Monday, May 28, 2007

Trying not to Step on Toes

I'll start with the cute stuff.
We had our last Sunday school class for the summer yesterday. Only Josh showed up. We talked about the story of Esther--he was pretty fascinated with the idea that she, like Daniel & co., had two names. He knew the story of Esther, but we talked about it in much more detail than he ever had before. There's a lot, in that story, that gets left out of little-kid Bible school. "Chapter nine," we told him, "is really sick. They don't tell little kids about this part."
He wanted to read the whole thing.
When he got to the end of this passage, he said, "What was sick about that?"
"These people were partying after slaying 75,000 people!"
"You don't think that's sick?"
"I've seen Pirates of the Carribean III," he told us. "I see this kind of thing all the time. It's not so bad."

Ick. Talk about desensitizing.

I also worked in the church nursery that morning, but basically no one showed up. Amy came by to change her baby's diaper, and we started talking again about the whole curriculum issue. "Pat still hasn't found anyone else," Amy said. "I'm thinking I'll ask her if I could call the company and return the unused curriculum for a refund, or for credit toward the materials for next quarter."
"That's a good idea," I said. Pat's whole reasoning for why Amy should use the curriculum was that the church had paid for it, and we shouldn't waste the church's resources. Accepting Amy's offer would keep the church from losing that money and save Pat from having to find a teacher.

Amy went off to find Pat--though church was going on, Pat was in the teacher supply room; I had seen her there earlier. She came back, five minutes later, in quite a snit. "She said no, and then dumped on both of us. She said that we would just have to learn to live with it, until someone writes something better, because that's what we have."

Ok. So I still don't know who is teaching my kids this summer.

After evening church, I talked to Laurie--I wanted to know what curriculum the church I went to in high school used for their little kids, and Laurie's mom is heavily involved with the education program there. We had a really interesting conversation. Laurie told me that she thought the curriculum that we have was doing just fine--her boys all know the Bible backward and forward. I pointed out that this is because she teaches them a great deal at home, and probably has nothing to do with the education they get inside the church walls. "Well, the parents have to teach their kids at home," she said.
"But a lot of them don't," I told her. "Some of them just can't, and some don't really think about it. Some of them didn't grow up in the church--like me--and don't have any idea what to tell their kids. I'd love to encourage my students' parents to be more involved with teaching the Bible at home, but I feel awkward telling people how to raise their children. If they're not getting it here, some of them aren't getting it." And I went on to tell her that our students still don't really get the concept of Jesus as a person in time, as well as an infinite person. I told her about arguing with David over whether Jesus "really died," about my teen girls who take forever to look up anything that's not in the four Gospels, and how NONE of them got a joke about Jael that I put into the skit I wrote for them. Laurie was shocked. "They really aren't learning that stuff?" Nope.

She told me what curriculum they used at our old church--I had asked mostly because JC's younger sisters went through the kid Sunday school program there and they both have very strong Bible knowledge. Of course, JC's parents talked about the Bible at home too. That curriculum is from Sweet Publishing, but there's no mention of it on their website. I emailed them for some info, but of course they won't get back to me today, it being a holiday and all.

Finally, Laurie counseled me, rightly, to be really careful about Pat's feelings. My ambivalence toward Pat is so thorough, I'm not sure I could bring myself to hurt her on purpose--but I know I need to be careful not to do so accidentally. "The education program is her baby," Laurie said. The thing is, Pat herself has said that this curriculum is garbage, that the teachers have to add a lot and be very creative in order to get anywhere with it. What about the teachers who just do exactly what it says? Our students' parents feel like the kids have learned from our class, and they weren't before. Josh's mom especially--who is probably the most tuned-in of the bunch--has told us repeatedly that she loves that he is getting real "meat" every week. She loves that we are challenging him all the time. A lot of the teachers more or less ignore the curriculum (even Laurie, after making the usual, "but they'll get through the whole Bible in twelve years with 21st Century" argument, noted that she, "follows the storyline, but doesn't use many of the activities."). The finance committee thinks it's way overpriced compared to other curricula--which would be FINE if it actually worked.

I feel like I can't just go to Pat and say, "Can't everyone just make up their own curriculum? What we'll miss in breadth, we'll more than make up for in depth. JC and I don't have any kids, we don't know anything about teaching, we don't know anything about anything, but we made up our own curriculum as we went, and our kids learned from it." She'll tell me that the teachers are lazy and don't want to do any preparation work, which, if they're basically ignoring the curriculum, is not the case. I think if I go in there with a solution that is less expensive and more Bible-based, maybe she'll listen to me, particularly if I can take a few options and suggest that she make the final decision. I don't want a whole lot in a curriculum--just some sense, especially in the later grades, that the Bible is a document rooted in history and geography. I want something that asks the children to turn to the right passage in their Bibles rather than having the verses printed there. I would prefer something that the church could make a one-time investment in and reuse each year, or every two years, rather than these throw-away coloring sheets.

If you have any recommendations for curricula I haven't reviewed yet (or for polite, kind, and effective ways to approach Pat about this), please email or comment and let me know!

JC and I have decided that, next year, we are going to give the parents a note each week (give it to the parents, not to the kids to give to the parents!) outlining what we talked about, suggesting memory verses, perhaps some questions they might ask their kids. We really want the parents to discuss Sunday school material outside of Sunday school, but I don't think the kids are very forthcoming, and with the exception of Josh's mom, I don't think the parents push very hard.

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