Children and the Media: A Challenge for Education

(Posted here with permission of Zenit.org)

Papal Message for World Communications Day

“Beauty Inspires and Vivifies Young Hearts and Minds” 


VATICAN CITY, JAN. 24, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the message Benedict XVI wrote on the occasion of World Communications Day 2007, which will be observed May 20 with the theme: “Children and the Media: a Challenge for Education.” 


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Children and the Media: a Challenge for Education 


Dear Brothers and Sisters, 


1. The theme of the Forty-first World Communications Day, “Children and the Media: A Challenge for Education”, invites us to reflect on two related topics of immense importance. The formation of children is one. The other, perhaps less obvious but no less important, is the formation of the media. 


The complex challenges facing education today are often linked to the pervasive influence of the media in our world. As an aspect of the phenomenon of globalization, and facilitated by the rapid development of technology, the media profoundly shape the cultural environment (cf. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter The Rapid Development, 3). Indeed, some claim that the formative influence of the media rivals that of the school, the Church, and maybe even the home. “Reality, for many, is what the media recognize as real” (Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Aetatis novae, 4). 


2. The relationship of children, media, and education can be considered from two perspectives: the formation of children by the media; and the formation of children to respond appropriately to the media. A kind of reciprocity emerges which points to the responsibilities of the media as an industry and to the need for active and critical participation of readers, viewers and listeners. Within this framework, training in the proper use of the media is essential for the cultural, moral and spiritual development of children. 


How is this common good to be protected and promoted? Educating children to be discriminating in their use of the media is a responsibility of parents, Church, and school. The role of parents is of primary importance. They have a right and duty to ensure the prudent use of the media by training the conscience of their children to express sound and objective judgments which will then guide them in choosing or rejecting programs available (cf. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, 76). In doing so, parents should have the encouragement and assistance of schools and parishes in ensuring that this difficult, though satisfying, aspect of parenting is supported by the wider community. 


Media education should be positive. Children exposed to what is aesthetically and morally excellent are helped to develop appreciation, prudence and the skills of discernment. Here it is important to recognize the fundamental value of parents’ example and the benefits of introducing young people to children’s classics in literature, to the fine arts and to uplifting music. While popular literature will always have its place in culture, the temptation to sensationalize should not be passively accepted in places of learning. Beauty, a kind of mirror of the divine, inspires and vivifies young hearts and minds, while ugliness and coarseness have a depressing impact on attitudes and behavior. 


Like education in general, media education requires formation in the exercise of freedom. This is a demanding task. So often freedom is presented as a relentless search for pleasure or new experiences. Yet this is a condemnation not a liberation! True freedom could never condemn the individual — especially a child — to an insatiable quest for novelty. In the light of truth, authentic freedom is experienced as a definitive response to God’s ‘yes’ to humanity, calling us to choose, not indiscriminately but deliberately, all that is good, true and beautiful. Parents, then, as the guardians of that freedom, while gradually giving their children greater freedom, introduce them to the profound joy of life (cf. Address to the Fifth World Meeting of Families, Valencia, 8 July 2006). 


3. This heartfelt wish of parents and teachers to educate children in the ways of beauty, truth and goodness can be supported by the media industry only to the extent that it promotes fundamental human dignity, the true value of marriage and family life, and the positive achievements and goals of humanity. Thus, the need for the media to be committed to effective formation and ethical standards is viewed with particular interest and even urgency not only by parents and teachers but by all who have a sense of civic responsibility. 


While affirming the belief that many people involved in social communications want to do what is right (cf. Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Ethics in communications, 4), we must also recognize that those who work in this field confront “special psychological pressures and ethical dilemmas” (Aetatis novae, 19) which at times see commercial competitiveness compelling communicators to lower standards. Any trend to produce programs and products — including animated films and video games — which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behavior or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programs are directed at children and adolescents. How could one explain this ‘entertainment’ to the countless innocent young people who actually suffer violence, exploitation and abuse? In this regard, all would do well to reflect on the contrast between Christ who “put his arms around [the children] laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing” (Mk 10:16) and the one who “leads astray … these little ones” for whom “it would be better … if a millstone were hung round his neck” (Lk 17:2). Again I appeal to the leaders of the media industry to educate and encourage producers to safeguard the common good, to uphold the truth, to protect individual human dignity and promote respect for the needs of the family. 


4. The Church herself, in the light of the message of salvation entrusted to her, is also a teacher of humanity and welcomes the opportunity to offer assistance to parents, educators, communicators, and young people. Her own parish and school programs should be in the forefront of media education today. Above all, the Church desires to share a vision of human dignity that is central to all worthy human communication. “Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave” (Deus caritas est, 18). 


From the Vatican, 24 January 2007, the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales. 


BENEDICTUS PP. XVI 


© Copyright 2007 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana 

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The Painted Veil Movie

Kitty (Naomi Watts) is a young London socialite. Her parents (Alan David; Maggie Steed) want to marry her off and invite Walter Fane (Edward Norton) to a party. By the next day he asks to marry her – which she does. He is a bacteriologist working in Shanghai. They travel there and soon, bored and not in love, she and a diplomat from the British embassy, Charles Townsend (Liev Schreiber), begin an affair. Walter discovers the affair and gives Kitty a choice: she can follow him to an inland village where a cholera epidemic is raging or he will divorce her. When Charles refuses to leave his wife, Kitty chooses to go with Walter.

 

 

A community of French nuns, headed by a British mother superior (Diana Rigg), runs the local hospital and orphanage. The superior notices the distance between Kitty and Walter, and offers Kitty her maternal and life advice while Kitty begins to volunteer her time at the orphanage. Little by little, Walter and Kitty grow closer as they both change as they give of themselves to do good to those around them.

 

Based on a novel by 1925 novel by the British author W. Somerset Maugham, this is the second film version of the story (previously released in 1934 with Greta Garbo and Herbert Marshall), and it is beautifully directed (John Curran; We Don’t Live Here Anymore), acted, and filmed. Edward Norton is one of the finest actors of this generation. And this is one of the finest period dramas I have ever seen. It sets up the reasons why people get married, the mistakes and bad choices people make for the wrong reasons, and how people can change. At one point the mother superior tells Kitty about her own relationship with God, and says, “When loyalty and love come together, there is grace.”

 

As I left the theater several other women (no men at this screening!) were chatting and asking, “What does the title, The Painted Veil, mean?” None of us could figure it out. I thought it might refer to the Chinese play at the beginning where the female character seems to be holding a veil to her face and perhaps getting make-up on it. If you know, please share it with us! Now I want to read the book…. This is an obvious awards contender. Beautiful.

Freedom Writers

Erin Gruell (Hilary Swank) is a brand new freshman-sophomore English teacher at a Long Beach, CA high school in 1994 – not long after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Racial tension between various gangs becomes obvious in her classroom from day one. Erin is overwhelmed by the lack of enthusiasm and antagonism in her students, as well as department head’s negative attitude toward the students.

 

Erin’s father (Scott Glenn) thinks she is wasting her time as a teacher. Her husband (Patrick Dempsey) is at first supportive, but when she takes an extra job, and then another, to buy books for her students, he becomes increasingly despondent.

 

One of Erin’s students, Eva (April L. Hernandez), witnesses a gang shooting and wrongly and deliberately blames an African-American kid for it, when one of her own gang-members did it. Because her father was wrongfully accused of a murder and has been in jail for many years, she believes it is better to stand up for her own kind than to tell the truth.

 

I truly believed Freedom Writers (an excellent take-off from the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights era) was going to be another Kleenex driven teacher-movie. But what a wonderful surprise.

 

 

When a Latino student draws a picture of one of the African-American, emphasizing one of his facial features, Erin takes off like a woman inspired. She tells the kids they have nothing on the biggest thugs in history, the Nazi’s. She tells them about the cartoons the Nazi newspapers published making fun of Jewish features that gave permission to readers to laugh at Jews and make fun of them for their looks. She told her students about the devastating results of blaming the Jewish people for all the problems of the German people in the 1930’s – the Holocaust. Then she takes them on a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance in LA (www.museumoftolerance.com) and then invites Holocaust survivors to have dinner with the students after and tell their stories. She buys copies of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl and the students become very involved. They raise the money to bring over Miep Gies (bn. 1909), the woman, who as a young secretary hid the Frank family from the Nazi’s. This, to me, was the most moving part of the film. (She actually appears in the film!) Erin transforms the students, and they change her, as well. They are co-learners.

 

 

Erin gives notebooks to all the students and they write their own stories which were later published (try to get a copy of the book in a book store; I have tried four so far, and they are all out; Amazon.com, here I come) and form the basis of the film.

 

Of course, to create the conflict in the film two of Erin’s co-teachers are made to look like cardboard bad-guys. And maybe this is an accurate depiction but  this was the only part that seemed more like a standard movie device than giving us insight into actual people.

 

The film is a beautiful testament to the teaching vocation; indeed, we need to appreciate and support teachers, especially new ones, so that they will persevere and make a difference. Another dimension of the film deals with the relationship Erin builds up with one class of students over two years and how she was allowed to continue as their teacher through their junior and senior years – leading to a change in educational policy.

 

What does Eva do? You’ll have to see the film and find out!

 

I loved Freedom Writers. BK rating (bring Kleenex).

Media Mindfulness: Educating Teens about Faith and Media Book

Media Mindfulness: Educating Teens about Faith and Media

By Gretchen Hailer, RSHM and Rose Pacatte, FSP

Whether you are a Catholic high school teacher of any discipline, a catechist, or a youth minister, feel confident that you can educate teens in one of the most difficult yet crucial areas of their growth in faith. Beware! Sister Media and Sister Catechist have written an information-packed resource that also shares their sense of fun and exploration. You and your students might consider this study of Media Mindfulness to be one of the most enjoyable and meaningful educational experiences in high school!

http://www.smp.org/ItemEndorse.cfm?ItemNum=1341

 

 

 

 

What are people saying about Media Mindfulness?

“This is an important book on a timely and critical topic. By approaching media and popular culture from a perspective grounded in faith and Scripture, Hailer and Pacatte have given us a powerful, comprehensive resource for helping teens understand and thoughtfully reflect on the role media and technology play in their young lives. The four-part “media mindfulness” strategy gives educators, ministers, and mentors a framework and effective activities for engaging youth in thoughtful analysis of media and its influence on attitudes, behaviors, faith, and values. This book belongs in every church, youth ministry, and religious education program.”

Frank Gallagher, Director, Education and Media Literacy, Cable in the Classroom

Children of Men Movie

In 2027 the world’s youngest child dies at age 18 and humanity and the earth are slowly dying.  Instead of working for the good of its citizens, the government mandates fertility testing and sends people kits so they can choose when to die. The cityscape is filthy and dark.

 

Theo (Clive Owen) makes his way around London that is in decay, but outdoor advertising still manages to function. One day a bomb goes off near him so he decides to go visit an old friend, Jaspar (Michael Caine) who used to be a political cartoonist. When Theo returns he is kidnapped and taken to meet his former wife, Julian (Julianne Moore). She works with an anti-government group that supports life. She and Theo had a child together but he died years ago. Now she asks him to secure transit papers for a young black woman, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashety), who is miraculously pregnant – not because she did not have sex but because no woman has had a child in almost twenty years. The papers will get them to the coast so that Kee can be picked up by a ship whose crew is working against international governments to save the world.

 

Theo seems apathetic rather than a hero, but he obtains the papers. On the way to the coast Julian is killed. Theo discovers that they very people who are escorting them to the coast want the baby for their own political purposes. Theo, with Jasper’s help and that of others along the way, sets off on what becomes a journey of hope.

 

 

Children of Men is based on the 1993 P.D. James novel (of the same title) and it reminded me of a cross between Blade Runner and A.I.: Artifical Intelligence because of the themes about humanity and the way it made me feel.

 

Children of Men is an excellent “text” for theological reflection. The priest who founded our religious congregation of the Daughters of St. Paul, Blessed James Alberione (1884-1971) once asked – like this film – “How many times do you ask yourself the great question: where is mankind heading. How is it moving, toward what goal it is aiming as it continually renews itself on the face of the earth? Humanity is like a great river flowing into eternity. Will it be saved? Will it be lost forever?”

 

Theo, short for Theodore means “God’s gift”. When Theo asks Kee who the father is, she jokes, “Who’s the father? “There’s no father. I’m a virgin. Nah! Be great, though, wouldn’t it?” thus showing her awareness of Christian teaching. After she gives birth in a warehouse of rebellious refugees of every race that the British government has isolated and is trying to squash, she and the baby make a perfect Madonna and Child. As Theo leads them to the dingy, rebels and government troops stop firing, genuflect, and make the sign of the cross in wonder as mother and child walk by. As their world is disintegrating, these enemies are able to see that there is hope in the wonder of this new life.

 

There are many parallels between this film and The Nativity Story. The world into which Kee’s child is born is not unlike the world into which Jesus was born. And the difference that each child would/could make for humanity, did and may change the world.

 

Children of Men is intense, violent, and deeply evocative. It takes modernism and nihilism to their extremes and yet, it the midst of centuries of consequences of our individual and collective choices for self above the needs of others, there is hope in the life of a child.

Miss Potter Movie

Beatrix Potter (Rene Zellweger) is young woman in her 30’s, still living at home with her well-heeled parents in London. The year is 1902 and Beatrix, who writes and illustrates stories for children with animal characters, visits Warne and Co. to see if they will accept her manuscript, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, for publication. Indeed they do, and they assign their younger brother Norman (Ewan McGregor) to supervise the project.

 

Although her father, Rupert (Bill Patterson), a lawyer who spends his days at his club rather than working, is proud of her achievements, Beatrix’s mother, Helen (Barbara Flynn), is too preoccupied by class and status to ever come near to understanding her daughter’s enormous and creative talent. She only wants Beatrix to marry someone “suitable” and parades various suitors through the parlor, all of whom Beatrix wisely rejects.

 

With the publication and success of her first book, Norman Warne, wants to continue. He and Beatrix become friends and he asks her to marry him. Her parents are set against it and though Beatrix is determined to marry him, he falls ill and dies before it can happen.

 

 

Beatrix is heartbroken and with her new found wealth, she realizes she can be independent of her parents and find her own way. She buys a farm in England’s Lake District and after a while is able to continue writing and drawing. Meanwhile, she is caught up in a movement to preserve the district as it is, with small farms, so as to avoid the industrialization of the beautiful area.

 

This account of the story-line does little to describe the amazing charm of this intricately filmed and beautiful crafted movie that moves gently back and forth between Beatrix’s childhood and the current day. The appealing Rene Zellweger exudes charisma as her animal friends come to life and she talks to them, telling them to behave. Her repressed heartbreak at Norman’s death is touching and feels real. Just when it seems the film is going to become a commentary on early 20th century feminism (and raising good questions), it takes a different path, as Beatrix did in real life. Though directed by Chris Noonan who gave us the classic Babe (and written by first-timer Richard Maltby, Jr.,) the cinematography and art direction are outstanding.

 

Miss Potter makes the U.K. a triple threat (Notes on a Scandal and Children of Men are equally strong contenders) as this awards season draws near.

 

Miss Potter is a totally enchanting journey of the heart into the land of the creative imagination.

 

 

Notes on a Scandal Movie

 Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) is the new art teacher in a British secondary school. An older teacher, almost ready to retire, Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) befriends her. Cate invites her into her home to have dinner with her husband, Richard, (Bill Nighy) and their two children, one of whom has Down Syndrome. But Barbara misunderstands Sheba’s friendship – or rather, Sheba doesn’t get Barbara’s overtures.

 

 

Barbara wants Sheba all to herself. She turns especially predatory when she catches Sheba making out with a fifteen year-old student, Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson). Barbara demands that Sheba put a stop to the affair and says if she does, she will not report Sheba to the school authorities. Sheba promises but does not stop. The spider-like Barbara spins a web to catch Sheba – for herself. Instead, she loses, only to start again with the next young thing.

 

Notes on a Scandal is seamlessly directed by Richard Eyre (Iris) who takes us into the depths of loneliness and weakness – visual notes on the human condition. It is based on the novel of the same title by Zoe Heller. The screenplay does not follow the book, it imagines and interprets it brilliantly. The acting by both lead actresses is superb – we would accept nothing less. Sheba is innocent, yet guilty and must face the consequences; Barbara acts out of her obsession with self, disabled. She cannot think of others or the consequences of her own actions, and continues on, trying to fill the void of her life-long loneliness through selfishness. She never learns.

 

This film felt like reading a fine, short novel, packed with psychological, emotional, and spiritual conflict. What lessons can be learned from such a story? Empathy, the balance between freedom and responsibility, maturity, doing the right thing.

 

Brilliant.