my understanding is that, in general, protestants, or Bible-only christians, have, especially in the past, placed much more emphasis on memorizing and reading scripture than catholics have and therefore have placed more emphasis on teaching reading and scripture to their children and converts. . .
Catholics seem to have placed more value on songs and images to learn, and not on the written word, and not on preaching so much either. But God's word is the most important thing, whether you hear it or read it; it must be stressed and valued above all other teaching.
What I think when I read this is that you have an image of Middle Ages Catholicism here, as the Catholic model. Stained glass windows depicting Bible stories were certainly the norm of at that time, but that also predated the printing press.
Most of my non-Catholic friends send their children to Sunday School while they attend church services. There, their children sing songs and color pictures of Bible stories. My children sit through Mass with me. They listen to readings from the Bible, and recite prayers from Scripture. In this time period, the roles seem reversed to me.
Jennie then provides some examples:
By the mid-18th century, the ability to read and comprehend translated scripture led to Wales having one of the highest literacy rates. This was the result of a Griffith Jones's system of circulating schools, which aimed to enable everyone to read the Bible in Welsh. Similarly, at least half the population of 18th century New England was literate, perhaps as a consequence of the Puritan belief in the importance of Bible reading. . .
Interestingly, in 1893, a company of Vaudois migrated to the United States and founded the town of Valdeses, Burke County, North Carolina. At the time, a local newspaper wrote:
"All the little Waldensian children are taught to read and write at a very early age, and their knowledge of the scriptures would put to shame many of our church people of maturer years. They speak both French and Italian very fluently, and are all apparently very bright and intelligent and very anxious to learn the language of this new country."
(cited in a review of Wylies book History of the Waldenses, on Amazon.com)
Those are both around the same time period. Let me give some Catholic examples from that time period.
St. Katherine Drexel
In 1891, with a few companions, Mother Katharine founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. The title of the community summed up the two great driving forces in her life—devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and love for the most deprived people in her country.
Requests for help reached Mother Katharine from various parts of the United States. During her lifetime, approximately 60 schools were opened by her congregation. The most famous foundation was made in 1915; it was Xavier University, New Orleans, the first such institution for Black people in the United States.
Sisters of Loretto
In 1811, Mary Rhodes came from Maryland to visit relatives and saw the lack of educational opportunities for pioneer children. Settling in Kentucky, Rhodes began teaching her own relatives basic skills and catechism. Soon neighbors asked her to teach their children, and as the number of pupils increased, Rhodes welcomed the assistance of Christina Stuart and Ann Havern. These three pioneer women, with Father Nerinckx as their spiritual guide, formed the Little Society of the Friends of Mary Under the Cross of Jesus in 1812.
After the Mexican War, the United States gained possession of the vast Southwest with a mostly Catholic population. In 1852, Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy of Santa Fe requested the help of the Sisters of Loretto to work with the Spanish-speaking children of Santa Fe. Six sisters traveled by river boat to Independence, Missouri, and then followed the dangerous Missouri Trail 900 miles overland to Santa Fe. In Indian country, they came across others of their order who had been teaching Osage children in Kansas since 1847. One sister died of cholera on a river boat and another of exhaustion and terror after an Indian attack on their wagons.
In November 1852, they opened their first school, the Academy of Our Lady of the Light, an all-girls school in Santa Fe, which flourished until the late 1960s. Moving south to Las Cruces, the Sisters of Loretto founded Loretto Academy in 1870, another all-girls school offering classes in reading, spelling, algebra, modern and ancient geography, lace work and piano. This school played an integral part in the educational growth of the Mesilla Valley until it closed in June 1944.
Elizabeth opened Saint Joseph's Free School February 22, 1810. It educated needy girls of the area and was the first free Catholic school for girls staffed by sisters in the country. Saint Joseph's Academy began May 14, 1810, with the addition of boarding pupils who paid tuition which enabled the Sisters of Charity to subsidize their charitable mission. Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School formed the cradle of Catholic education in the United States.
It did not take Elizabeth long to recognize that the children of her fellow refugees needed an education. She responded to that need in spite of being a Black woman living in a slave state before the Emancipation Proclamation, where the education of slaves was against the law. She used her own money and home to teach Black children.
For ten years, Elizabeth and her friend Marie Magdaleine Balas, offered free education until, inevitably, finances became a problem. Providence intervened through the person of Reverend James Hector Joubert, S.S., who, with encouragement from Monsignor James Whitfield, Archbishop of Baltimore, challenged Elizabeth to establish a religious congregation for the education of Black children. Reverend Joubert would provide direction, solicit financial assistance, and encourage other "women of color" to become members of the first order of African American nuns in the history of the Catholic Church. On July 2, 1829, Elizabeth and three other women pronounced promises of obedience to the Archbishop of Baltimore.
I would also say that this Catholic literacy was not new to that time period. Consider the case of St. Francis de Sales.
Francis decided that he should lead an expedition to convert the 60,000 Calvinists back to Catholicism. But by the time he left his expedition consisted of himself and his cousin. His father refused to give him any aid for this crazy plan and the diocese was too poor to support him.
For three years, he trudged through the countryside, had doors slammed in his face and rocks thrown at him. In the bitter winters, his feet froze so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow. He slept in haylofts if he could, but once he slept in a tree to avoid wolves. He tied himself to a branch to keep from falling out and was so frozen the next morning he had to be cut down. And after three years, his cousin had left him alone and he had not made one convert.
Francis' unusual patience kept him working. No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door. So Francis found a way to get under the door. He wrote out his sermons, copied them by hand, and slipped them under the doors. This is the first record we have of religious tracts being used to communicate with people.
The parents wouldn't come to him out of fear. So Francis went to the children. When the parents saw how kind he was as he played with the children, they began to talk to him.
By the time, Francis left to go home he is said to have converted 40,000 people back to Catholicism.
Clearly, the people in this area had to be literate for tracts to have been effective. The tracts are in print today, and available as The Catholic Controversy, published by Tan books. I have a copy, and Francis is extremely familiar with Scripture, and makes almost all of his arguments based on Scripture.