September 11, 2015

Religious Education Supplement

‘Principles and Choices’ curriculum supplements religious education programs with pro-life focus and strategies

Camille Pauley, creator and curriculum developer of the Principles and Choices pro-life religious education program, explains the program’s concepts during a workshop at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis on July 25. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Camille Pauley, creator and curriculum developer of the Principles and Choices pro-life religious education program, explains the program’s concepts during a workshop at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis on July 25. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

For many years, Peggy Geis taught a pro-life curriculum in Catholic schools.

It’s something she said seems to have fallen by the wayside. She felt it was important to reintroduce such teaching back into Catholic schools, but at 81, she wasn’t sure where or how to begin.

So she gathered pro-life ministry coordinators from eight of the Indianapolis West Deanery parishes about eight months ago for a meeting.

To her surprise, she said, “they felt the same way I did.

“We all want so much to have some kind of formal [pro-life] education that we know the archdiocese would approve of, and teachers would accept, and principals.”

Geis, pro-life ministry coordinator at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, introduced the group to a pro-life curriculum geared toward youth in seventh through 12th grades through an organization called Healing the Culture, which is based in Kenmore, Wash.

The pro-life program, called “Principles and Choices,” is approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and has received a bishop’s imprimatur, or right to publish.

“They all got excited about it,” Geis said of the West Deanery pro-life coordinators’ reaction to Principles and Choices.

The group formally created the West Deanery Pro-Life Action Committee, and “decided to sponsor a workshop on this curriculum as our first action,” said Geis.

The workshop, called “Life Principles,” was held at St. Michael the Archangel Parish on July 25. More than 80 teachers, catechists and students turned out for the seminar.

According to the Principles and Choices website, the program “helps students master the principles of logic, ethics and justice that inspire them to live with purpose, moral integrity and care for human life,” and “gives students a strong philosophical education in 10 core principles that ground Church teachings on respect for human life, social justice and many other contemporary issues.”

In her presentation at St. Michael the Archangel, Principles and Choices creator and curriculum author Camille Pauley explained the first portion of the curriculum.

That section, she said, addresses how decisions are made from four basic levels of happiness: physical pleasure and possession; ego gratification; good beyond self; and ultimate good.

“Levels one and two are natural defaults,” she said. “But the goal is to get people to levels three and four. That’s when people act for the good of others and not as a means to their own personal happiness.”

By helping others move to the third and fourth stages of happiness, said Pauley, more individuals will work for the good of those at risk in the culture of death, and more individuals will seek to preserve life.

After addressing the importance of the source of one’s happiness to making decisions in favor of life, the program tackles the topics of truth and reason.

Using the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, the program explains how opinions or theories cannot have internal contradictions.

“In other words, a real being cannot be both ‘X’ and ‘not X,’ ” Pauley said.

To use this logic in the realm of life, she continued, an unborn baby cannot be “life” to some and “not life” to others—the unborn child is either life, or it isn’t.

So how then is the “truth” determined? That is the topic of the last portion of the Principles and Choices program.

In this section, the program again relies on heavy philosophical hitters like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, who taught that truth is recognized by quantity and quality of evidence. By approaching discussions about life with much solid evidence, said Pauley, those defending life can go much further than by using only faith-based arguments.

“I’ve never seen this much philosophy used to justify the pro-life plan,” said Justin Simmons, director of religious education at St. Thomas More Parish in Mooresville. “I really like the inclusion of so much philosophy addressing secular mentality rather than just using a lot of theology and religion.”

Matthew Fallon, administrator of religious education and youth ministry coordinator at Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Danville, agreed.

He said he likes “the idea that there’s a curriculum to go beyond just saying, ‘Hey, this is the teaching of the Church,’ but [addresses] why does the Church teach this.”

Fallon said that if students don’t understand the reasoning behind Church teaching on pro-life issues, then they could fall prey to the “flawed but deeper reasoning” of those in opposition to Church teaching. This lack of understanding could put students at risk of believing that the non-pro-life reasoning is “on an even level [with Church teaching], like either one could be right,” he said.

Fallon feels the Principles and Choices curriculum could “get the kids to understand why we believe what we do. I think once they understand that, they’ll be all for it.”

While the program is geared for those in seventh through 12th grade, Patrick Verhiley sees the program and its approach as applicable to those beyond high school. Verhiley serves as director of recruitment for the San Damiano Scholars Program for Church Leadership at Marian University in Indianapolis.

He and the students he brought to the workshop found the information “thought-provoking.”

“I love how she’s built up from, ‘If we don’t have people define happiness for themselves, everything else is going to be for naught,’ ” Verhiley said. “It made us question if we’re there yet [at stages three or four of happiness]—you can’t move someone to levels three and four if you’re not there yet.”

For youths, Pauley said the Principles and Choices program can be incorporated into existing religious education programs, or could be done separately.

“We’ve made user guides to show you how it works with any of the major religion textbooks you may be using, whether it be Ave Maria Press or St. Mary’s Press or the Didache series, or whatever you’re using,” she said. “We show you how to implement it fully in line with the framework guidelines, and it has received all the appropriate approvals.”

The program consists of three books that can be covered in a few weeks a year over the course of two to three years. It includes other supplemental material, including slides, lecture notes, a minute-by-minute learning plan, a play, a video, a game and more.

How effective is the program? Very, said Pauley.

“We’ve done quantified studies where we test students’ attitudes and opinions before they get any of this learning, and then we test them afterward to see where their opinions have changed,” she explained. “We get about an 80 percent shift from pro-choice students who move to be pro-life, or students who were pro-life but silent who move to wanting to be vocal about it.”

Geis is anxious to see what fruit blossoms in the archdiocese by the seeds sown in the workshop.

“At first we expected 50 people, then 60, and then we got more than 80!” the octogenarian exclaimed.

“Now we’ll just wait for the Holy Spirit to see what he does.”

(For more information on the Principles and Choices pro-life curriculum, log on to

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