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Doing a better job in the Catholic classroom
Ave Marie Press (Notre Dame, Ind., 2013). 164 pp., $9.95.
Ave Marie Press (Notre Dame, Ind., 2013). 164 pp., $9.95. "Dynamics of Catholic Education: Letting the Catholic School Be School" by Louis DeThomasis, FSC. ACTA Publications (Chicago, 2013). 143 pp., $14.95.
Catholic News Service

In "31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator," Jared Dees, creator of TheReligionTeacher.com, offers a concise and practical guide for improving teaching skills, growing in faith and focusing on what is essential in religious education.

As an educator for many years, Dees articulates the importance of the religious educator as a disciple first, then servant, leader and finally a teacher.

The benefit of this book for any religious educator is that is does not force any one style of teaching but encourages teachers to hone their natural abilities and style while presenting the good news of Jesus Christ. Most religious educators and catechists want to be better at teaching but since they are often volunteers and not professional teachers, this book is an essential tool.

Each chapter begins with a quote from Scripture and then topics which fall under the categories of disciple, servant, leader and teacher are discussed. In chapter 21 titled "Draft or Edit Student Learning Objectives," Dees provides a simple and helpful acronym -- SWBAT, which stands for student will be able to. This outcome-based tool may be familiar to professional teachers but for the volunteer he shows how this will help give focus and meaning to your lesson plan.

This book is highly recommended for those in religious education; novices and even veteran teachers will find more than one "take-away" that they can apply to this week's class.

In his book, "Dynamics of Catholic Education: Letting the Catholic School Be School," Christian Brother Louis DeThomasis, an award-winning educator, has compiled his years of wisdom in teaching at and administering Catholic schools.

His key question, repeated throughout the book in various forms, is: Will the institutional church cooperate in this effort at transformation and let Catholic schools really be schools rather than propaganda venues? In his experience, Brother DeThomasis is convinced that Catholic schools are not, for the most part, open and free to discuss current topics such as we find in an emerging, technological, globalized society.

For those who teach in Catholic schools at the high school and university level, the experience of an authoritative, dictatorial, repressive church laying down the law seems to be the exact opposite of what has been happening the past 50 years in Catholic education. Instead of gleaning the wisdom of Catholicism as handed on through the magisterium, the majority of Catholic educational institutions who tried to find a balance between engaging the secular world and teaching the truth revealed by God in the midst of a secular society have gone the way of the great Protestant universities, founded as seminaries, which ended up abandoning any substantial connection with Jesus, truth and the teaching of the church.

Most dioceses do not get directly involved in curriculum, presenters and orthodoxy which is why there has been so much confusion in teaching and praxis. Brother DeThomasis writes of those responsible for wars as "ideological religious fundamentalists who are permitted to set the agenda of their entire faith communities" and equates them with how the Catholic Church teaches the faith.

In the second half of his book, he lists "eight dynamics" needed for transformation of Catholic schools and provides the reader with food for thought. Still, anger at the institutional church pervades even these chapters.

No doubt the author loves Catholic education and has spent his life serving the church in various positions and no doubt he has experienced painful situations where he has been stifled by the leadership in the church. His passion for placing the Catholic school in a position where it can be a leader and respond to emerging questions is admirable and the second part of his book provides some helpful guideposts.

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