Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

December 7, 2010

The Hardest Thing to Teach

Every day my high school Catholic Bioethics class poses challenges for me -- some good, some bad, some I'm routinely able to answer, and some that are new and require me to think on my feet. I was recently asked by a colleague what the most difficult topic to teach is, and while I first thought it might be the case against homosexuality, it turns out that it is increasingly becoming artificial/assisted reproduction. I think this is posing a challenge for several reasons....some of which are related, others which are not.

1. The model of the family is now viewed by my students (age 18) as something archaic, or at the very best, something arbitrary. Or, if family matters, family is whatever one willingly determines it to be...deliberately two-parent, deliberately one-parent, purposefully gay, purposefully straight, etc. I asked them to think about whether or not the design of the body is something arbitrary...whether or not the fact that it takes a biological father and a biological mother to create new life. They don't see that fact as particularly meaningful..just a fact of science that can be manipulated so as to satisfy our desires (all the while ignoring its implications).

2. The second reason the Church's teaching on artificial reproduction is so difficult to sell is for the very fact that assessing these techniques as immoral seems to perpetuate the immense suffering that a faithful, heterosexual, Catholic couple might experience....the desire to act in accord with the natural law while being unable to give one another a biological child. Trying to explain why ART's might have a good object and intention but immoral technique is so difficult. This generation does not see the use of technology as something that might offend or threaten our very humanity -- they take it for granted and assume it is something morally good or morally neutral.

3. Some of the children that I'm teaching are the products of these technologies. Now, some of the students I teach have had abortions, and so there is a very real suffering and tension that takes place when we talk our way through that issue. But this topic poses another question, in that some begin to question their identity and origin. As a teacher who so thoroughly cares about these girls, it's difficult to watch them grapple with their parents' decisions, to hear that the means why which they were conceived are not justifiable, even while I stress that once conception takes place, no matter the means, one is infinitely loved by God and has been given an eternal end with Him.

It's just a hard thing to pull off...both a truthful yet pastorally sensitive approach to such a topic, because it deals with our humanity...our beginning, our desires, the desires of our parents, and the evaluation of and self-reflection regarding our personal ethics, which, if there is to be any progress, is bound to include growing pains.


Anonymous said...

Prayers for you and your students...this must be a difficult class to teach in this day and age, but one that needs to be taught effectively and faithfully! God bless you and the work you do!


Aaron said...

An added complication: I think we need to be able to articulate clearly why adoption is good, and how it fits with the broader teaching. Too often Catholic apologists unintentionally end up saying, "Every child must be raised by his biological father and mother." While, clearly, this would be desireable, the fact that the Church lauds those who adopt proves that such biological parentage is not, strictly, necessary. Bright young minds quickly latch onto these kind of seeming contradictions.

On a side note, I think there is at least one example of an evil technology present in the popular culture which students might (or might not) understand: the One Ring in Tolkien's trilogy. Could the men of Gondor used it against the powers of evil? Some students might want to make this case, but I think most will see that this tool is so evil it cannot be used for good.

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