotion of the feminist agenda? [By the criteria of] Sylvia MacEachern’s article, I personally must plead guilty to “sinister indoctrination” of my own three children towards role reversal. I plead guilty to changing hundreds of diapers and hundreds of times my wife has carried two bags of groceries through the door. I cannot accept that this is a sinister example of the feminist agenda; I wish the feminist movement was this timid.
In Fully Alive I found a realistic and non-judgmental portrayal of parental circumstances and family life. Our own situation of mother-at-home was supported, and single parent and working parent situations were handled with care and sensitivity.
5. Are parents being excluded from educating their children in matters of family life and sexuality? My wife and I and the other couple who worked on the Parents’ Guide would not agree that this is a problem with the Fully Alive program. I think the biggest problem is the parents who simply opt out. And, although there may be Parent Guides for the family life and religious programs, my experience is that few people know that they even exist.
To remedy this at our school, the Parent/Teacher Guild is informing the parents and arranging the purchase of Parent Guides.
6. In conclusion, I do not believe Fully Alive fails as a Catholic-based sex-ed program. Compared to all the other negative influences and messages that our children encounter, I find Fully Alive to be a welcome breath of fresh air.
Although I arrive at the opposite conclusion than the article “A critique of Fully Alive,” I do agree with the author, Dr. Bernharda Meyer: “For Catholic parents and Catholic teachers there is much in Fully Alive that would be valuable for them to know.”
Thank you for contributing to our discussions.
Re 1: Our point is that the deliberate separation of family and religious education is not acceptable. The material should be integrated within a Catholic context on the spot. Aside from that, there is the additional question whether the projected religious education fulfills the task of providing the intended moral context in fact.
Re 2: We have never said that there is objectionable material in FA. Our concern is with what should be there but is not.
Re 4: See response following the Currie letter.
Re 5: As expressed in letters to the editor printed in the December Insight, parents object to a timetable set by FA to which they must adhere. For example, in Grade Four children will be told about marital intercourse, whether parents believe their children to be ready or not.
Unbalanced and unfair
To the Editor:
Your treatment of the Fully Alive program is unbalanced and unfair.
1. You have linked a shocking picture from a university text book with the Ontario Bishop’s program by positioning the picture prominently and immediately below a headline featuring Fully Alive. It isn’t.
A closer reading of the caption would only partially correct that impression. The reader is still likely to conclude that pictures like the one shown are being used. This is not the case.
It is hard to understand why a newspaper which has so often documented the unfair, selective, biased and misleading reporting on pr-life issues by the public media would itself resort to the same journalistically unprofessional standards.
2. What are we to think of the analysis of one of your writers that reproduction should be taught only from the uterus upwards? [Bernharda Meyer, Insight, October 1991, p. 5]
She obviously thinks that God blundered badly in designing sexual intercourse and linking it to love and the creation of new life. Are we supposed to engage in a massive cover-up on God’s behalf? What kind of respect does this show for God’s design? Does anyone rally think that an intelligent child is not going to ask how the sperm cell got into the mother’s body? Does anyone really think that the question should not be asked or that the answer, of itself, is corrupting? Surely it is the way such natural questions are answered that is important.
3. What are we to think of the analysis of a writer [Sylvia MacEachern, Insight, October 1991] who finds objectionable the picture of a father changing his baby and offers it as, presumably, the best example of how the program encourages role reversal? Are we supposed to object to a father participating in the care and nurturing of his child?
4. While it is true that right knowledge does not guarantee right behaviour, it is also true that ignorance does not guarantee right behaviour. Would we have lost so much ground to the pro-abortionists if society at large, including Catholics, had been well educated in fetal development? The blob of tissue argument flourished in an environment of ignorance and gave great initial momentum to the pro-abortion movement.
If the public at large, including Catholics, had understood fertility in the way natural family planning teaches fertility, would they have so willingly submitted their bodies to chemicals and devices designed to disrupt, suppress, and in some cases, destroy that fertility?
Would they not have been more sensitive to attitudes which condition people, including women, to view women’s fertility as dispensable, unacceptable, threatening or a pathology in need of medication?
Fear of fertility flourishes in an environment of ignorance, and it is not a big step to then fear the product of that fertility – the baby.
Catholic education, particularly in the area of understanding and respecting God’s design for sexuality and fertility, is too important an issue to be treated with such intellectual poverty and the blanket thrashing of bishops, teachers and schools.
While no one should argue against the responsibility of parents to be the first educators of their children, surely no one wants them to be isolated, bearing the sole responsibility for the teaching of Catholic values relating to sexuality, relationships, love, marriage and children. Catholic parents should expect their schools to assist and support them in their task. After all, that is what Catholic schools were founded to do. If the execution falls short of the ideal, then the focus should be on improving the execution, not on eliminating the ideal.
Mrs. Currie is listed in Fully Alive as a member of the editorial board. So is Mrs. Lillian O’Connor of Bellville, who complained to us previously. (See December ’91 Insight)
Re 1: We have explained our use of the photograph in our December ’91 Insight, “Please note…” page 1.
Re 2: Dr. Bernharda Meyer is in Germany where her husband fell ill. She is not here to answer the objections expressed, but it is safe to say that she neither holds that God makes blunders or requires a “massive cover-up.”
Re 3: See below
Re 4: Mrs. Currie deserves high praise for her teaching and advocacy of natural family planning. However, she is wildly wrong if she thinks our intention is to trash bishops, teachers and schools.
Sylvia MacEachern replies to both Mr. Baker and Mrs. Currie:
In response to Mrs. Currie’s charge that I said a picture of a father changing his baby is “the best example of how the program encourages role reversal,” I did not use such a phrase. Nor would I ever use such positive terminology as “best” to describe the negative propaganda imparted by the elimination of sexual stereotyping which in turn promotes androgyny. My terminology, was “most sinister.”
I find nothing objectionable tin a picture of a father changing his baby. I would venture to guess that while it is certainly not the norm, the majority of fathers have – of necessity usually – on some occasion(s) changed diapers.
What I do find objectionable, as was clearly indicated in my article, is the title accompanying the picture, “Parents do all sorts of jobs” and the caption “Parents work at home.” The precise messages implanted into impressionable children’s minds are:
• Nurturing one’s own child is a ‘job’ rather than an act of love;
• An obviously healthy daddy has exchanged his role as provider for his family, become an emasculated househusband and now ‘works’ at home.
The other side of the coin of course is that mommy has abdicated her role as wife, mother, nurturer and heart of the home to pursue a career. This unhealthy scenario is presented as a healthy depiction of Roman Catholic family life. It is not.
The editors of Fully Alive…[use]…role reversal to erode traditional concepts of gender roles. Thus, there are pictures of moms with brief cases, dads washing dishes, girls building model airplanes, and a fictitious account of Jesus helping His mother with the cleaning and cooking.
One page of the Grade 7 book shows six pictures: a woman driving a bus, a woman driving a cab, a woman at the control panel of a nuclear power plant, a father and daughter cooking or cleaning up in the kitchen, a man ironing a shit, and a young boy vacuuming. This clearly portrays the desired egalitarian “equal-and-sharing relationship.”
The same textbook has a cartoon sequence of two little androgens (it is impossible to determine their gender) arguing over whether or not it’s proper for the daddy to cook dinner when they play house.
Fully Alive also shows both men and women fulfilling traditional gender roles without subjecting them to role reversal. This is no saving grace, only further proof that its authors are indeed sowing seeds of confusion and promoting the creation of a third gender: androgynous. Androgyny and feminist necessity demands that no sex roles be gender restricted. Fully Alive has complied.
The Teacher’s Edition for Grade Seven reads like a chapter out of the Canadian sex-ed manual Sexuality, an Educational Resource Book.
Teachers are advised that “society is experiencing a significant change in attitudes toward sex roles for males and females” and told to “encourage students to be aware of limitations they may be placing on themselves related to sexual identity and roles.”
Teachers are further told that “neither traditional sexual roles nor non-traditional roles should be held up as the single model for everyone” and “rigid thinking about sexual roles is common in children, and not all students of this age are ready to broaden their understanding of sexual roles, although they should be encouraged to do so.” Emphasis added).
Attacking the Catholic system
To the Editor:
As a long-standing subscriber to The Interim I must appeal to you to cease devoting column space to attacks on the Catholic Family Life program (Fully Alive) and the Impressions reading series, both of which are [used] in many separate schools.
I have long been, and will remain, faithful to pro-life issues. One of my great inspirations in this cause over the years has been The Interim. Like many pro-lifers I have often felt isolated and even alienated as I bring my message to the work place and the political arena. In the face of daily apathy and hostility one needs constant up-lifting, whether it be by way of rubbing shoulders with like-minded individuals, (the Life Chain) or the reading of pro-life Interim articles.
The increasing space The Interim has devoted to attacks on the Catholic educational system has changed totally the tone of the paper. Where once the paper was a reservoir of solace and support for the pro-lifer toiling in the every day world, it has become a forum for scathing attacks on two particular educational programs. The result is the setting of a negative pall over the paper, to the extent that I no longer rush to read its contents so that I might be reinvigorated in the fight for the unborn, but rather am apprehensive as to what further wedge has been driven into the Catholic school system.
It would be naive of me to claim that the Catholic Family Life program, or the Impressions series are perfect (shat programs would prove to be when held up to such scrutiny?), but are they so bad that so many of The Interim pages [must] be given over to indiscriminate attacks by their critics?
Better that The Interim remain the rallying point for the noble issues of life and family than a publication which invites divisiveness and contention within its own ranks by way of over emphasis of factional viewpoints.
The Interim has never attacked the Catholic educational system and is not attacking it now.
On the contrary, we are trying to improve both it and the public system. We acknowledge that our efforts may be in vain, but we must try because proper family education is central to the pro-life movement.
‘Deliberately misleading people’
To the Editor:
This past year, your newspaper has carried various articles on the religious and Fully Alive programs within the Catholic school system. These articles, including your November issue on Fully Alive, have grossly exaggerated the content of both…
I have no doubt that now many pro-lifers, especially those who no longer have children in the school system, believe that the Catholic school system teaches a completely secular humanist philosophy, as a result of your articles.
Why are you deliberately misleading people? Do you have any idea how hard it is to promote a publicly-funded Catholic school system today? Your newspaper insults and degrades the many thousands of dedicated people working so hard to promote the Catholic faith, the pro-life message and belief in God in the Catholic school system.
Prior to my oldest child attending school, I had heard many rumours about the lack of Catholicity in our Catholic schools. My wife and I were concerned.
However, we were pleasantly surprised to see how much of our faith was and is being taught to our children.
We had anticipated very little or no religious content. Certainly there are things we would like to see improved and there is no question that some teachers and principals are better than others at promoting and living [the] faith. But overall, the faith content of both the religion program and Fully Alive program has been much more than we were led to believe by the rumour mill.
Over the past four years I have taken a close look at the Fully Alive program. Each time I have reviewed the program, I have come away trying to determine what all the fuss is about. I have been impressed with the positive image my children bring home of God, our faith and our family. Again and again, they have referred to Jesus and God at the dinner table and in their everyday play.
This is a direct result of the religious program and Fully Alive program.
The programs are not perfect; they have some flaws, but over all I have found them to be very good. More important, they have had a positive influence on both my children and others. The children feel good about their God and their faith. Considering the many negative attitudes our young people are exposed to today, the religion and Fully Alive programs in our Catholic schools are a positive force for them.
The many so-called experts quoted in your articles have indicated that there is little reference to God or our faith in these programs. I am not sure how they arrived at this judgment as they obviously have not talked to the children. It seems that the authors of these articles have some very strong pre-conceived notions that these programs are dangerous, rather than studying them with the children and trying to correct any deficiencies in a positive manner.
The most disturbing aspect of these numerous articles is their constant attack on the Catholic school system. Yes, there are problems. Yes, there is the danger of the curriculum being overtaken by secular humanist philosophy
However, you rarely give credit to the countless thousands of people in the Catholic school system, including teachers, parents, administrators, support staff and trustees who are working very hard to teach and provide examples of the beauty of our Catholic faith in an age of incredible greed and violence.
Your articles are an insult and a slap in the face to all of these people.
I would expect this kind of treatment from the pro-abortion media or Planned Parenthood but not from a pro-life newspaper. I agree that you should criticize those areas of concern, but your articles have been pure scandal. You appear to be deliberately inflaming the pro-life movement against the Catholic school system, for what purpose I don’t understand. The Catholic school system is the only government funded institution that is trying to promote a pro-life, pro-family and pro-religious attitude. It is not easy. It is a daily battle.
The pro-life movement is similar to a large family and, like every family, we do not agree on everything.
Being a family means sharing, caring and resolving our differences, but not degrading family members in public. To attack the Catholic school system as being anti-life is completely absurd! You have no idea how hard people are working behind the scenes to promote the pro-life movement. Your articles are destroying that effort.
My wife and I joined the pro-life movement because our faith and our belief in the pro-life, pro-family message. The demeaning content and tone of your publication is a direct attack on our pro-life beliefs.
How can we possibly expect non pro-lifers to respect our message if we don’t show respect for each other?
Mr. Reaume has been a member of Board of Directors for the Windsor-Essex Right to Life since 1986 and is chairman of the Windsor Roman Catholic School Board (1991).
Agree that it must be frustrating for Catholic school supporters to find certain aspects of the Catholic system criticized. But let me point out that it is even more frustrating for Catholic school supporters to have to do the criticizing. Your letter is an indication of what we get for our efforts from some people. Fortunately, others are more appreciative.
But perhaps we are not as far apart as it might seem. You acknowledge that we live “in an age of incredible greed and violence,” in other words, in a dangerous age.
I prefer to see the danger in a slightly different light: the seductive power of secularism attempts to make Christianity into a mere civic religion; a polite bowing to one another while each goes on his own way; a constant accommodation to major evils under the guise of pluralism; and a relativism of all matters moral with each doing his own thing undisturbed by others.
In Canada today we are all supposed to smile benignly while Henry Morgentaler, having personally extinguished 70,000 to 100,000 human lives, merrily goes on his way protected by politicians, magistrates, police, media and a variety of lobbyists. It is in this light that Catholic pro-lifers look at their Catholic schools and their Catholic politicians, and become very upset.
For 25 years now, it seems to them, the challenge which Christianity extends to the believer, the call to heroism and sacrifice, the demand to say no to the world, the flesh and the devil, has been replaced by the serving up of religious pablum in courses of religion. Its consequence is an ever shrinking conviction and will to resist.
Take, for example, your own city.
Over the last 25 years, Windsor has not had a single pro-life MP or MPP. Yet Windsor is said to be 75 or 80 per cent Catholic. The two most prominent Catholics among them, Paul Martin and Mark MacGuigan both voted for the legalization of abortion in 1969 and have defended this action ever since.
Today the family, and family values are under massive attack by this same secularism. Catholic teachers and writers under the supervision of a bishop – later backed by the entire Ontario Conference of Bishops – produced the family education program Fully Alive.
As one of our contributors stated, good teachers who know their faith well will get gold out of dross. They will ignore the weaknesses and fill the gaps.
But in our opinion the program itself is not an adequate Christian response to the secular onslaught which we face.
If, like these politicians, specific Catholic programs aware not part of the solution, they become part of the problem.
“One bucket that holds no water…”
To the Editor:
Normally The Interim does not reprint letters sent to third parties, but we felt this one is relevant to the issue of parental rights over the sex education of their children. This letter was written in November 199, and addressed to the Director of a School Board in response to his criticism about requesting exemption from the Fully Alive program.
My husband and I thank you for responding to our letter regarding the Fully Alive programme.
Upon receipt of your letter, we were anxious to learn of your reasons for supporting the programme. After reading it, however, we found that you offered no concrete [evidence] to substantiate your claims. Furthermore, some of your insinuations were rather insulting.
You mentioned that Fully Alive is designed as a companion program to Born of the Spirit, the religious program taught in our schools. From what I understand, the two programmes are not taught in succession, nor do they directly [refer to] each other. Would you kindly explain, in detail, their Christian connection?
If Fully Alive is supposed to teach “Christian morality rooted in modesty,” how does it accomplish such a task within a mixed class of boys and girls? Modesty and privacy are related, yet your ‘open forum’ concept of teaching this delicate subject eliminates the privacy required to develop and maintain modesty…
You stated that, due to today’s cultural context, it is no longer suitable for parents and educators to play a passive role in combating these influences. For your information, good parents have never and will never play a passive role in this area. Good parents monitor their children’s activities, friends, television programmes, etc.
I was once told by one of your staff that parents must trust the school system regarding academics. Perhaps it is time that the school system started trusting parents, especially in areas pertaining to the family!
Allow me to make it perfectly clear that we are not [as you say] “ignoring or postponing essential areas of our children’s education in relation to moral development.” We are preventing…information from being [prematurely] thrust upon our young children during their formative years.
I was amazed that you would quote Bishop [John} O’Mara’s order to ignore The Interim’s criticism of Fully Alive. What right does anyone, including the clergy, have to dictate to us what we are to ignore?
Perhaps it has been forgotten that within our constitution, we have freedom of speech. And even more important, God gave us free will to discern for ourselves that which is good or evil, truthful or untruthful, important or unimportant. The editors of The Interim, as all mankind, have the right to their own opinions, and we have the right to decide whether or not we are going to agree with them.
You also quoted Bishop O’Mara’s statement, “Its [Fully Alive] overwhelming acceptance by the vast majority speaks foe itself.” Well, as far as I am concerned, that is one bucket that holds no water…There has been overwhelming acceptance by the vast majority of Catholics of…abortion, sterilization, missing Sunday Mass, premarital sex, etc! While on this earth, Jesus Christ did not receive overwhelming acceptance by the vast majority. Did that make Him wrong? Is this your idea of the Church educating the world?
Fully Alive and Catholic teaching
To the Editor:
There is an on-going controversy among Catholics in Ontario over the family life program called Fully Alive. This program is now in most Catholic primary schools in Ontario and is sponsored by the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Before all else let it be said that Catholics have the right to express their concerns about this course – both to their pastors and to one another (cf. Code of Canon Law, c. 212). To muzzle the Catholic press or otherwise attempt to suppress free discussion or dialogue would be tyrannical, neither just nor pastoral. It would inevitably lead to diminished respect foe authority.
A second premise is that the controversy should be settled in the light of Church Teaching, not in compliance to the opinions of psychologists, pedagogues or sexologists. By a divine mission, the Church has in a special way “the duty and the right of educating” (ibid., c. 794) and “formation and education in a Catholic school must be based on the principles of Catholic doctrine.” (canon 803).
Where are we to find the relevant doctrine? Although scattered through many documents, it is summarized in the magnificent Educational Guidance in Human Love of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, November 1, 1983. It can be obtained from any Catholic book store.
Contained in this synthesis are references to the encyclical of Pope Pius XI on the Christian Education of Youth, 1929, pertinent documents of Vatican Council II, the encyclical Humanae Vitae, the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio and other sources. It spells out in detail the part of bishops, priests, schools and teachers. These are subsidiary to the rights and responsibilities of parents and the corresponding rights of children.
In the light of Educational Guidance in Human Love, the Fully Alive program is tragically flawed. The deficiencies aware radical and pevasive.
Consider classroom sex education. In Fully Alive nothing is too intimate or personal to be excluded from mixed classroom discussion. Boys and girls together, regardless of varying ages and degrees of psychological maturity, are told the details of sexual intercourse in the fourth grade.
Group instruction in biological details is contrary to church teaching. We are told: “The fact remains ever valid that in regard to the more intimate aspects, whether biological or affective, an individual education should be bestowed, preferably within the sphere of the family. (Educational Guidelines, n. 58). The words “ever valid” should be noted.
The affective aspect refers to the emerging sexual feelings of the young. Here, in addition to private instruction, account must be taken of the varying ages at which the young mature. Regardless of whether one speaks of a latency period or not, it is undeniable that children develop at different rates. So the Church tells us: “Affective sex education, being more conditioned than others by the degree of physical and psychological development of the pupil, must always be adapted to the individual.” (ibid., n. 84).
The philosophical error that promotes classroom sex education is called naturalism. It neither respects the innocence of children nor takes into account the effects of Original Sin. A long list of magisterial evaluations of “the scourge of naturalism” is given in the compendium published by the Daughters of St. Paul called Education- Papal Teachings. Studies have shown that classroom sex education is concomitant with an increase in teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, not to mention the spiritual devastation.
All, including parents, should inform themselves of the teaching of the Church on family life education, and conform themselves to it in gratitude. Not to do so is to violate the rights of Christ’s “little ones.”
REV. MSGR, VINCENT FOY
Former Director of Catechetics
Archdiocese of Toronto