By Ann Weeks
history teacher at
Holy Name Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School
As Catholic school teachers, we hope that our students’ values are based on our Catholic beliefs. We strive to incorporate values lessons into our curriculum. Everything that we do is based on our values and beliefs. In a year of turbulence caused by a presidential campaign here at home, and unfolding events of civil war and unrest around the world, it is important that our students have a forum to discuss what is important to them as they live their own lives surrounded by events that are often disconcerting, leading to confusion in the minds of our young people.
As a history teacher, I have incorporated the “Values and Public Policy” lesson into my U.S. and Modern World History classes. This lesson plan is part of “Teaching with the News” curriculum from the Choices Program created by the Watson Institute of International & Public Affairs at Brown University.
We begin with a discussion of values that are important in the students’ lives. After a discussion of key values, students are asked to explain how their values influence the choices that they have made on a daily basis: friends they choose, activities in which they participate, studying habits, interaction with parents, teachers and peers. As they comment on how their values drive their actions, we bring the discussion to the national and international stage. Students are asked to think about how values influence public policy.
In order to facilitate a discussion on values-driven public policy, students receive values cards. The values are: freedom, justice, diversity, self-reliance, equality, community, cooperation, stability, democracy and security. Students are also given a blank card to add any additional value of importance to them. In groups of four, students place their cards in order of importance, and discuss their choices with members of the group. We then have a large group discussion to examine the choices.
The next step is to apply these values to the topics in our curriculum. One item was the presidential campaign and elections. As students discussed their priorities, it helped them understand the differences between the presidential candidates and their supporters. In short, we were able to add some sanity to the discussion. It was also important that each student be given an opportunity to express his/her views without judgment.
In the Modern World History classes students are participating in an interactive communication simulation, sponsored by the University of Michigan. Our students are part of a role-playing activity for the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Holy Name students have been assigned the nations of Britain, France, Egypt and Iran. Each of these countries has its own goals and policies regarding the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Students researched their assigned nation’s history and foreign policy in order to realistically determine public policy for their assigned leaders in the role-play. They created strategic goals for their nation, which became the basis of the policies they worked to create. This activity would not have been possible if they had not discussed their nation’s underlying values as a basis for policy decisions. As they interacted with diplomats (students) from other nations (schools) via the University of Michigan’s online site, they were able to speak in character as they worked to negotiate deals with other nations.
The overall result of applying values to these activities has been to create awareness of differences, and in some cases, similarities between nations. In the Michigan program, students constantly referenced the U.S. position as a point of discussion in contrast or in agreement with their assigned nation’s values and policies.
One student commented on the effectiveness of integrating history with technology as a means of sharing ideas with students from other schools.
In the U.S. History classes, students were pleased to have a forum for their concerns and the frame of reference offered by the values discussion that allowed them to make sense of the campaign and election results. Students began to realize the importance of the values discussions. One saw the application of values as a “life changing experience…,” that “required a new way of thinking….” Another student reported that the discussion of values…” helps to consider the consequences of your actions.”
As the year progresses and students become more experienced in identifying the values that drive public policy, hopefully, they will gain a greater understanding of current issues.
Bright future for Catholic education
By Msgr. Anthony S. Czarnecki
St. Joseph Basilica | St. Joseph School, Webster
The annual observance of Catholic Schools Week provides the opportunity to reflect on Catholic education. The ancient philosopher Plato wrote that “the chief purpose of education is to teach young people to find pleasure in the right things.” But our contemporary society, especially youth, do not know what are the right things.
Teaching youngsters to derive happiness and joy from respectable persons, venerable places, and good deeds is easier said than done. Too many of our children and emerging adults fall into the trap of chasing fleeting pleasures and indulging in shallow and even devious enjoyments.
In 2015, the Department of Public Health reported that 1,574 people died of heroin and opioid overdose in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts alone. A special report by the Massachusetts State Senate estimated that in 2015 residents in our state consumed 85 metric tons of marijuana, when marijuana was still illegal. Many young people are living in their own world without any ideology, philosophy of life or value system. The social consequences of living in a fantasy land are evident all around, in the dysfunction, confusion, and crime clearly visible in our communities.
However, Catholic education and formation is sometimes overlooked and is perhaps an undiscovered panacea to the erosion of values in our society. Despite the worrying statistics, there is much reassurance that many of our children, teenagers, and young adults take advantage of a good Catholic education that helps them form solid habits. Catholic school teachers, who view their work as a mission, rather than merely an occupation, are shaping sound characters in our young people and in so doing are building a more humane society. Such an approach leads to higher levels of teacher commitment, student engagement, and student achievement.
The month of January is also the time of celebrating National Migration Week. At the request of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Church celebrates the cultural diversity of our nation. The cultural heritage of many students also plays an important role in the success of Catholic schools.
When waves of first immigrants transplanted their lives into the American environment, parishes and parochial schools emerged as the backbone and lifeblood of their communities. The high demand for Catholic schools was due to a number of reasons. The most important factor among them was that state-run school systems were often hostile to cultures other than Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. Mainstream American thinkers of the era generally presupposed that ethnic groups would shed their particular characteristics and ultimately assimilate – an orientation quintessentially expressed in Israel Zangwill’s play “The Melting Pot” – so they saw no need in respecting and appreciating cultural inheritances. Compounded with the general progressive sentiment of the era, which held that the advancement of modernity would most certainly extinguish faith and all its practical implications, religious adherence and pious devotions were overlooked or derided.
Catholic schools, on the other hand, fostered an environment where one’s native culture would be treasured and one’s faith lived out fully. They fostered a wholesome and integrated sense of self that allowed students to be well-suited for a fulfilling life.
Since that time, the American culture has changed drastically, some in good ways but also in bad ways, but the underlying motives for Catholic education remain much the same. Many parents instinctively look for the educational environment that reflects and reinforces the best of their cultural and spiritual heritage. They seek schools that are not totally disconnected from the family, so that the lessons taught at home could be reinforced in school and vice versa.
Catholic schools continue to stand at the forefront of meeting these needs and value the input of parents. With generations of experience, Catholic schools stand ready to help integrate immigrants in a way that respects their cultural heritage and understands that cultural diversity is a mosaic or a “salad” where each cultural group retains its distinctive flavor while contributing to the whole.
Surprisingly, according to statistics, the Hispanic population, who will soon become a majority in our country, constitute only 15% of all Catholic school students nationwide. I suspect that many parents who emigrated from countries where the population is overwhelmingly Catholic and where the public schools respect and even promote their national Christian heritage, assume that the public schools in the U.S. would be similar, but it is not the case. These parents often do not realize that the only place they could find the support of their vibrant faith and religious traditions is in the Catholic schools, which operate like communities rather than municipal bureaucracies. The Catholic schools, which recognize this cultural factor, will become increasingly more appealing and desirable to all the ethnic groups, and experience a brighter future.
Parents may not always realize that Catholic schools in the United States offer a quality education infused with Catholic principles and values, in contrast to public schools which must maintain neutrality which often leads to a values-vacuum environment where anything goes. In Catholic schools, God is not an abstract hypothesis or a sentimental notion; rather, God and Judeo-Christian traditions are the foundation upon which lives are built. It is clearly visible that Catholic schools unlock the intellectual potential of the young people whom they serve and invite them to form a personal and living encounter with Jesus Christ which will endure throughout their life.
Catholic schools strengthen familial bonds and help students to form lifelong friendships where they learn responsibility from each other and hold each other accountable. Learning, also, happens outside the classroom during Sunday Divine Worship and other devotional practices which foster the social cohesion, promote stability of community, and influence the students’ spirit of charity, justice, and peace. In that environment, students who are not afraid to be different from the world will make a positive difference in the world.
A principal’s view on homework
By Stephen Chartier
principal, Holy Family Academy, Gardner
There is presently a flurry of discussion surrounding the value of homework, so I posed the question during both a faculty orientation and an eighth-grade orientation at Holy Family Academy: “What, if anything, is the value of homework in the education of elementary and middle school girls and boys?”
I want to share our ideas with you but, shortly put and to a man, they were decidedly in favor of homework – for the sake of practice, a sense of order and discipline, and knowledge of ignorance.
“Practice makes perfect” is an adage that dates back to the 1550-60s. The adage was used in the United States in the “Diary and Autobiography of John Adams.” “Practice makes perfect” was deemed the single most popular adage in a 2014 poll of Britons referring to words of wisdom picked up in childhood and used continually throughout one’s life.
Homework is an opportunity for students to practice the subject matter covered in class, to review the material and to apply what they learn in novel and different contexts for the sake of better understanding. Therefore, homework should be assigned with care and only when it is positioned to provide clear learning benefits. All homework assignments should be meaningful, engaging, and a disciplined preparation for class.
The value of the order that goes into completing a homework assignment overnight or over a longer period of time in preparation for class is more subtle and even more valuable in the long run than practice. Order is closely aligned with discipline. There is an old German expression, “Ordnung ist alles,” i.e., “All is discipline,” which is fundamental and profound. A sense of order should be an essential end or objective of any assignment, and discipline is the means by which to reach that objective.
Next to obedience and honesty, being orderly is one of the three most important virtues to imbue in younger children. In matters of order, we tend to think of its immediate and most material aspects, without considering the basic principles involved. It is practically important to keep one’s closet, bedroom, or school locker ordered, but this utilitarian aspect of order is not, or should not be, an end in itself. Although a sense of order may begin by neatly arranging things, order is not primarily about that; rather, it is more about things that are better and more important than other things. Ultimately, order is a means of attaining happiness and contributing to the happiness of others and to the beauty and harmony of the world.
Order by nature is the subordination of the less important to the more important, the false to the true, the vicious to the virtuous, the ugly and vulgar to the beautiful, and the temporal to the eternal. And it is by self-discipline that one is able to achieve this, and the humble beginnings of self-discipline are in activities such as closing the cereal box after using it, or putting down the toilet seat (girls will appreciate that!) and, indeed, completing homework assignments neatly, reasonably, and on time.
We all long for a generation of selfless, temperate, and courageous men and women, but sometimes forget that these and every one of the natural virtues have humble beginnings in relatively simple activities that parents need to be more deliberate about cultivating.
Finally, homework is a perfect opportunity to enable students to discover what they do not know. And knowledge of ignorance, knowing that one does not know, is the first progressive step toward really knowing and, ultimately, toward wisdom! If one presumes that he knows what he does not know, then his progress toward truth is cut off at the crossroads of ignorance and truth.
The idea that ignorance is knowledge, since its introduction by the fourth-century B.C. philosopher, Socrates, is so fundamental and yet apparently so foreign to those who purport that truth is relative and dependent upon the perspective or feeling of the individual.
When, in doing a homework assignment, one honestly comes to an impasse, to something he does not know, he has then discovered a question to ask the class the next day: “What, objectively, is the answer to the question…?”
At Holy Family Academy part of cultivating the intellect and moral character of the students is to teach them the good habit of conducting themselves in an active and orderly manner with respect to homework assignments.