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    On the Disappearance of Catechism

    April 23, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    If you have been reading Afterthoughts for very long, you know that the old template, right at the very top, had a section entitled This Week in the Westminster Shorter Catechism and it contained that week’s question and answer that we were memorizing during our school time.

    I neglected to discuss its abrupt departure when I was writing my reflections on kindergarten, and yet we really have dropped learning the catechism for the time being.


    I know. I know. Let me attempt to excuse explain myself.

    A wise blogger who no longer blogs but I wish she did once said that one of the biggest enemies when giving your children a rigorous education was hubris.

    Hubris: [hyoo-bris, hoo-]
    excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance; presumption.

    My trusty says that the word’s Greek roots imply a “presumption toward the gods” and, in fact, the word is linked to wanton violence and insolence.

    In other words, hubris is quite the opposite of cultivating wisdom. And wisdom is the ultimate aim of our school. Knowledge seems to lead us to two places: pride or, alternately, humility. In fact, one of my bigger concerns about secular schooling is that the knowledge is so divorced from the God in Whom it is rooted that it cannot bring about humility.

    Humility, after all, rests in the fact that all that we know is but one drop compared to the wisdom of the Creator.

    And this is connected to the Catechism, but actually reaches farther back, back to the time when my son was barely 2-years-old and knew his shapes and colors and most of his letters.

    People were impressed.

    I was always a little uncomfortable with showing him off {even to family}, but at the same time, I can’t say it wasn’t helpful. After all, we had told folks we planned to homeschool, and his early success was a bit of our defense. He seemed to help justify our choice. He was part of our “evidence” for why we thought we could pull it off.

    By the time we got to the Catechism, people were amazed by his ability to rattle off the answers to question after question. I started out concerned with his heart, so we really did spend a bit of every day not just learning the words of the questions and answers, but the meaning of them.

    Then, the words got a bit bigger. As we began to wade through difficult questions concerning, for example, justification by faith I found myself spending sometime two or three weeks per question in an attempt to help him understand. I was committed to not moving on without understanding, but at the same time, I began to wonder if there was a better way to spend our time.

    At the same time, I began to suspicion that he was losing his grasp on the meaning of the parts that he had learned early on. Though he still knew it by heart, it didn’t seem to be as attached to his heart as it was previously.

    And my main weapon against hubris had been to help him understand.

    So are we done with Catechism forever? No. I consider us taking a break. When we return, I would like to see it be more of a family secret. No more showing off. No more putting our son {or any other children who have learned it–I certainly hope to teach them all in time} on display to justify our ability to homeschool.

    I like academics. But I am well aware that too many folks have told my son how smart he is. The worst thing in the world would be for him to be born with so much potential, but fall flat on his face due to pride.

    Hubris. Presumption toward the gods. As I let that one settle in my mind, I can see the arrogant man shaking his fist at those who are above him, scolding them for sitting in his chair. This is the most twisted way to look at life, and I can see how it would be connected to violence and insolence.

    Hubris is the enemy that must be guarded against in all forms of education. Delaying the Catechism is one way that I am battling it, though I’m not sure that would be necessary for all families. We thoroughly enjoyed it in the beginning. It answered a lot of difficult questions my son had been asking. But somewhere along the way I think we lost our way a bit.

    So the Catechism will be back. Someday.

    When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
    but with the humble is wisdom.
    Proverbs 11:2

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  • Reply Catie April 2, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Have your thoughts on this changed? Are you doing catechism again? 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 2, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      Yes! I think we took two full years off — that sounds about right. It needed to be long enough that when we started again, it pretty much felt new to all of us, so that we could do it with the right spirit. ♥

      • Reply Catie April 3, 2016 at 10:55 am

        Thanks, Brandy! 🙂 I wondered b/c I’ve been trying to start a formal catechism for a COUGH few years COUGH. I just wanted to know if you dropped it altogether. What a great reminder to make sure we’re not just learning to fill our heads with knowledge–it’s about the heart.

        I grew up with just being told WHAT we believe not necessarily WHY. So *I’m* excited to go through a catechism…once we actually start. COUGH.

  • Reply Ellen April 24, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    Yup. I try to keep his name off the blog because he doesn’t like publicity much, but the clerkship was a very important part of our lives, so I want to talk about it a tiny bit in my own way.

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