Blessed are the Media Makers . . .

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The article from Life and Soul is about the authors of Media Mindfulness
Imagine if a teacher brought students to the school library and allowed them to read anything they wanted without ever asking a single question or demanding that students think critically about what they were reading. Preposterous! What teacher would ever do such a thing? What if I were to tell you that a very similar scenario is played out in our schools every day?

Consider this: Catholic educators at all levels now utilize unprecedented amounts of media in their classrooms. Spurred on by seminars and new theories in education, we show films to reinforce concepts or utilize popular music as prompts for creative writing. Braver souls require students to incorporate various media into their classroom projects and presentations. The very adventurous create original media like websites, music, or blogs with their students. All of these ideas have great potential: they motivate students and create relevance within the curriculum. At the same time, they lack a crucial element.

Now consider this: young people view up to 3,000 discrete advertisements a day, and easily spend as many hours absorbing, downloading, or creating some kind of media as they do on their homework. The media permeate every aspect of our lives and create a culture that both affirms and contradicts the values we model and teach. Our students grow up in, and contribute to, media culture, yet lack the ability to think critically about what they see, hear, and do. If we take seriously our vocation to prepare students for their future, then the need for media education becomes obvious.

Fortunately, we are not alone in this daunting task, thanks to the collaborative efforts of Sister Gretchen Hailer, RSHM and Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP. Their latest offering, Media Mindfulness: Educating Teens About Faith and Media presents a comprehensive, integrated curriculum that evaluates media objectively in light of our call to live out the Gospel.

Hailer and Pacatte (a.k.a. Sister Catechist and Sister Media) successfully combine their considerable expertise into a convenient and user-friendly resource. Their main premise is that we can learn to integrate media literacy and our life in Jesus Christ in order to study any medium we choose, from books to blogs, popular music to popular culture. This integration results in what the authors term "media mindfulness": critical thinking about media combined with Gospel values. This compelling approach honors the Catholic teaching that media are gifts from God, gifts which offer both promise and peril. In this light, we are called to discern rather than denounce, to respond rather than react. This is not to say that the authors sugarcoat the dangers inherent in irresponsible media. These are discussed frankly throughout, but with proper emphasis on right judgment and rationality.

Equally compelling is the way the authors demystify the complexities of the media culture and offer a number of creative tools to guide students as they discuss, discern, explore, and create media. Particularly useful is the idea that any medium is a constructed reality designed to transmit values, a concept that permeates the entire work. Also helpful is the Strategy of Media Mindfulness used to analyze the different forms of media in today's popular culture.

Educators will also appreciate the utility and consistency of the text. Every chapter begins with a Scripture reflection relevant to the medium being studied and an introduction to the objectives and values of that medium. Then the medium is deconstructed technically and historically while introducing the perspectives of society and the Church. Chapters conclude with a comprehensive list of resources and activities along with creative prayer suggestions. Welcome touches include the cross-curricular connections and appendices which address everything from additional resources to fair-use policies. One caveat: when it comes to being savvyabout media, our students generally know more than we do. We might have to get used to learning more than we teach!

Sister Catechist and Sister Media have done a great service to educators and the Church at large. They teach us about media the way that Jesus would. Like Jesus, they remind us that we all like a good story. Today's media are the new storytellers. Too often, Catholics have knee-jerk reactions to the media. Calls for boycotts or censorship diminish our credibility and stand in opposition to Jesus' invitation to engage the world and culture we live in. If we are to be "light for the world and salt of the earth," those of us with "eyes to see and ears to hear" cannot remain ignorant nor can we hope that the media will go away. We can, however, become media mindful and use what we learn to inform and inspire the next generation of authors, performers, and studio executives.

John Bonar is a teacher of Theology, Psychology, and Math at Ramona Convent Secondary School in Alhambra, CA where he also serves as one of the Campus Ministers.


This article was originally published in Life and Soul magazine, which is produced by Pauline Books and Media. To find out more about Pauline Books and Media, visit their home page at

Published August 1, 2007.