Off and on for the last 15 years I have been a catechist for the parishes I've attended. I guess I'm on my 6th year of teaching catechism. I've taught 1st grade, 4th grade (twice), 7th grade (twice) and 8th grade. And then a couple of years in there I was a substitute.
There are so many things wrong with the model of catechesis my parish uses. They are much better at the Youth ministry thing. They also have a wonderful apostolate with the Youth Apostles who take over with the teens who have been confirmed. Official RE only goes up to 8th grade and confirmation. The YA program, entitled Catholic Life Communities is absolutely phenomenal. It is led by trained leaders who mentor the young men and women. They meet almost every single week of the year (no summer breaks!), they regularly go on retreats and also do fun social things. The meetings consist of reading the scripture for the next Sunday Mass, discussing it in small groups and then learning about the catechism and how to live a truly Christian life in this culture. However, this is entirely voluntarily and of the 70+ kids who were confirmed in Josh's class only about 8 joined.
Anyway, the actual RE model is awful. They take a few solidly Catholic volunteers and then because they never have enough of those folks, they take other volunteers who really don't know their faith very well OR have no clue how to teach like a teacher in a classroom, they have the kids come in and sit in desks, bored to death, and they use materials that are confusing, watered downed and basically trying so hard to relate to the kids they only earn the kids' scorn (which makes me respect the kids!). They is virtually no quality control. There is very little connection between the parents and the volunteer teacher. The children are often not really practicing Catholics and know appallingly little of their faith. They barely go to Mass on Sundays. They never pray as a family. They have no clue about anything in the Bible. It is truly depressing.
So this year I'm teaching 7th grade girls. I keep explaining things to them, like Eucharist comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. Or the virtue of prudence is something like practical wisdom in action. They'd never heard of the word prudence before. Or that theology comes from the Greek root words for God and Word or Study. Then I was talking about Geography. We were reading from Paul's epistle to the Corinthians. Where is Corinth, I asked? They didn't have a clue. I asked them where the city of Damascus was. They didn't know. So jokingly I said if you really know your Catholic faith, it makes you smarter!
The more I thought about this the more something occurred to me. What if we taught RE as a supplement to the rest of the child's learning? Right now it is so disconnected from everything else in their lives. What if it wound up helping them on the SOL's or the SATs? Wouldn't parents take it much more seriously? I think this could be a real hook for the whole family. You could take different aspects of the faith and break it down so that it might complement the student's learning in various grades. Here's just a very brief outline of what I came up with:
Grade 1: Issue each child a Children's Bible and have them practice reading at home. They can become familiar with Bible stories this way, the parent can renew their memory of various Bible stories and then the parents/children can come in and participate in various activities, skits, etc.
Grade 2: This grade might be the best one done at our parish because it is the big Sacrament year with First Confession and First Holy Communion. I think they could expand what they've already got going.
Grade 3: Focus on Art History using a program like Christian Heritage Curriculum.
Grade 4: Focus on saints in American history. I mean both North and South. St Peter Claver, St Isaac Jogues, St. Kateri Teckawitha, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Blessed Father Juniper Serra, St. John Neumann, St. Katherine Drexel, etc.
Grade 5: Begin focusing on word roots; teach them a little Latin. (program: English from the Roots Up plus Lingua Angelica). Have someone from music ministry teach this.
Grade 6: Reading analysis otherwise known as Bible study. Use the new Kids Great Adventure.
Grade 7: Study the saints before America. (In preparation for choosing a saint's name for confirmation.)
Grade 8: Finish up Confirmation prep. Our parish usually has Confirmation in the Spring.
During the course of the year I think every grade should have:
1) A couple of family workshops (maybe Sept and April)
2) A retreat (Dec)
3) A speaker of interest to both parents and children (Oct)
4) A fieldtrip (Nov)
5) A service project (during Lent)
6) A performer, play or a movie night for the whole family (Jan)
7) A special Mass for all the RE kids (Feb?) Have confession beforehand. Most of these kids haven't gone to confession since their first one in second grade.
8) A big May crowning for the RE kids, in, of course, May
So if you have one big event each month that parents are expected to attend then I think they should make the classes bigger so they don't have to stretch for so many volunteers but REQUIRE that parents volunteer to be aids in the classes. They can pick times when they can be available. That way the parents get catechized too.
Okay so that's a very rough draft of my idea. Needs lots more thought I know, but I think it could work! Something's got to be better than what we are doing now.