Don't Mail That Check!
I had an outline of today’s blog ready for the flesh on the bones, but another more timely issue dropped into my lap for “Books and Apps” Saturday. Having taught a fair amount over the past two weeks, I received emails from students for further resources, which is rather common. But one request in particular caught my eye: a participant asked my opinion about plunking out a large amount of money for an online institute of Catholic study. I am so grateful this student had the good sense to do some vetting, and so my entry today is really an elongated explanation of my responding student.
I was happy to follow the link provided, and I studied the website carefully. To be honest, I was aghast. This website was nothing more than one individual charging big bucks for a computer template piece of paper. Here is a quote directly from the website: “For less than $1 a day, you can receive the benefits of a higher education—without having to spend years or thousands of dollars to get it.” This has a familiar ring to it, as in “lose weight without dieting or exercise.” Moreover, it tells me something of the author’s limited vision of theology, catechetics, and faith formation: that the sacred sciences can be reduced to a snappy set of answers with which to win bar disputes. As the webmaster himself advertises, “Do you wish you had the intellectual edge so you could provide logical and well-researched answers to the questions of your family, friends, and neighbors?
So how about credentials? Well, they are provided by the instructor, who provides an impressive title to his/her doctoral thesis. Although using the title “doctor,” no information is provided as to the school of Catholic theology where the doctorate was obtained, and frankly, there is no indication that the dissertation was actually approved by a review board of professors.
Peer review or professional standards do not seem to be a major concern for the instructor. Again, I quote, “No, we do not want to be accredited or recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for three reasons; (1) Accreditation is usually sought so that federal loans can be granted for tuition assistance. But our tuition is already so low. We don’t need federal assistance. Caesar can keep his money.” (Italics mine.) (2) Accreditation for Catholic education institutions usually requires observation and visitation by non-Catholic accreditation officers who evaluate the faculty, library and curriculum. We don’t feel the need to meet a stamp of approval from those who don’t recognize our educational goals. For example, accreditation offices would require us to set learning time limits and enforce exams and term papers. That’s not our style.” (3) The instructor states that accreditation is expensive, time consuming, and “a waste of our time and a waste of your time.”
The author is mixing apples and oranges. Accreditation of higher learning is private, not public, and the regional accrediting boards are the nation’s major guarantee of quality assurance and students consumer rights, among other things. Every parent of prospective college students needs to know whether his or her child is choosing a regionally accredited college; here in Florida we fall under SAC’s. In Maryland it would be “Middle States.” The webmaster’s penchant for avoiding professional peer review of his lectures and published content is contrary to Catholic teaching principles, where educators at every level—new catechists to doctors of theology-- fall under some form of authoritative review. Theologians who publish articles and books make their works available for public professional review—nearly half of the erudite Theological Studies journal is devoted to rigorous book reviews of the sacred sciences.
There is one more critical point on the website, and that is the repetitive use of the term “apologetics.” There is indeed a venerable branch of Christian theology called Apologetics which dates back to c. 150 A.D. and the writings of St. Justin Martyr, and has through the centuries defended Catholic faith and practice from outside attack. In very recent times, though, the term apologetics has come to mean (1) defense and/or vigorous assertion of traditional Catholic teaching in the face of perceived erroneous interpretations of Vatican II’s teachings, or (2) a corrective to modern theologians, bishops, thinkers and educators who work to elaborate the Vatican II teachings in educational, preaching and writing. Apologetics today is set against the “heresy” of modernism. I find that extreme present-day apologetics sometimes demonstrate a lack of charity within the Church and a certain pride and arrogance about who is the most orthodox or real Catholic. Participants in this online program can earn two certificates, one in general theology and one exclusively in apologetics. I have never seen a study curriculum of this sort.
So, we know what to watch out for. But how to find and access the learning websites that enjoy both the good housekeeping seal of the Church and the respect of the best of professional Catholic theologians and educators? How about if we discuss that tomorrow on the Sunday page? It will be worth your while.
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