Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fully Alive

Last Sunday, I was in Toronto for a small reception held to celebrate the completion of the second, revised edition of Fully Alive. This Family Life Education program is sponsored by the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario. It is taught once a week in grades 1 to 8 of the English-language Catholic schools of the province, where it is closely aligned to the Religious Education program.

Family Life Education, as it is represented in Fully Alive, is intended to pass on a distinctively Catholic view of human life, sexuality, marriage, and family. Its goal is to complement the efforts of families and to support what parents are doing at home.

During the late 60s and 70s, Family Life Education was introduced into the curriculum of many school boards in Ontario, even though there was no provincial curriculum at the time to determine content or approach. Since this area includes subjects such as marriage, family, and sexuality, Catholic school trustees and parents approached the Bishops of Ontario and asked them to prepare guidelines for these programs. These guidelines were first published in 1978, revised in 1983 and again in 1987.

However much these guidelines were appreciated, Catholic school boards expressed the need for further in-class resource materials. The Bishops of the province decided to contract with a publisher to develop this material, while keeping the final word on the content and presentation of the text and imagery. To ensure that Family Life Education was well rooted in Catholic teaching, and met the needs of parents, children, and teachers, a large-scale consultation was organized. Writing teams prepared drafts for the various grade levels, which were then evaluated, revised, and approved for classroom testing under the direction of an Editorial Board. These pilot texts were evaluated by teachers, parents, and interested members of the parish-school community. As well, the Bishops of Ontario undertook a direct consultation on the program in their dioceses, and encouraged response to the pilot texts from all interested Catholics.

After this broad consultation and careful evaluation of the material, the texts were revised, and presented to all of the bishops of Ontario for their approval. The texts were then made ready for publication. It was a long, but necessary process, with the goal of ensuring that Fully Alive, as the OCCB’s English-language program is known, was a true reflection of the Catholic community of Ontario.

The first edition of Fully Alive was published between 1988 and 1992. In 2006, the OCCB decided to renew and update their program. This process has just been completed. One of the differences with the first edition is that a broad range of support material for parents has been made available online on the website of the ACBO. I encourage all readers to take a look at this material: it will help them understand and appreciate this great resource.

I happened to be chair of the ACBO’s Education Commission during the revision process and was intimately involved in it from start to finish. For this reason, I was honoured last Sunday with the Father Angus MacDougald Award for my contribution to Family Life Education. I humbly accepted this award, though the publication is the fruit of the work of a remarkable team of people. Indeed, it is a publication of which all Catholics in Ontario can be proud. Its completion deserved a little celebration.