Backyard to the Universe
Using Older Material
Churches may have religious education material that is "older," and there may be multiple copies! Should this material be kept? Is it still useful? Should it be kept for ‘historical reasons’?
The format for materials, until the Multi-media Kits in the mid-1960’s, was usually a book with stories or information, accompanied by a Teacher’s Guide (which may have a different name from the book!), and leaflets that were sent home in preparation of or as learnings from the class. Samples of such curricula are Martin and Judy (1939-1942), How Miracles Abound (1941), or Animal Babies (1941, 1959). In later books, the basic material was followed by discussion questions or suggested activities, such as in The Beacon Science Series (early 1960’s) or Experiences with Living Things (1966).
The stories in older material can be roughly divided into myths or legends and stories of children and their families. Of these two types, myths may be the easier to use currently. This may be because the ‘historical distance’ is greater so that we are not trapped in the time context, and ‘long ago’ is acceptable. In addition, myths address universal life questions and mythology has become more popular in recent years. In removing us from current situation, myths tend to remove us from the need to have all of the details completely logical in contemporary terms.
Stories of children and their families are more difficult to use because they are developed in a specific culture, time and context, which is simultaneously more contemporary and more outdated. As adults reading or telling life stories, we may remember some of the things that are included, but must remember that children may not have the same experiences. An example of this change may be the use of time pieces from faces and dials on watches and clocks to digital readings.
Consideration in using older materials include:
1. Language and construct. Words may be different in the story from present usage in your location. This may be particularly noticeable is in the dialogue. Review the material as if you were having a conversation in present time, because that is how the dialogue will be heard.
2. Stereotypes. The roles evident in the stories may have portrayed the time period in which the material was written, such as Family Finds Out (1959). However, note that the mother is the homemaker and that the father come home from ‘work,’ that the father usually drives the car, that both parents are usually present, and that the family is white and apparently middle class. Also look for examples of changes in accepted behavior, such as roughness, treatment of people with special needs, and tone of conversation.
3. Illustrations. Changes in styles are particularly evident in cars, dress, and hair styles. These may give the impression that the material is ‘outdated,’ which may be actually worse than being ‘old’ in the historic sense.
4. Factual information. Information needs to be reviewed for current accuracy.
5. Age appropriateness. What may have been appropriate for one age group 20-30 years ago may actually be use at a different (frequently) younger age group. This may be particularly true with factual material, with the influence of television, videos, the variety of materials used in secular education, and the number of children involved in daycare or preschool group environments beyond the home.
Suggestions for using older materials:
1. Use the latest edition of material. Some material has been updated from the original publication. For example, Beginnings was published in two volumes in 1938 and updated as one volume in 1958, with a Teacher’s Guide published in 1960. Some of the stories were dropped between the two editions, but the major difference was the amount and scope of the "Modern Scientist’s Story." Recognizing the difference in the last 40 years, there is need for review, and possibly the science section of the text would not even be considered. Another example is A Growing Up Year, which was first published in 1975 by the Unitarian Universalist Church in Phoenix, with the latest publication by UUA in 1990.
2. Take time to read and "feel" the story. What is the theme? If possible, tell the story rather than reading it. This avoids using outdated illustrations and makes the story your own. An excellent reference on the use of stories is Tensions Our Children Live With, by Dorothy Spoerl.
3. Background material. Some Teacher’s Guides discuss values and theological perspective that may not be usable in our current programs. However, some also give excellent ideas about working with children and groups, arranging space, and addressing the needs of teachers, parents, and children.
4. Format, presentation, and content. Older material has different format or presentation, and some of the suggested materials may no longer be available. Therefore, the material needs to be reviewed well in advance of the time of use, in case substitutions are needed or adjustments are needed in activities.
With all of these "cautions," please do not automatically discard the older material. Many tips on using older material are given in the REACH packets. These tips include updated resources and alternate activities. It might be helpful to put such material from REACH with the curriculum so that it is readily available.