Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Are UUs mean to kids?

Over at the Coffee Hour discussion, a couple of people have brought up that we UUs are apparently indifferent to our children and that children aren't given enough.

The odd thing is, I've always felt that RE was the big untouchable. I mean I've been to a few churches where there was literally no budget for adult RE, but you couldn't touch the kids budget without a "won't somebody PLEASE think of the children" style flipping out.

(But I'm one of those childless people who thinks kids are overall catered to a bit much, so this is something I tend to see in the rest of life.)

I'm actually working with teenagers at my church now as I get along with them a little better, but I'm not sure why I can't be indifferent to little kids of the whiny/screamy variety as long as I pay my pledge (a big chunk of which goes to RE) and show up for their service (which I've never really gotten much out of.) I directed a ton of little pageants as a kid, so I fell like I have to show up and clap, but on the whole, I feel for the Presbyterians on whom I inflicted endless performances of "Joshua and the Battle of Jericho," "Noah's ark" and, one time, "Moses" set in outer space. (OK, that last one was pretty cool.)

Given that likely as not kids aren't going to stick around anyway (I have few complaints about my own treatment in the Presby church, I just grew up to not be a presbyterian.) I'm not sure what more we should be doing and why further fawning over kids should be a big priority.



Steve Caldwell said...

Chalicechick wrote:
"The odd thing is, I've always felt that RE was the big untouchable. I mean I've been to a few churches where there was literally no budget for adult RE, but you couldn't touch the kids budget without a "won't somebody PLEASE think of the children" style flipping out."

Actually, it depends on what one defines as "religious education" (RE) for children, youth, and adults.

Maria Harris wrote a very influential book on RE called Fashion Me a People. This book is on the reading list for ministerial candidates and religious educators pursuing credentialed DRE status.

One of the questions raised in Harris' book is where does RE happen in our congregations?

Is RE limited to what happens in classrooms with formal curricula (what Harris refers to as "explicit curriculum")? Or should we look beyond the classroom and the curricula to the "implicit curriculum" of the church?

The "implicit curriculum" is the " ... patterns or organizations or procedures that frame the explicit curriculum."

A portion of UU explicit curriculum might include our first principle where we affirm the worth and dignity of every person. The implicit curriculum portion would be how we implement this principle in congregational life. When examining the implicit curriculum, we might look at the following questions:

** Do we respect one another when conducting congregational business in meetings?

** Are we welcoming to newcomers or are we cliquish?

** Are our facilities accessible to all or just the able-bodied?

When one looks at religious education with this broader concept, one finds that religious education is more than just schooling (curriculum and classrooms). The other aspects of church life are also educational without being school-like.

One discovers that the church doesn't have an RE program but rather the church is an RE program.

These other non-curriculum aspects of church life include worship, how the congregation conducts their business, how they approach social justice work, how they treat those who are marginalized in wider society, small group ministry programs like covenant groups and youth groups, etc.

So ... I would look at your congregation's budget and see what they spend on worship and minister's compensation. This is where most of the adult RE "implicit curriculum" is happening. Look at parties and other congregational events for adults. This is another part of adult RE "implicit curriculum." You may discover that the bulk of your congregation's resources are dedicated to implicit RE of adults.

But if you're looking for adult RE that is more school-like with formal curricula, facilitators, etc, there are plenty of excellent free to low-cost options for your congregation that can be implemented by adult volunteers today.

These options could include the following:

** UU Identity Curriculum for Young Adults (adaptable for older adults) by Katie Erslev -- free download from the UUA Young Adult and Campus Ministry Office

** Anti-Racism Movie Discussion Guide (for youth, adaptable for adults)

** Adult Discussion Forums using UUA Commission on Social Witness discussion resources - this would be one way for your congregation to provide input into the GA Study/Action Issue social justice process

** Book Discussion Groups Using Beacon Press books and free downloadable discussion guides

** UU Faithworks Archives - this part of the UUA web site contains resources for lifespan faith development (the new term being used for RE because it affirms both the inplicit and explicit curriculums). There are plenty of free to low-cost ideas online here including movie discussion guides for adults

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I haven't had time to keep up with the thread at Coffee Hour.. maybe someday.

I think mean is a little too harsh a word, but I would certainly say that UUs are not as friendly towards kids as some other denominations. And last I heard UUs have a statistically significant worse rate of kids joining a congregation when growing up than other denominations. And yes I think the two are related.

The typical reaction to this from a lot of UUs is simply "So what, as long as they grow up to be good people, who cares? Let them find their own path."

It's why I asked a while back about having a compelling reason to be a UU, why should someone be a UU? Does it benefit anyone for the UU movement to grow?

Actions speak louder than words, and if you look at the attitude towards kids in UU congregations the answer is no UUs don't care.

TheCSO said...

I don't think that the posters in the Coffee Hour discussion were talking about RE *funding*. I took their comments as more about *support* of RE - their complaints were about how their congregations were 'undermining' RE and so forth.

Does it really surprise anyone that many fundamentalist churches have programs that deeply appeal to teens? It doesn't surprise me at all that some teens would say hey, so there's brainwashing, at least I get to belong. Many of the conservative megachurches have mastered the "nonconformist conformity" thing for teens, and that is admittedly much easier for religions that are based much more on conformity. The first question for UUs is how to provide that within our tradition - instead of saying "We'll help you rebel against the corrupt, decadent mainstream by living for Christ - with a peer group who will accept you right away", how do we say anything to compete with that? "We'll help you rebel against easy answers by finding your own path?" Fat chance.

I just can't think of any solutions to that which don't involve sliding even further into becoming the religious arm of the Democratic Party. Or even further to the left. The UU church may need a very different mechanism for appealing to youth - and I'm not sure what that would be.

Anonymous said...

As a former YRUU advisor I don't think we had any problem with "the message". I think lots of teens would be cool with "We will accept you, for being you" over "we will accept you, if you profess..."

In general the lack of support is more about lack of other types of support.

TheCSO said...

That's reasonable. My perception may be a bit off because of what I remember thinking as a teen; some of what was said about 'almost worth the brainwashing' really resonated with me.

Back then, I envied those who didn't need intellectual integrity in their faith. I wanted, but could not get myself to accept, something prepackaged that would tell me what to think and who was bad and wrong and worthy of smiteage so I could just direct my teen angst and anger into working towards their ruin.

Yeah, I was a screwed-up, bitter kid. CC made me get over it and I'm a better person for that.