Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

September 18, 2007

What Makes American Youth Happy?

Over the summer, the Associated Press and MTV released findings of an in-depth study of young people (13-24) and happiness. Some of the findings were surprising—but probably encouraging—to teachers and parents of American young people.

In essence, here’s what the study revealed:

  • General Happiness: 65% said they are happy with the way things are going; 62% said they think they will be happier in the future; 72% of whites reported that they are generally happy with life while only 56% of blacks and 51% of Hispanics claimed that they were generally happy.
  • Parents, Family and Relationships: When asked what one thing makes them most happy, 20 % of the 1280 young people being surveyed mentioned spending time with family — more than anything else; 73 % said that their relationship with their parents makes them happy. Nearly half of the respondents mentioned at least one of their parents as a hero; 46% said that spending time with friends, family and loved ones is the one thing in life that brings them the most happiness. After family, it was relationships with friends that people mentioned most. Being sexually active for youth aged 13-17 reportedly led to less happiness while those in the 18-24 age group reported that sex might lead to happiness in the moment but not in general.
  • Religion and Spirituality: 44% of the surveyed youth say that religion and spirituality are either a very important or the single most important thing in their lives; 10% described religion and spirituality as the most import thing in their lives; those who valued religion and spirituality reported more happiness than those who said that spirituality is not important at all.
  • Fortune and Fame: Almost no respondents mentioned anything financial or material as a source of happiness. Many reported financial woes as a source of unhappiness. 70% said that they want to be rich; nearly half of the respondents thought there was some chance they would be rich someday. Only 29% of the surveyed young people want to be famous but only 17 percent thought they actually would be.
  • Technology: Nearly 66% of surveyed youth said that cell phones, the Internet and other technologies make people happier. Half of those said that the Internet alone makes them feel happier. Many respondents said they would be more stressed without technology. Nearly 50% said they never turn their cell phones off.
You can have a complete look at the survey and its 100 plus questions of youth here.

Consider a class discussion on this recent study of teens and happiness. The topic is particularly appropriate and relevant as an added lesson in a morality course (Your Life in Christ), vocations (Marriage and Holy Orders) and also in Scripture courses where students might compare survey results with what God’s word says about happiness.

Suggested Teaching Strategies

1. Create a simple 10-question pop quiz (true/false or multiple choice) on youth and happiness to jumpstart discussion on what makes young people happy.

2. Poll students to see how many are surprised that:
  • most youth are fundamentally happy
  • relationships (family and friends) are the major source of happiness
  • money isn’t seen as a source of happiness
  • young people would be less happy without technology
3. Broaden the discussion and ask students to share their own
ideas about a happy life.

4. Divide students into three groups to research different areas of Scripture to see what God’s Word has to say about human happiness. One group should find five Old Testament references; a second group could to research the Psalms; the third group should identify statements about happiness from the New Testament.

5. Creative Learning: Challenge students to create posters for display in the school that includes an MTV Survey statistic as well as a quote from Scripture that teaches about happiness.

-Post by Cathy Odell

September 7, 2007

A Saint of Darkness?

Mike describes the new revelations regarding Blessed Teresa's spirituals struggles coming from Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light as "a life typical of most saints, one filled with much darkness as it progressed in the light of Christ." That is certainly one strain of the commentary emanating from the book, most sharply made in Katherine Jean Lopez's criticism of the media coverage of the book.

But controversies are often great teaching moments, and not only the cover feature in Time
but also President Bush's former speechwriter Michael Gerson consider Mother Teresa's experience of the absence of God to be noteworthy. The pithy and provocative byline from the book taken from one of the revealed letters comes when Mother Teresa herself states, "
If ever I become a saint. I will surely be one of 'darkness.'"I would recommend the whole article, as Gerson covers a range of provocative issues and questions raised if Mother Teresa's experience was indeed of a noteworthy and extended dark night of the soul. It might be one more tool to engage your students in a bit of more in depth discussion of faith, as well as a potential jump off for numerous possible essay topics.

Extended Project

Give the students the option of reading Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light and writing an essay on any number of topics as a semester-long project or extra credit opportunity. Possible topic: "Was Mother Teresa's experience of the absence of God notably different from the experience of other saints? Or was her experience typical for saints?"

March 28, 2007

Stations of the Cross

Praying the Stations of the Cross is a wonderful way to prepare for the events of Holy Week. By walking with Jesus on the way to the cross, we enter into the sufferings of our Lord, growing in our appreciation for his sacrifice on our behalf.

Certainly, it would be good to pray the stations with your students, perhaps in the school chapel or even outside, weather permitting. You can fashion crosses to represent the stations and position them in a suitable manner somewhere on campus, perhaps on an athletic field. Walk the stations with your students, allowing different readers to lead the meditations and the prayers. As a class project, students can compose the reflections, perhaps following the lead from some the websites listed here:

The Franciscans sponsor a great website—
Via Crucis—that shows the sites in Jerusalem where Jesus walked.

Creighton University's Collaborative Ministry Office has a great four-page handout on the Stations that you can duplicate for your students.

Catholic Online provides some thoughtful commentary with traditional illustrations of the Stations.

Finally, you might also benefit from the reflections on each station written by Mother Angelica of EWTN fame.

-Mike Pennock
(technical difficulties prevent posting from his account)

January 3, 2007

History of the Chosen People in 90 Seconds

Tired of needing days and weeks to teach the history of God's chosen people? Of course you are. Unfortunately, you'll probably need to keep doing that, but here is an extremely helpful aid when doing that. It is an animated map detailing the changing rulers and empires in the Middle East. Highly Recommended for Old Testament and New Testament courses. The one drawback is the depiction of successive waves of only the new empires, rather then maintaining the old empires and updating their fortunes. This in particular is noticeable when the Byzantine Empire simply disappears at 750 AD prior to the expansion of the Caliphate, but is a flaw throughout.

PS-Apologies that it runs over on the side. A totally clean version of the movie is of course available at: http://mapsofwar.com/ind/imperial-history.html

December 4, 2006

Social Justice: The Other Side

Robert Miller presents an economic perspective too frequently absent in discussions within the Church of social justice and global poverty: the inequitable production of goods that comes prior to their inequitable consumption. One stunning statistic comes from his brief discussion that highlights the importance of growth, "According to the United Nations Statistics Division (from which all the statistics below are taken), the aggregate gross domestic product of all countries in the world—that is, the total value of all goods and services produced in the world—has increased from about $3.26 trillion in 1970 to about $40 trillion in 2004 (all measured in current U.S. dollars)." That is almost unbelievable. The combined work of all the people of the world today produces almost thirteen times the value in goods as was produced less than forty years ago. Meanwhile, the population of the earth grew only seventy-five percent, meaning between all of us, we now have roughly seven times as many goods available for consumption and use on a yearly basis.

The problem is that this line of thinking can easily be taken too far that avoids the tough moral realities and tragic physical realities. And the same post that makes a neglected point exhibits the associated vice, when Mr. Miller explains the current poverty of Zimbabwe and remarkable success of South Korea after nearly identical GDP per person starting points thirty-five years ago:

The world economy is not rigged in favor of the rich nations. South Korea did not get rich, and Zimbabwe did not stay poor, because the captains of industry and the Wall Street bankers met in a smoke-filled room and decided that they loved South Korea but hated Zimbabwe. The South Koreans got rich because they earned their riches and continue to do so, year in and year out. Zimbabweans are poor because they produce little—and less now than twenty years ago.

This is too easy, and too satisfied. We are rich because we are virtuous and work harder, they are poor because they are more vicious and don't work hard enough. The moral math is simple, but simply not Christian and not honest.

As a complete sidenote, in the department of ironic coincidences, just as Robert Miller was writing about how the world economy is not rigged in favor of rich nations, a blatant instance of the world economy being rigged in favor of rich Americans occurred. (A trenchant, if somewhat dated, marshalling of the evidence here.) If you want some fascinating visual demonstrations of the growing wealth of the world over the past thirty years (and where growth has occurred, and where it hasn't), I highly recommend Google's Gapminder. If anyone has an interesting lesson plan idea with all this info, feel free to share it either via comments or e-mail. I'll post the results.

November 16, 2006

A Time for Nuns?

Time magazine notices, in an extensive article that appeared in their print edition, that increasing numbers of young Catholic women are once more considering religious vocations. They support this main article with numerous smaller online articles, including a profile of a young nun, a young woman discerning a vocation, and a listing of discernment resources (and some notations about the marketing efforts of religious orders).

November 15, 2006

Body Image: Discussion Starter

In late 2004, Dove launched a Campaign for Real Beauty, basically an ad campaign determined to challenge received and unhealthy ideas of "beauty," ideals that contribute to a society in which seven million women suffer from eating disorders. The first of these campaigns, "Real Women Have Real Curves," selected models who represented normal body types, rather than the ultra-skinny supermodels, and used them in a series of billboards. However, their latest ad is even more interesting, as it bracingly reveals the manipulation behind so much of our visual world, and what "beauty" is perceived to be:

Catholic Concepts Involved: dignity of human beings, people made in the image and likeness of God, the preferential option for the poor (and not beautiful?), being Christian in a consumer society, theology of the body, the virtue of modesty, any gospel story with Jesus healing the lepers, or the story of Saint Francis embracing the Christ-leper.

Fun Bonus: The comments on the You Tube ad are interesting in themselves, in particular when the art director for the film Tim Piper logs in under the handle and lets us know what went into making the ad:

We asked a high-end fashion photographer to make her look as beautiful as possible for a cover/billboard (normal advertising request). I asked the retoucher to save his progress in files/layers, and that's what was used to create the animation. It's 100% real. Retouching took 4 full days. Make-up, lighting, and shooting took about 4 to 5 hours.
Later he gives a chilling look behind the fashion industry "Clients demand the stereotypes." Indeed.

Want even further discussion? A recent poll in Canada showed that 8 out 10 men aged 28-45 found television ads from the campaign offensive.

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