Preliminary Analysis: Benziger Family Life Program -- K-8

Author: Unknown


The following observations are based on a reading of three of seven components [student, family, and teacher resource guides] of the Benziger Family Life Program [copyright 1988, 89, imprimatur — 1987 Archbishop Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles].


There are substantive objections because of its lack of precision in expression, misstatement of Catholic teaching, factual errors, decision making derived from a psychologism of "rights," feeling, and extreme feminism.

Furthermore, as various themes are integrated throughout the K-8 series handbooks, adapting the curriculum by selecting only that student and family material which is not irrelevant, redundant or objectionable to the Faith, would be difficult, especially since students would have their own books.

Some Substantive Objections.

The Definition of Family is Flawed.

The Benziger 1st grade student text states [pg.5] "What is a family? People who love one another and share life together are a family. There are many kinds of family." Under this definition marriage isn't necessary. Homosexual 'couples' a family under this definition. Couples 'living together' are a family. Women who seek pregnancy and remain single are a family.

The 1st grade Family Text is no better, it defines Family as "a group of people who live together and care for one another." This is Catholic teaching?

Radical Feminism and Womanchurch.

The 7th grade Teacher's Resource Guide citing Luke 15:8-10 claims that "God's image is that of a woman housekeeper." Further, the students are told to play a mnemonic game where "A new image of God is presented on every multiple of five. Example: 1-2-3-4-Lamb ... 11-12-13-14-Mother."[pg. 62]

Earlier, a true/false quiz presents similar feminists sentiments: "Human beings agree that God is masculine in gender." Answer — False. "Sexual stereotypes can produce restrictive roles for men and women." Answer — True. The student is told to "Consider what you have learned about sexual stereotyping. Then write an essay on how sexual stereotyping could restrict the growth and development of family members." [pg. 39] Is this an invitation to challenge the Roman Catholic male-only priesthood?

The student has been "prepared" for this startling conclusion by being told first, that "God, a divine being [is there more than one? — ed], does not have gender; second, the student is to prove this for him or herself by a sophomoric Biblical exegetical exercise in identifying masculine and feminine images of God in various scripture references: Deut 32:18; Ps 7:11-14; Matt. 23:37; Lk. 11:2- 4; Isaiah 42:13-17; 49:15-16; 66:12-14; Jn. 16:23-24. [see pg.31]. The student is then told to answer "Who God is for me".

This feminist demythologizing is not supported by The Jerome Biblical Commentary edited by Fr. Raymond Brown S.S. of Catholic University. The textual notes for the Scripture references cited, though not reflective of fundamentalist exegesis, are either silent on the gender effects of the similes and metaphors referenced in the Benziger cited texts, or it states, with respect to Luke: 11:2-4 that "The fatherhood of God is known by experiencing the mystery of Jesus' sonship. Luke usually imparts an eschatological nuance to the fatherhood of God" [Vol. II, pg. 144, The Jerome Biblical Commentary].

The Benziger Text Presents a Confused Unisex View of Male and Female and Which is also Hostile to Working Fathers and Housewife Mothers.

While recognizing bodily differences, the unisex approach begins in the first grade student text [pg. 29]: "Boys and Girls have the same feelings." Yet, first grade parents are told "God's gift of sexuality impacts not only on our bodies, but our minds, emotions, and souls." [pg. 28] Whatever the accuracy of the statement that boys and girls have the same feelings, it certainly is the case that these emotions are expressed differently. Yet, this is not explained or even hinted at. By the 7th grade the student text makes a case for abolishing male or female societal roles, and claims that the "traditional" role of a working father and a housewife represent "stereotypes" of the unthinking who "fail to examine with open eyes and an open mind what people are really like."[pg. 28]

With a tone of barely restrained condescension the student is told that: "Many men and women continue to be comfortable and happy in these traditional roles. They have made their choices consciously. Others wish to explore new roles, without being limited by stereotyped ideas of what men and women are supposed to be."[pg.29] Deplorable, these 'traditionalists.'

However, students, take note: "One of the more important social changes occurring in today's society is the broadening of opportunities for both men and women.." There is an explicit and positive endorsement of a two income family. With two income families mother and father "share" and seek a "healthy balance." "We are discovering that the range of possibilities is almost unlimited for both genders . . . With expanded roles for both sexes, all are enriched as they contribute to the good of society and family"[pg. 29].

No mention is made of the inevitable, permanent child abandonment practices of the career "mother" who resorts to all day "day care"; the latch-key children who turn on "R" and worse rated movies or watch adultery laden soap operas; and the inevitable clamor for delegating more and more parental responsibilities to "professionals" teaching such 'family life sex-ed' courses as the Benziger debacle; and of course as mother must have assurances of staying infertile in order to insure that their life style of servicing large mortgage and other debts continues, she will be on the Pill or have her tubes tied. So much for Humanae Vitae.

Further, a third grade true/false quiz asserting that "A family must have a mother, a father, and children" is false. While this answer is technically correct, marriage, with the concomitant intent to lovingly accept children is not proposed as strictly normative, and as a standard by which to evaluate deviations. Unless the circumstances are thoroughly explained, such questions are better left unasked because of what they leave open or unanswered.

Misrepresentation of Humanae Vitae.

In the 8th grade TRG the quiz question, "The Catholic Church teaches that a husband and a wife may limit the size of their family for good and honest reasons" is allegedly true[pg. 41]. Humanae Vitae nowhere states this. It does say that "responsible parenthood is exercised either by the thoughtfully made and generous decision to raise a large family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with respect for the moral law, to avoid a new birth for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period."

The Benziger 8th grade student text claims that the Church bases its opposition to artificial birth control on the "reasoning" that the love and life giving aspects of sexual intercourse are separated." Humanae Vitae does more than that! Paul VI cites the direct apostolic succession from Jesus Christ Himself through whom the entire universe was made as the guarantee that the interpretation and application of both the Gospel and moral law in this matter will be carried out authentically and correctly. That is far more than mere reasoning!

But the student would never be able to verify this from the Benziger material for neither Humanae Vitae nor the 1974 Vatican Document on Procured Abortion or even excerpts from these are included in the "Selected Readings From Relevant Church Documents on Family Life," appended to the 6-8 grade Teacher's Resourcemanuals. Yet, Benziger finds that the American Catholic Bishops 1986 pastoral on Economic Justice, and Paul VI's 1977 World Peace Address are relevant! The 5th Grade Teachers Resource Guide [TRG] notes that if students do not wish to bring up sexual indulgence or drug abuse when discussing peer pressure the teacher is urged to do so.

Also the 5th grade TRG describes married couples using artificial birth control as dishonest and not fulfilling the call to chastity. It is not described as sinful.

Misstatement of Adolescent Sexuality Problems.

The 7th grade Benziger student text notes that "The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare has called teenage pregnancy one of the most serious problems facing teenagers today." [pg. 50] The problem here is not teen pregnancy, it is the behavior leading to out of wedlock pregnancy whether for teens or adults that is the problem.

Pregnancy, a natural physiologic state provided for by the Creator for the generation of mankind made after His Image is taken to be the problem in a text for Catholic students! What does this subtle redefinition of the problem say about Mary who conceived Jesus when around 15 years old?

Moral Decision Making Based on Subjective Feelings.

The TRG for 5th grade section on "Dealing With Peer Pressure" is indistinguishable — not just in method but also in language — from the same approach to sexual decision making promoted by the notorious anti-Catholic Planned Parenthood Federation.

Planned Parenthood's approach states "The only question is: What's right for you? You decide. ... Don't borrow your decisions. Make up your own mind. ... Be honest. That's important from the start." (PPFA-Teensex? It's Okay to Say NO WAY)

The PELF/TRG wants to help students decide "when to go along with the others and when to decide for yourself." In the sexual and drug use decision making process the student is told to "Identify all of your possible choices." [Why not duties?] Then, "Select the best choice and act. This means that you know and accept the consequence of your actions." [I choose to sin and accept it. — ed]

(A) When the student meets resistance he/she will "need to remind yourself that this is a good decision for you, that you will feel better when the pressure is over and you have done the right thing. ... Remember, even though 'everybody does it,' a particular choice may not be right for you."

(B) The 3rd grade Benziger student text states that "Feelings are neither good nor bad. Only actions are good or bad." The entire series ignores malicious willed mental states. Did not Our Lord say that adultery in one's heart was a sin?

(C)The 4th grade Benziger student text observes [pgs 56-57] "Good expressions, or signs of love make you feel real good about yourself." "Unfortunately, there are some people who are very selfish. Such persons may try to touch certain parts of your body that should be private. They may want you to touch private parts of their body. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, it is important to trust your feelings."

"If a person's actions make you feel afraid, uncomfortable, upset, or bad about yourself, this is not real love. You have a right to say no to such actions.
"... Your body belongs to you. Your feelings can help you know what is right and what is wrong to do with your body. Listen to your feelings."

First, it is not just your body. You belong to Christ.(I Cor. 6:19-20)

Second, the psychology of the ethics of feeling presented to the 4th grader ignores the reality of temptation, namely that an evil is always subsumed or 'presented' under the aspect of some good. Thus, the serpent told Eve to disobey God and eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof ... ."(Gen. 3:6)

Third, one has a 'duty' to say no and leave someone suggesting immoral sexual acts. Moreover, if one has a right to say 'no' to such acts, how can you not at the same time have a right to say 'yes' to such acts?

Fourth, as Benziger's approach is thoroughly psychological and naturalistic, the Devil and his angels [or any angels for that matter] are conspicuous by their absence.

Misleading Advice is Given About Immoral Public Service Spots.

The 3rd grade TRG claims [p.78] that some commercials on radio and television are called public service spots. They "try to get people to do what is right, like not littering or using dangerous drugs." Are the Benziger authors unaware that private groups and the federal and state governments have produced, and stations are airing public service spots endorsing condoms for homosexual AIDS prevention, and other paraphernalia for heterosexual birth control use including for adolescents?

Implied Acceptance of Mandatory Government Population Control.

The 5th grade student handbook states "Right now, there are over four billion people in this world. Each of these people has a right to be here. But unless we are careful, the resources of the world — oil, water, wood, air — could get used up or polluted. There might not be enough resources to sustain the world's population." [p. 68 BSH] Granted, we are commanded to be good stewards of the earth's resources. This is virtually the same argument the Communist Chinese government is using now to bring its population into line with resources and compel compliance by economic penalty, and forced birth control including abortion in the 9th month of pregnancy, sterilization, IUD's etc. Without predicating a hierarchy of values, rights and duties Benzinger's constant emphasis on the need for ecological responsibility can only make it more difficult for the Catholic student to oppose mandatory birth control is a situation of alleged resource depletion.

Planned Parenthood Authors Endorsed.

The Teachers Resource Guides for the 6-8 cite Planned Parenthood authors Melvin Zelnik and Frank Furstenburg, two sociologists who regularly amass data and justify the distribution of birth control without parental consultation or notice and other anti-Catholic policies, are Catholic Christian Authors.

General Confusion of Terms.

(A.) A 4th grade TRG matching test states that Body of Christ = The Members of Gods Family. Will this confuse adolescents who are told the host is the Body of Christ? Mystical Body of Christ is the appropriate answer. The 4th grade student text [25], in explaining the term "Body of Christ", nowhere indicates that St. Paul's metaphorical reference is a mystery.

(B.) A 7th grade quiz states [pg. 38 TRM] that "You are free to choose your actions and live with the results of your choices" is a True statement. Yet, is this to be understood as a factual assertion or a radical claim of moral autonomy such that the individual believes he/she is accountable only to the self?

(C.) "Some feelings are good, and some are harmful to you" is declared a False statement. Also false is "It is wrong for very young children to act selfishly." Thus, selfishness can be all-right. This T/F question confuses the difference between good & evil, right & & wrong, moral & immoral, culpability & inculpability. No attempt is made to link the findings of psychology with the theological realities inherent in the creation and fall of mankind, and the prevalence of sin in the world. Sin, while occasionally acknowledged, is only a minor part of the Benzinger series.

(D.) The 6th grade Teachers Resource manual claims in a chastity discussion that: "Sexual intercourse is not the ultimate expression of love, marriage is. Sexual intercourse is an expression of the love and commitment that a married couple have." Catholics are supposed to be taught that Jesus' death on the Cross was the "ultimate expression of love."

Benziger Accepts a Completely Materialist Psychology.

The 3rd grade student text claims [pgs 20-21, 23] that "Your brain is what allows you to think. Each part of your brain has its own special job to do. The way you use your brain is called your mind.... An important part of your mind is called your conscience."

"Eyes and ears are just organs that receive information. The information goes from the organ to the brain. Then your mind, the special way your brain works, feels and thinks about the sense message. You decide what you will do about it."

This is completely at odds with traditional Catholic philosophy which asserts the immateriality of the intellect. With the Benzinger type of materialistic psychology, one's conscience is a material section of the brain. Using this framework, dogs, cats, horses, roaches or any other sensate creature can have a conscience or a mind, because mind is how the brain works, etc.

Capital Punishment: Wrong, But You Can Differ About It.

The student text [pg. 36] claims that capital punishment is wrong, but the parental text [pg. 23] says that persons may disagree on this matter.

Suicide Counseling by 8th Graders for Other Adolescents and Children.

While there certainly are adolescents who are depressed and in need of counseling, 13-14 years olds are probably not the best 'counselors' when it comes to tact, discernment and prudence in such sensitive matters. It needs to be noted that the actual incidence of suicide among children 14 and under is extremely low. The suicide ratio in 1982 for all children aged 5-14 is .6 per 100,000 children aged 5-14. This increases to 8.7 per 100,000 adolescents 15-19 for 1981.

But the 8th grade text tells the student that "Warning signs can be verbal. For example, a person can make a direct statement like ' I want to die' or an indirect statement like, 'Everyone will be sorry when I'm gone.'" But instead of telling the student at this point to contact some adult, the following is suggested: "Believe and trust your suspicion that the person may be self-destructive. Ask if the person is thinking about suicide. Be direct; talk openly and freely." The 10th suggestion is talking to one's parents!

Homosexuality is Presented as a Sexual Variation not a Deviation.

The 7th grade student text states [pg. 48] that adolescents will 

experience a slowly unfolding attraction to other people. Because of this attraction, you can form close friendships and work successfully with others. Sometimes this attraction will involve strong physical, emotional, and psychological responses. Such responses make up a feeling that is called sexual attraction.

... A minority of people in our society are sexually attracted to members of the same sex. Such attraction — which should not be confused with feelings of friendship — is called homosexual attraction. A person who is sexually attracted to only to members of his or her own sex is said to have a homosexual orientation.

The confusion in such a gender free initial assertion about "close friendships ... [that] ... involve strong physical, emotional, and psychological responses" being forms of sexual attraction is an open invitation to adolescents fearing that they are homosexual. Just see what happens when we substitute the expansive and incorrect definition of "sexual attraction" in the following: "... A minority of people in our society [have] "close friendships ... [that] ... involve strong physical, emotional, and psychological responses"] to members of the same sex. Such attraction — which should not be confused with feelings of friendship — is called homosexual attraction.

Secondly, the student is not told here that "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective moral disorder." [Pastoral Letter on Homosexuality, Card. Ratzinger]

Church Teaching on Original Sin is in Error.

The 7th grade text states "But the world is not perfect and neither are its inhabitants. Original sin — the tendency to turn away from God and to make choices based on selfishness — is a fact of our lives." The above does not define Original Sin, but rather one of its effects in all of Adam and Eve's descendants. "Original sin consists in the deprivation of grace caused by the free act of sin committed by the head of the race. The lack of sanctifying grace, which should be present, establishes that the guilt of Original Sin signifies a turning away from God." [Ott/Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.]