Monday, April 28, 2008

Confirmation Requirements: Best Faith Formation Practices

W. Edwards Deming

Some years ago, I was working on a video documentary for Ford Motor Company about the famous American industrial statistician, W. Edwards Deming, who is credited with transforming Japan’s industrial quality after WWII, and making the Japanese the competitive powerhouse they are today. In 1950 Deming had been upset with the quality of American products and attempted to persuade American industry to implement a statistical process control system to correct the problem. But, he was rebuffed, so he went to the Japanese who listened and turned around their quality. Today the Japanese government offers The Deming Prize to individuals, applications, and companies who excel in product quality.

In the early 1980s, when the American automobile industry led the country into a recession because Japan was taking market share, Ford Motor Company invited Deming (1900-1993), also in his 80s, to teach his methods of quality control to Ford management.

One of Deming’s famous lines, which we captured in our documentary was this: “It costs just as much to make a bad part as it does a good one. So, why don’t you make a good one -- instead of a bad one?”

He pointed out management’s error in their willingness to spend 20%-40% of the cost, fixing problems or repairing parts that were made wrong, instead of investing that same money into controlling the process through regular and precise measurements, and thus improving all over productivity and quality. Today, Deming’s measurement and testing techniques are the backbone of American industry.

Deming’s techniques also have a direct application in human resource management as many companies have discovered, including training and the education of students. In this article I will explain how Deming’s insights are only common sense, and should be the backbone for the catechesis of children and adults in the Catholic Church. But first, let me tell a true, personal, and ironic story about Deming to illustrate my point.

True & Ironic

When I first met Deming, it was 1981. He was 81, tall, slightly stooped, and particular about his diet—forget the vegetables, he loved pies. He was also particular about what kind of chair he sat in. I interviewed him on the top floor of Ford Word Headquarters, just down the hall from the chairman’s office, Donald Peterson, whom we were scheduled to interview an hour after we finished with Deming. The chairs available in the executive lounge were these lush, deep plush jobs that did nothing for the posture, but they looked great on camera. We set up our camera and lights, and when Deming came he took one look at the chair I directed him to, growled, and said to me, “I will not sit in that chair. It’s bad for my back.”

I was off to a great start. The man was tired, and still slightly bitter at being rejected by U.S. industry for 30 years. We hustled and got him a proper chair, and after a few moments began the interview. Because our audience supposedly knew nothing about his history, theories or management techniques (although I had read the manuscript of his latest yet unpublished book) I began by asking the basic questions, which I knew he had answered a thousand times before. It was an error on my part not to have briefed him on who I was and my own research. He was impatient, and considered my documentary and me a waste of his time. I started to get one and two word answers. He was miffed, and I had no idea how to fix the system I had created.

After no more than ten minutes of the scheduled 45-minute interview I asked that the camera be stopped. It was useless; we were getting nothing on tape that I could use. I thanked Deming for his time, and asked the soundman to remove Mr. Deming’s microphone.

As Deming got out of the chair and began to leave I was sad at missing the opportunity to get to know this great industrialists — one of the great benefits of making documentaries is what you learn about the people you interview and the subjects you investigate. As he left the room, I leaned over into my briefcase, and withdrew the dog-eared copy of his latest unpublished manuscript that I had read and marked up. I approached him with a pen, and asked for his signature. He paused before he took the manuscript and my pen, but immediately sat down at a nearby table, and signed his name simply but with penmanship that was magnificent. (see the picture)

His handwriting was remarkable for a man of his age, and I said something tacky like: “Mr. Deming, your penmanship is as sound and smooth as your management theories.” He looked down, paused, then said, “You know, I, ah -- could probably answer your questions a lot better than I did.”

It was one of those moments I hope I never forget. He sat back down, we wired him again for sound, and I conducted a solid 45-minute interview that made our project a huge success within Ford Motor Company.

It’s Up to Management to Fix It

That story has a moral, as you might expect—When something is wrong with the system, it’s up to management to fix it. That is also one of Deming’s themes—“The problem is at the top: the system can only be fixed by management.”

In our interview, I was the manager. I knew it was my responsibility to fix the problem, but I really didn’t know how to do it. By asking Deming for his signature on his manuscript I unwittingly demonstrated to him that I was not the regular journalist hack who had not done my homework. When he realized that I knew what he was all about, and that I deeply appreciated him, the problem was fixed. It was a lesson right out of his book.

The heart of his quality management theories is this: If you want a good product to emanate from your system, management has to continually test the system and make adjustments. If you don’t you’ll turn out bad parts as often as you turn out good ones.

Catechism Instruction

That is a concept that has everything to do with catechism instruction.

There has been enough written about the pathetic situation of Catholic faith formation and how poorly children, teens, and adults are formed in their faith, that I will not review it here. The analogy in Catholicism that parallels American industry from the 1950s to the 1990s, is that we’re turning out bad “parts” that don’t work well. That is, the products of Catholic faith formation have not generally met the requirements of being a Christian capable of defending or living their faith in the face of a belligerent society.

Taking a lesson from Deming, and applying it to religious instruction, let us review. There are four levels of instructional testing that can be administered. So far, I’ve written about one of those in an article that deals with the importance of a Level 1 Evaluation. I also provided a form catechism instructors can use when conducting that bit of research – see my Best Practices in Faith Formation web page HERE and the link titled: “CLASS SESSION EVALUATION: A Level 1 Form."

In my mind, the Level 1 Evaluation is the first test that every faith formation instructor and developer should be administering, nearly every class time. It is a test that evaluates the instructors, the course designers, the coordinators, and parents or spouses—those individuals that orchestrate the learning process and environment—Deming’s management. The Level 1 evaluates the instruction in an “affective” way. That is, it measures the instruction’s ability to engage and motivate students.

The Level 2 Evaluation

Just as important, is the Level 2 Evaluation, which tests the student's cognitive understanding of course content. In regular school courses the tests students take for their report cards are Level 2 Evaluations. Except, that in an instructional design sense, the test is as much an evaluation of how well the instructional design, the instruction itself, the instructor and the parents/spouses do -- as much as how well the student does. This gets back to the onus for good instruction falling on management, although it does not remove responsibility from the students.

So, at Mass this morning, Fr. John Riccardo (Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Plymouth, MI) delivered a homily that I almost interrupted with cheers and cartwheels. (I didn't, for which he is thankful. But my angel was urging me on). Here is what he said, via an email he sent me later in the day at my request.
Several weeks ago I had the chance to go into our school and teach our 7th and 8th graders for four days in a row. It was supposed to be a sort of introduction to the Theology of the Body, but it really turned into a basic understanding, rooted in several key Scriptural texts, of who God is, who we are, why He made us, and how to find happiness. At one point, on the last day, I went into a quick overview of the Ten Commandments, and at least as importantly, the context of when these ten gifts were given. It was at that point that I told the 8th graders that in order to graduate this year they would need to know the Ten Commandments. Since then, I have also made it clear that all the 8th graders need to know the Ten Commandments in order to be confirmed.

Now, a bit surprising to me, this has caused no small stir, and not merely among our students, but even among our catechists and among parents. For whatever reason, in religious education, we've gotten out of the habit of demanding that kids memorize anything, even though in every other discipline, whether it's football, dance, cheerleading, math, or science, coaches and teachers make absolutely no bones about demanding that their students and players memorize things. In fact, because we often don't demand that our kids memorize anything in religious education, we give the impression that this isn't really that important. Where we demand little, little is understood to be of significance.

But I don't want kids to memorize simply for the sake of memorizing. There is great value in learning the context of the Ten Commandments. This is one of the greatest dramas revealed in the Old Testament, and in helping the kids learn the context of when God gave these, we help to shatter the mistaken and distorted image of God that is so rampant in our culture: that God is some sort of 'celestial kill joy.' In reality, the God who gave the Ten Commandments is a God who liberates and saves. If He had wanted to enslave us somehow, He would have left us in slavery in Egypt, where the Israelites had been for more than 400 years. But He wants life for us! And the God who rescued us out of slavery is the God who gave these Ten Gifts so that we could find happiness. [Stan notes: King David wrote about how he loved God's law. David understood that by obeying those laws, he was led into a life of happiness, contentment and joy.]

Jesus says in the Gospel today, "This is the verdict: the Light has come into the world but men preferred darkness to light." (John 3:16-21) My experience with the kids and the discussion of the Ten Commandments comes to mind this morning because many of our kids think that darkness is light and light is darkness. They have been inundated by a culture that calls good "evil" and evil "good," and so they are confused. And it is up to us as parents and educators to help them understand that God is a God of life and that He has laid out for us the way that leads to life, and warned us of the way that leads to death -- no matter how enticing it may appear.

And the way for us to approach the light that both faith and reason require of us, to be happy, is to be ACCOUNTABLE and RESPONSIBLE for what it is we are supposed to KNOW. To require that students (whether children, youth, or adults) for TEMPORAL REASONS memorize, understand, demonstrate, and provide feedback successfully through a variety of mental and physical tests in order to graduate from one grade to the next, and not to require the same testing for ETERNAL REASONS , is irrational, irresponsible, and demeans and scandalizes the importance that supposedly the things of God are supposed to be in our life.

We should not have to think about this for more than a moment. Level 2 Evaluations (and even Level 3 and 4 that measure how implicitly the values of Christian living get into our life) should be the demand of every bishop, every priest, every DRE or FFD, and every religious education instructor throughout Christianity. It is not a grace to pass (and/or confirm) everyone that shows up. It is a scandal to confirm students that go through the motions but do not understand because of their lazy attitude, or more seriously because of their ambivalence. Apologist and author Dave Armstrong writes, “It is no less sensible to demand appropriate religious knowledge than for anything else. To not do this presupposes that religious matters are somehow only “private” or unimportant, or optional, or separated from the mind and common sense.”

If you are scandalized, according to a report that came out this week, that few are graduating from high school these days without dropping out or extended delays, (only 24.9% in nearby Detroit), then what would you think if only that percentage could pass an examination of faith (both cognitive and attitudinal) after years or months of religious education? We need to change this ASAP.

So, what are you doing, or what have you experienced? Let’s hear from you. Fill up the comments below. We need to compile some “best practice” illustrations of how Level 2 evaluations can be applied to revitalize Catholic catechesis.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Marxism in Michigan and Texas: Tyranny vs Freedom

Related Link: Injustice in Michigan

I'm a Catholic Christian. I'm against a lot of things, including polygamy, and the violation of state laws that are meant to protect society from moral relativism and anarchy. But I am also against tyranny—the unbridled power of government to take away our individual rights under the color of protecting children, only to subject those children to terror of a "justice."

If you've been reading my blog, you'll know that the City of Novi, MI police, in cooperation with Oakland Country Child Protective Services have, under the color of law, reigned terror on a neighbor's family. Those two agencies, in my opinion, have been maliciously negligent, and the Detroit Free Press has done a series of articles about how the their incompetence has ruined the lives of a number of families in our area.

In an effort to purportedly protect the young children of this family from sexual abuse, a claim that all the sane individuals in the case believe to be false and contrived by the police and CPA to justify their jobs, the children were subjected to abuse at the hands of police and CPA by yanking them from their mother (because the mother might influence their testimony). Unfortunately, in the process, the prosecutor, police and CPA, and even some non-profit help agencies like Easter Seals, continue to harass the family, and giving the children every reason to rebel and act out. In their blundering effort to seek justice, these government agencies have violated the very basis of subsidiarity and have imposed on this family an unrest and harassment that can only be described as a revival of Marxism.

This has to stop. The government, in such cases, is not protective when the people elected and assigned to protect let the power go to their heads, for the moment or two in the spot light, and a tainted paycheck. They have seemed to relish in trumped up charging petitions for reasons that God only knows, and they should know He will judge. Now, comes the removal of 400 kids from their parents, in an effort to look for one kid, on the basis of what may have been a prank call. Thank you law enforcement for your loyalty to justice. I no longer trust the police as I once did.

The Texas "authorities" appear to have demonstrated, once again, that power corrupts. It is much more likely that testimony of children under the duress of being ripped from their parents will prove to be much more unreliable than if their parents were coaching them what to say. I believe that a wife does not have to testify against her husband, or vis-a-versa, so why must children be coerced into doing so by prejudiced interrogators who are out to justify their jobs.

I hope that somewhere, somehow, in our "justice" system, the police, prosecutors, and CPA responsible for this transitivity of Marxism is punished.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Detroit Men's Conference

Darrin Davis (Deb's husband), Paul Gelinas (a man in Deb's RCIA class), and I had a great today at the Detroit's Catholic Men's Conference, at University of Detroit's Calihan Hall along with about 6,000 other men. Someone (I won't say who) told us it started at 7 AM.

But 7 AM was when the doors opened. We took this picture at 6:45 AM. During the day Darrin and I got to confession. Paul said the line was too long. When I came back Paul had asked me if the reason it took me almost 2 hours had anything to do with how long it had been since my last confession or something else... like the line. Actually, the line was long (over 100) but the hold up was that there were only 5 priests at first (scattered in the seats behind the screen area) and some of the guys in front, well, it was taking a L O N G time... probably because it had been a L O N G time. But then other preists came, over 20 by the time I left, and the line sped right along.

Confession is one of the greatest things about Catholicism. The New Testament is extremely clear about it, and why I never saw it in the Bible as an Evangelical can only be attributed to the total lack of honest teaching on it by Evangelicalism, and my ignorant prejudice against Catholicism. But Jesus tells the Apostles that they have the power to forgive sins or not, Matthew later points out clearly that "God gave man the power to forgive sins." We are asked to go to each other and ask for forgiveness, and there is the long history from the very beginning of the Church where confession was practiced. But the REAL proof to me is the miracle I physically feel when I have prepared well for confession (ahead of time) by a thorough examination of conscience, and then hear the priest's words: "I absolve you of ALL your sings, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." It's an amazing thing, and I am sure I visibly straighten and walk out taller. It is a great feeling that gives me confidence before God, and my faith is given a palatable boost every time. I usually go about once a month, but today it had been only 2 weeks.

The view from our seats during Fr. John's Talk. The AV support was terrific. I got to look down on the control "room" -- a little distracting. This was the first conference I've attended in decades where I wasn't directing, on some crew, or exhibiting. It was great to relax and just enjoy the speakers.

Fr. John deals with hecklers ("I expect to see you two in confession later today.") Actually we were giving him a sanding ovation and he was telling us to sit down and shut up. We did. He was terrific as usual. I don't care what Canon Law says, I'm casting my ballot for Fr. John next time they let us vote for pope.

Teresa Tomeo interviews Mike Timmis while Henry Root tries to catch some sleep. Henry is at any and every Catholic conference I've ever been at. Like some mystics I'm convinced he can bi-locate. Teresa can't get away with it, however, with that red jacket.

Leonardo Defilippis was terrific as Maximilian Kobe, and half a dozen other characters. Great drama, great sound track, and great lighting effects, Leonardo. A lot of work. Worth every minute. Five years ago I had dinner with Leonardo and a few others after a conference in Los Angeles. So, it was good to talk with him a few minutes before the conference began. Did I tell you we got there early?

Paul was busy buying Darrin a book, and so by the time we took this everyone was leaving... even Teresa.