Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Senior Projects and "Raising Awareness"

At Cardinal Ritter High School we have a really important component to our senior year that is called the "senior project."  When I taught seniors the last few years, I really put a lot of effort and time into helping our seniors learn how to do research well, how to write well, etc.  Last year, I even had "writing school" on Saturday where we had donuts, fruit, juice, etc. and students came in and worked one on one, especially those who had rough drafts that were especially "rough"!

The senior is asked to picked a topic in the Fall, research it for several months, and then in the Spring they ultimately write a research paper and give a 10 minute presentation to a group of faculty on their topic.

I wanted to share an interesting observation that I've noticed over the past three years of senior projects that I think is reflective of where our culture is today.  We ask our students (and in fact it is the main point of the project) to identify SOLUTIONS and actions that can be taken to the issue they have raised, even issues that perhaps are unique to that student, solutions that perhaps no one has ever thought of.  Anyone can do research, not everyone can propose solutions.

96% of the senior projects I've worked with over the years, when they are initially submitted as rough drafts, have the following as their primary solution --- "to fix societal ill ________ , we must "RAISE AWARENESS!""

That's the fix - to simply spread the word and tell people about what is going on.

Isn't that what our young people (and all of us, in fact) have grown accustomed to thinking of as a solution - just SPREAD AWARENESS!!!  Seemingly every week is now slotted with an awareness campaign.

The government actually has a website where you can look up all the things that are "officially sanctioned awareness campaigns" for each week.  The list is insanely long!

Some of my favorites - Hand washing awareness month, safe gift awareness month, drowsy driving prevention month, Get Ready Day (doesn't say what we are supposed to get ready for), Whole-Grains Month (do we only eat whole grains this month?), National Yoga Awareness Month, National Rip Current Awareness Week, National Toxic Encephalopathy and Chemical Injury Awareness Month (where do I get the t-shirt?), National Mediterranean Diet Month, and National Folic Acid Awareness Week.  

The list features at least 7 or 8 days/weeks per month where we are supposed to be made more aware.

I get the idea that knowledge and information are important, but here is my concern - we are becoming more and more a people who can't say something is wrong, can't actually WORK on a problem and try to fix things, we don't see solutions, we don't dialogue, we just pass things around on Twitter and Facebook and try to "raise awareness."  Sure, again, awareness is a good thing, but let's also start thinking about whether or not we can do more than raise awareness.  Let's aim a little higher than that.


  1. Great point! We are aware of everything, yet hardly do anything.

  2. "Awareness" is basically a buzz-word that Chesterton warns us of:

    We know they are carrying thousands who are too tired or too indolent to walk and think for themselves. It is a good exercise to try for once in a way to express any opinion one holds in words of one syllable. If you say "The social utility of the indeterminate sentence is recognized by all criminologists as a part of our sociological evolution towards a more humane and scientific view of punishment," you can go on talking like that for hours with hardly a movement of the gray matter inside your skull. But if you begin "I wish Jones to go to gaol and Brown to say when Jones shall come out," you will discover, with a thrill of horror, that you are obliged to think. The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard. There is much more metaphysical subtlety in the word "damn" than in the word "degeneration."