JUSTeach Newsletter


September 2006

social justice education


“Be The Change You Wish To See…” (Gandhi)


Beyond the open window, crickets, katydids and cicadas offer their final songs of the season as this article makes its way to you. During these last days of summer, what songs do we sing, what desires do we express at this moment in our lives? We see joy all around us even as the news bombards us with the latest reports from war zones. Children and their parents roam through the back-to-school aisles in the local stores with school lists in hand filling their carts with everything “necessary” to begin our school year. While their excitement is a wonder to see and their joy contagious, how can we not help but to remember the children in Lebanon, Iraq, or Israel whose schools may have been obliterated by bomb strikes, or for whom there may be no new school supplies or whose teachers and classmates may have been among those killed? Knowing that nutritional needs must be met so our children can learn, school districts in the United States discuss hot lunches and breakfasts for students. Yet how can our hearts not ache for the children in Darfur for whom there may be no meal at all today? While we may live in a “privileged” country, there are children in the United States who also will not have the supplies they need, who will not have access to a well stocked school library, whose schools struggle to fund educational programs, who will go to bed hungry the night before school begins, and whose neighborhood schools were wiped out in Hurricane Katrina a year ago and are yet to be rebuilt.


In this exciting season of dreams and visions for the coming school year, we realize our ongoing obligation to ask God, “what can we do?” As followers of Jesus and as Catholics, as we analyze social justice issues throughout the coming school year we will turn to the words of Jesus as we seek “the words of eternal life” (Jn:68) and the collective wisdom of our tradition as we engage the seven core values of Catholic social teaching in dialogue with the signs of our times. We will listen to the cries of poor and vulnerable people in our world, look at various issues impacting all of us, name the injustice we see, educate ourselves as to the causes, ask what we can do and prayerfully seek ways to take actions that lead to peace and justice for all.


This month our focus is on peace building and participating in the International Day of Peace on September 21, but, as you can see from the calendar below, September offers a variety of social justice themes as entryways into prayer and for sparking discussions with your students.


SEPTEMBER CALENDAR adapted from the Center of Concern (www.coc.org )

4 Labor Day

8 International Literacy Day

9 St Peter Claver

11 Anniversary of the Terrorist Attacks of 2001,

100 th anniversary of Gandhi’s first nonviolent protest

14 Laborem Exercens , 1981

15-Oct 15 National Hispanic Heritage Month

16 International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer

21 International Day of Peace

23-24 Rosh Hashana (Jewish)

24- Oct. 23 Ramadan (Muslim)

27 Feast Day of St. Vincent de Paul




This day, first celebrated in 1981, is promoted by the United Nations as a global holiday for all humanity. Initially celebration took place on the third Tuesday of September, but since 2001, it has been celebrated on September 21. The 2001 resolution also calls for all nations to honor a call for a global ceasefire on this day. People from all nations mark the day with various activities to promote “cultures of peace” around the world. How will you participate in this global event, how will you create an awareness of the need for peace building throughout the year? The website http://www.internationaldayofpeace.org/ offers many suggestions ranging from moments of silence to creating art to offering or attending concerts for peace. Check out the many suggested activities or create something of your own to mark this important day.


Scriptural Resources


“Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss” Ps 85:11


“Peace, peace to the far and the near” Is 57:19


“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” Mt 5: 9


“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” Jn.14:27


“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” Gal 5:22


Classroom Activity

Ask your students to reflect on one or more of the above scriptural passages and share any insights within a small group or whole class format. Discuss the various meanings of the word “peace” in our lives.


The causes of war are many and may stem from economic issues, territory disputes, retaliation, the use of natural resources etc. The absence of war, however, does not mean we have true peace. The many injustices we witness in our daily lives create local roadblocks to achieving true peace. Using the core values of Catholic social teaching (see the Joliet Peace and Justice Ministry link below), have your students reflect upon the many daily ways our quest for a true peace can be disturbed. How are these concerns being addressed in your school, in the community, or wherever they are found? What might we do to make a difference? How are we manifesting the fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians? Where do we need more effort? Will the end of military conflict in the Mid East be the end of the quest for peace in the Mideast? How is the dignity of people living in war zones impacted both during and after the actual “war?” How can we express solidarity with our brothers and sisters living in war-torn countries? How will those living in war zones be able to participate in community, state and international affairs during the reconstruction of their countries? How will families be reunited? Are these questions also matters of concern to peacemakers? The peace Jesus offers us goes far beyond any peace to be found in the world. In reflecting upon Jesus’ words in scripture we listen for ways that we might share the depth of his loving peace with those we encounter. In prayer we seek ways to follow Jesus.


Peace Project

One long term project that may appeal to your students would be to create a place for peaceful outdoor prayer. Perhaps your community or school grounds already offers such a place and your class/school could enhance it. It could be a garden with one or two benches for those who wish to pause and pray or something more elaborate such as a labyrinth. If you choose to make a labyrinth, perhaps you could incorporate it into a full program of International Day of Peace activities allowing participants to take their time and walk it prayerfully between other offerings of the day rather than having all come to walk it at once. Those praying their way through the labyrinth could carry colorful cloths and “dance” their way through to music, or perhaps students could make peace banners to carry through their prayer walk. The day could include an exhibit of artwork by students in your school, a booth/table to make flags of the nations of the world as suggested on the International Day of Peace site and so forth. You could provide small workshops with the activities suggested on the TAP website listed below as well.


Your day of peace activities should open and close with prayer no matter what format you choose to follow. Both the above mentioned sites offer suggestions for prayer rituals.


Labyrinths can be permanent or you could create one from masking tape on a concrete floor or tiled floor. (Masking tape can ruin wooden floors) There are sites (see the labyrinth resources below) that show how one can be made from mounds of mowed grass or from using a weed eater to lay out the pattern. (Obviously, parents would need to be enlisted if you choose this option!)Using chalk on a playground is another possibility. The sites listed below also contain information regarding the history of the labyrinth in our tradition and its use in meditative prayer to help you in introducing the topic to your students. If you choose to sponsor a labyrinth walk for peace, invite others from your community to join you. Teens may enjoy creating an outdoor one for evening use and lighting the outer perimeter with garden candles. Have note cards and pencils for participants to share a prayer for peace after they’ve completed their walk if they so choose. These prayers could be gathered into a Peace Prayer book to use throughout the year or as part of a permanent indoor display to remind all of us to pray for peace. Be sure to encourage students to pray for ways to bring peace into our lives and into the lives of others on a concrete, daily basis in addition to praying for an end to war.


If the labyrinth project does not fit your needs, consider some of the activities listed on the Institute of Peace of Justice website below or their TAP resource. Their offerings fit various age groups and can be used in settings outside a classroom as well such as youth ministry groups.




http://www.paxjoliet.org/justeach/justeach2.html Peace and Social Justice Ministry of the Joliet Diocese listing of seven core values of Catholic social teaching


http://www.ipj-ppj.org/tap/resources.html Institute for Peace and Justice “Teens Acting for Peace” See the seven activities that can be adapted for various settings in both religious and public schools


http://www.ipj-ppj.org/Reflections%20-%20Advocacy%20Suggestions%20-%20Lesson%20Plans/Teaching%20Peace%20Lesson%20Plan.htm The Institute for Peace and Justice offers post 911 insights and suggestions on teaching peace to our children


http://www.salsa.net/peace/labyrinth/patterns.html labyrinth patterns, planning a labyrinth dance for peace from the peaceCenter in San Antonio Texas


http://www.salsa.net/peace/labyrinth/flier.pdf history of labyrinths and how to use one


http://www.labyrinth-enterprises.com/tapec1.html making a labyrinth masking tape, stones etc


http://www.labyrinthos.net/classical.htm making one of mown grass, sticks etc


http://www.pacificsites.net/~dglaser/labyrinth/labyrinth.html making one with weed eater


http://www.ualberta.ca/~cbidwell/SITES/labindex.htm#make lots of information


More projects


Labor Day Lead a discussion focusing on the dignity of work and the rights of workers. Have students create a symbol of the work their parent or grandparent or other relative does and create a prayer that honors the dignity of their work. These could be images such as a wrench for a mechanic or a stethoscope for a doctor or more abstract. Bless the hands and minds of those who do this work.


How does this value of Catholic social teaching impact your students’ understanding of homework?


If your students are old enough to be working, consider a discussion on workers’ rights such as overtime pay, bathroom breaks, fair wages, job safety, and insurance benefits. Is a “good” job all about the money? Or is there an interior aspect of a “good job,” and how can we describe it in our own words?

A good resource to help you plan this discussion would be the late Pope John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens on work and human dignity available at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091981_laborem-exercens_en.html


September 11, in addition to remembering the victims of 9/11, have students research Mahatma Gandhi and his nonviolent movement on the 100 th anniversary of his first nonviolent protest. Have them reflect on Gandhi’s words,” be the change you wish to see” in the world.


National Hispanic Heritage Month September 15- October 15 Check out the following website http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson/lesson023.shtml for background information and lesson plans to help you celebrate the many contributions of people of Hispanic heritage to the history of the United States.


As we enter another year of teaching and learning together, let us carry in our hearts all those students and teachers around the world who labor in the midst of violence whether caused by instruments of war, poverty, illness or hunger. May God bless all teachers for opening their classrooms and their hearts to the children in their lives, and may each of you know and model the peace of Jesus to the children of God, our future peacemakers of the world.


Peace and Blessings, Colette Wisnewski