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By Hilary White

ROME, March 30, 2010 ( – A unique educational curriculum for children that is based on Catholic social and moral teachings, while not being explicitly Catholic or Christian, and that incorporates psychological and neurological science, is sweeping Latin America and making its way into British classrooms. Christine Vollmer, a founding member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life and a close collaborator with the Pontifical Council for the Family, told (LSN) this weekend in Rome about the “Alive to the World” curriculum that she hopes will be used more widely in the English-speaking world.

In the interview, Vollmer was also heavily critical of the legislative attempt by the British Labour government to force Catholic and other religious schools to give explicit information on sex, abortion, homosexuality and artificial contraception, saying that this form of sex-education is harmful to children. She called the sex-ed bill that is currently being ushered through Parliament, a “totalitarian gesture.” 

Vollmer said that not even in her home country of Venezuela, which is under the rule of hard-line socialist dictator Hugo Chavez, are parents forced to teach children sexual ideologies contrary to their beliefs.  “To force upon people something which goes against their culture, their ethics, their religion and their inclination, and their rights as parents, it is in fact a totalitarian gesture, and I don’t think they’re going to get away with it,” she said.

“Is England a dictatorship?” she asked. “I come from Venezuela where parents have more choice [than in Britain] in educating their children. Hugo Chavez is not forcing us to teach our children how to get an abortion. That certainly would not happen under Chavez, and he is a dictator. He’s taking our land, he’s taking the businesses of people we know, but he’s not encroaching in something so intimate as the parents’ right to teach their children.”

Vollmer said, however, that the “Alive to the World” program, which she was instrument in developing, can be useful for religious schools in countries like Britain, where sex-education is mandated by the government, but who want to maintain their Christian or other religious focus. While the program may not appeal to the increasingly secularist ideologies behind the Labour government’s Sex Education bill, she said, “it will appeal to the parents.”

At the same time, because the program is based on a universal, anthropological approach, it is not specifically Catholic or Christian, which also makes it ideal for the children of recent immigrants from non-Christian countries, to help them assimilate the western, Judeo-Christian values of their new country. 

Vollmer began working in 1985 on the curriculum, which she said is aimed at the formation of the “whole person” as a “remote preparation for marriage.” The program is now being used in 14 Latin American countries, and is growing in popularity in Britain. It is endorsed by the Salford diocese and has strong backing in Lancaster, the former diocese of Bishop Patrick O’Donohue. The dioceses of Nottingham and Leeds are also showing interest for their schools.

The program is also being implemented even in government schools in Venezuela, where it has been praised as having reduced violence and drop-out rates in schools in deprived areas.

The Alive to the World program does not shy away from the mechanics of sexuality, said Vollmer, giving information on sex, homosexuality and pre-natal development, as well as all kinds of contraceptives, “both natural and artificial.” But Vollmer is quick to point out that this information does not have to be made “explicit.”

According to a description of the program on its website, “Alive to the World recognises that parents are the first teachers of their children and gain most if it is their parents who explain the physical aspects of sexuality to them.”

Vollmer expressed agreement with the many parents and Christian groups in Britain who have denounced the explicit, secularized approach to sex-ed, saying that psychologists have demonstrated the damage that this “obscene material” does to children. “It is good for them to know what all these things are,” she explained. “We don’t want to shield them from them, but we do not want to be explicit.”

“Our program discusses all the methods of contraception, natural and otherwise. It discusses life in the womb. It talks about all these things, but it doesn’t suggest them. It doesn’t say ‘this is your right, and you don’t have to tell your mother.’

“But of course, these things are in the air, everybody’s talking about their abortions, but the children do want to know the truth under it. And we give them the truth.”

The program, which covers 12 years and includes complete sets of teachers’ manuals, focuses on the “formation in virtues in the integration of the personality,” including, in later grades, instruction on the moral meaning of sexuality.

It works by telling the story of a group of children and their families. The goal is to “target the children for each lesson at the right stage of their development,” Vollmer said, while avoiding the use of specifically religious language.
Vollmer said that even children of the barrios and slums of Latin America, who are largely fatherless, have told her, “‘Why I like this book, is because it’s my life’.” The child who reads the books, Vollmer said, can even psychologically build an image of God: “She gets this image from the dad in the book. She says, ‘This is how my dad would speak to me’. And so she’s modeling something that she’s never going to experience directly.”

“This child in the barrio is not living in a normal family with two parents,” she said. But because the program is anthropologically based, that is, based on the inherent nature of the human person, it teaches even without direct experience. Children in the slums, who many not have a father, Vollmer said, instinctively know how life is supposed to be lived, and the books present a model of that for them.

“This child,” she said, “wants to be loved, she wants to be accepted. She wants to know how to be, who she is. And that is what the program is about.”

To order Alive to the World