As an intern pastor, one of my assignments has been to help teach the Confirmation classes at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in cooperation with my supervising pastor and the education director. The class numbers roughly 30 kids in any given week. Most of the kids cannot sit still or stop talking unless a teacher is standing directly over them. They cannot focus on anything long enough to have even a small discussion. They “need” something new, fresh and engaging.
Enter Faith Inkubators’ “Head to the Heart” Confirmation curriculum. The Parish Education ministry at First Lutheran looked at many Confirmation curricula and, based on good things they had heard about it, decided to try H2H. It is a program that seeks to engage kids on as many different levels as possible to keep them interested.
As we approach the half-way point of this year, I’ve decided to review my experience teaching with H2H so far. Overall, I have not been impressed.
Context is Everything
Some of my dissatisfaction with the H2H program is not the fault of H2H. For example, H2H relies heavily on parents’ participation and involvement in their child’s theological education. My experience has been that, in my particular context, the parents are not interested in being an active part of their child’s education. With this vital component missing, it may be that H2H simply cannot work in this context.
H2H also implicitly relies on a large staff or corps of volunteers to effectively present the lessons as they are meant to be presented. H2H wants Confirmation classes to be large-scale multimedia “events” (it specifically warns teachers against calling Confirmation a class) which take a great deal of time, money, and people-power to organize. For just the three of us teaching the class, we find that we cannot use much of what H2H suggests because we have neither the time nor the people to do so. I find it ironic that one of Faith Inkubators’ Ten Foundations is “the Bible is the only text book you need for Christian education” since every lesson asks for many more resources to be utilized from across the media spectrum.
But laying these contextual issues aside, H2H suffers from some built-in flaws of its own.
Wait, it says what?
Few things anger me more than teaching materials with factual inaccuracies. H2H contains many of these. Some of them seem relatively minor, such as H2H’s constant referral to the year “0 BC”, a year that does not exist in the Gregorian or Julian calendars (we use the Gregorian calendar, by the way). While not a game-breaker, this lack of attention to accuracy is indicative of the H2H attitude.
Other errors are more serious. One of the chapters on Jesus claims that we have more first-hand accounts of Jesus’ life than any other figure in history. In fact, we have zero first-hand accounts of Jesus’ life: the four canonical gospels were written well after Jesus’ death and were more than likely not written by anyone who had contact with him. This sort of major error appears in roughly half of the lessons we have used so far.
Some of the lessons are poorly organized. Last week’s lesson, “The Teachings of Jesus,” didn’t actually deal with any of Jesus’ teachings. It briefly mentioned that Jesus was a teacher and asked the students what qualities they thought made a good teacher. The rest of the lesson focused on Jesus’ role as a prophet, using the story of the Samaritan woman at the well as its central story (John 4).
At no point did the lesson spend any time talking about what Jesus taught. It never touched on Jesus’ favorite way of teaching, using parables. In a chapter titled “The Teachings of Jesus”, I expected at least recognition of these elements. Instead, my supervising pastor, the education director and myself had to practically write a new lesson to introduce the teachings of Jesus.
We should not have to rewrite an entire published (and expensive) lesson because it is badly written. We have had to do this more than once, and it is clear that we will have to continue doing it. We simply do not have time.
I have other opinions about some aspects of H2H, but I recognize that they are, for the most part, personal opinions. For example, I find the idea that we must bombard our kids with stimuli to force them to focus is ultimately harmful, not helpful. Others may disagree. But even apart from these opinions, there are still flaws with H2H that make me ultimately question its usefulness.
H2H is popular in many churches, and maybe for others, it works well. There have been classes where the H2H material has worked well. But my experience with it as a whole has not been good, and ultimately, I would not recommend it to others.