catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 6 :: 2003.03.14 — 2003.03.27


Helping students develop their culture vision

Students are awash in a sea of messages from the modern world. The number, volume, and intensity of advertising messages, mass media assumptions embedded in the stories they see on television and movies, and the slant and interpretation of our world that the news media provides is impossible to comprehend. So much information falls upon us every minute that it is like being buried in a never-ending Technicolor avalanche.

As developing Christians, students may understand that the Bible can help us to see through some of these messages and view them with enough discernment to discover that you can be a good mom even if you don?t chose Jiff; that despite action adventure heroes, violence is not the only solution; that even though Jasmine in the Disney movie Aladdin uses her body to get what she wants, Christians shouldn't follow her example; and that despite the nightly news investigations on the dangers of escalators, home heating systems, and church nurseries, we don't have to live in terror of our own lives. Students may figure this out on their own, but more commonly, the sheer weight of the media messages resting upon them precludes such discoveries, leaving them gasping for air. Parents, meanwhile, confronted by teenagers who spend more time with virtual friends than real ones; who are more interested in the latest album by the latest pop star than they are in their own siblings, and who seem to be disconnected from the real hurting world that we as Christians are supposed to fix; do not know where to turn for help.

High schools and colleges are increasingly offering courses to help students tackle these problems, but generally, such courses must be written from the ground up, and all course materials must be generated from thin air because no textbook exists. If such a textbook did exist, it would be outdated and irrelevant by the time it rolled off the presses. If ever there was a topic where being up to date was vital, this is it. Teachers, as a consequence, may feel like creating the course materials for such a class at all, let alone in an excellent manner, is a task completely beyond their already overscheduled, stressful lives.

(Signal the hopeful music, a distant bugle call during the last reel of a western when the rustlers have the good guys surrounded) That, of course, is where cino comes in. culture is not optional is in the early stages of developing an on-line curriculum that could provide teachers and students with lesson plans, readings, and an avenue for communication with other teachers and students who are tackling the same issues.
Building on a curriculum developed for Illiana Christian High School, that has been in use for three years with documented success, *cino would develop an approach that takes students through a four step decision-making process when responding to culture. This approach, called the four Ds, works like this: First, students DISCOVER. The discovery phase teaches students that to make a judgment about a movie, song, television show, website, or any other product of culture, one first needs to know what one is dealing with. This means reading reviews, finding out information about production and funding, fitting the cultural artifact into the context of its genre, and so on. The second phase encourages students to DISCERN. In this phase, students consider both the truthful and good messages the cultural product contains as well as those messages that are reflective of cultural misunderstandings (materialism, individualism, existentialism, humanism, and so on). The third phase is the DECIDE phase. Here, students, weighing the truthful messages and the messages of the age, make a determination about whether they should support (view, listen to, interact with, be part of, purchase) the cultural product. The final step is the DO phase. It is not enough for Christians simply to vote with their wallets. We also need to write reviews, talk to our friends, be articulate and intelligent publicly, and get involved in the making of cultural products in a way that is both an excellent demonstration of the genre and faithful to God's truth.

There is a vast amount of intelligent thought and writing going on that addresses cultural issues, but it is difficult for any one person to stay on top of it. cino hopes to serve as a clearing house for useful articles, reviews, books, and other media. Not only could cino post such things, but it could also link them to existing lesson plans, so that teachers could help each other stay current by working as a community rather than as lonely outposts separated by distance and anonymity.

And that brings us to the final gift that cino could offer. Because cino connects with people through the Internet, it offers students and teachers a way to discuss issues across the country. By linking discussions to readings, in much the same way the current *cino discussion board is woven into and through the articles in the current magazine.

When the Internet first rose to prominence a few years ago, it was touted as an opportunity for students across the world to be able to learn together. Often, however, once they are linked across the miles, students find they have little of importance to say to each other. Here is a case where content and medium fit together well. In researching what Christian communication and cultural engagement ought to look like, students will have a chance to participate in what they are talking about. At the same time, teachers would be able to share suggestions, encouragement and advice, and students in college education programs could become a part of that discussion as well.

As a high school teacher, I am excited about the possibilities. cino hopes to begin building lesson plans this summer. Like the rest of cino, though, this is a project that needs support if it is to succeed. We are especially interested in linking up with colleges and high schools that would be willing to support this worthy endeavor. If you have any suggestions or leads for us, please feel free to contact us.

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