By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Eighth-graders attending Catholic schools around the Archdiocese of Louisville will begin using new curriculum next semester that’s based on the teachings of Blessed John Paul II known as the Theology of the Body.
The late pope presented this theology — which addresses the sanctity of the human person and human sexuality — during weekly audiences from 1979 to 1984. His teachings have been adapted for both middle school and high school students by a team of four young writers, Brian Butler, Jason Evert and Colin and Aimee MacIver.
“Theology of the Body is a beautiful synthesis of the church’s teaching on being created in the likeness of God, what it means to be called as a man and a woman and how our identity as children of God informs the activity of what we’re called to,” said co-author Brian Butler during a phone interview last week.
Butler visited the archdiocese of Louisville earlier this week to teach parents about “Theology of the Body: Middle School Edition” and prepare archdiocesan educators to teach it effectively.
He explained that the curriculum takes a “positive approach” to human sexuality and the church’s teaching on chastity in eight chapters.
Chapter one asks, “Who am I: Discovering My True Identity?” and analyzes what it means to be a human. Chapter five introduces sex under the title, “Sex, Love and Chastity.” The lesson continues with a chapter called “To use or not to Use: That is the Question.” That chapter addresses the difference betweenlove and lust. The curriculum concludes with a chapter called “Hope and Future: Daily Living Out the Language of the Body.”
“We’re trying to make the case that God has a great plan for your life,” Butler explained. “He desires freedom for you, happiness for you. The world tells us that happiness and that freedom come from doing whatever you want whenever you want. We help them (students) to see God is the one who designed us and he calls us to love. When we follow his design for love, we actually find the freedom that we long for, the happiness that we long for.”
Leisa Schulz, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said the curriculum is developmentally appropriate for middle school students and provides a healthy approach to sexuality.
“Developmentally, it really engages middle schoolers in a lot of different ways,” she said, noting that the curriculum includes DVDs, activities and time for discussion.
It teaches students about “valuing yourself as a child of God, respecting yourself, respecting others, developing that healthy outlook for who you are,” she said.
Schulz also noted, “It doesn’t talk down to the students. It respects who they are at this stage in their life. It recognizes that they’re intelligent and gives them the opportunity to learn and grow.”
The Archdiocese of Louisville tested the curriculum in several schools last year. Emily McCarty, a math and religion teacher at St. Athanasius School, said the curriculum was a great success in her classroom.
“I thought it was an absolutely amazing program,” McCarty said. “It gives the kids a perspective very different from the message they get in the media.
“They really appreciated the opportunity to have their questions answered in an honest and faith-filled manner,” she said. “They want the truth. They get their information from TV, movies and music.”
McCarty believes the curriculum is so countercultural that it’s going to take a while to change the perspective of young people.
“There’s still some skepticism with them. They don’t want to give up the fairytale TV image of what this is about,” she noted. “It’s going to take a larger mindset change. It’s going to take parents knowing what’s going on in their lives and not being afraid to talk to their kids about living a virtuous life.”
McCarty said she plans to have weekly sessions for parents, too. She’ll teach the parents what the children are learning and how to reinforce the message at home.
She also believes these sessions may help parents in their own relationships.
“It was enriching for me as a person and a spouse,” she added. “It really gave me more of an understanding of the ‘God experience’ in my own marriage. I learned more of the trinitarian relationship within the sacrament of marriage — that the husband and wife are in communion with God.
“I never thought about it that way. I never thought about the fact that my husband helps to lead me to God. That I go to God through him and he goes to God through me and we experience God through each other,” she added.
The “Theology of the Body Middle School Edition” comes with a “guide to sensitive topics” and resources for parents.