By Rob Sample
The only way to change a culture is to change hearts and minds. Having known this since American Life League was first founded, Judie Brown has always pursued education as a means of changing hearts and minds in an effort to transform our culture and promote the dignity and value of the human person.
Over the years, this educational mission has been realized in different ways such as various youth outreach programs, the support of St. Michael the Archangel High School, and a series of video lectures for high school students. These programs and initiatives have all played a role in the development of the Culture of Life Studies Program, which continues ALL’s mission to equip the next generation of pro-life leaders with truth through education.
Having met with ALL Board approval, the initial strategy for CLSP was simple—begin at the beginning. Education should begin with young children who have yet to be bombarded by the culture of death. Young children are innocent and know instinctively, for example, that preborn human beings are babies. With this in mind, the CLSP plan was to provide a solid program to help parents and teachers educate young students so that these children could maintain their innocence and learn simple truths such as babies need to be loved and protected.
CLSP is driven by five women who rely on the expertise and support of many others working behind the scenes. These women are Catherine Daub, the director who guides the team and works closely with Judie Brown to ensure that her vision is never lost; Mary Flores, the outreach coordinator who works hard to develop relationships and partnerships; Susan Ciancio, who is the chief editor; and identical twins Laura Kizior and Mary Kizior, the content developers who research and develop products as well as maintain CLSP’s online presence via social media and blogging.
It is this collaboration and the team’s desire to give God the glory that has made CLSP successful. In the short space of a year, the team has produced a robust array of books, CD ROMs, and related educational materials focusing on various pro-life topics.
The materials are now being used by over 1,000 religious educators, homeschooling parents, and others interested in bringing pro-life education and truth to their communities. More join the fold every day—and more educational content is always on the way.
A holistic approach
CLSP’s first product, Life Is Precious, imparts the message to kindergartners, first, and second graders that all life is sacred and deserves respect. It avoids mentioning abortion to respect parents as the primary educators of their children, and focuses on the miraculous development of preborn babies as well as the beauty inherent in each human being’s life. The CLSP team considers protecting the innocence of young children a top priority. A coloring book for preschoolers, The Miracle of Life Coloring & Activity Book was created to complement Life Is Precious.
“Pro-lifers have traditionally aimed their message at adults and high-schoolers, and we felt that, by starting in the early grades and presenting age appropriate topics, we could ensure a solid foundation as we work to build a culture of life,” says Catherine Daub.
More advanced lessons come later, covering segments on prenatal growth, the disabled, abortion, and euthanasia. In fact, one message that rings loudly and clearly in all CLSP materials is the Catholic Church’s universal, holistic approach to respecting the life and dignity of every human being. CLSP elementary school unit studies teach respect for people with differences, for example, particularly those with physical or mental disabilities.
“If children have that respect for every human person solidly in their souls, they are more apt to grow and develop into pro-life adults,” says Mary Flores.
The Culture of Life Studies Program is a set of educational materials designed to be incorporated into existing curricula or lessons—whether in a traditional classroom, religious education, homeschool environment, or at home.
Catholic homeschooling families in particular have become ardent consumers of the Culture of Life Studies Program. This is largely due to the CLSP team understanding how homeschool families operate and making the program easy to teach for parents and teachers.
Nuts and bolts
The program is organized into three separate levels: K-3, 4-8, and high school. Within the levels are five educational series—Life Primer, Life Foundations, Life Lens, Life Quest, and Life Scope. Each series contains multiple supplements and a unique teaching technique geared toward various audiences.
That’s the big picture. But the CLSP team doesn’t neglect the small stuff. “When we began working on Life Is Precious and the unit studies that came later, our team kept the needs of teachers and parents in mind. We asked, ‘What materials will be needed to use this unit study?’” says Flores. “At the beginning of the study we included a comprehensive supply list and then a shorter list of supplies needed for each lesson. By doing so we succeeded in creating a very user friendly product with no surprises for a homeschooling parent or teacher.”
“We explain in detail what parents will need—scissors, construction paper, paste, you name it—before they get started. We want to make the experience as easy and productive as we can for teachers, parents, and children.”
The high school level unit studies are in-depth. A forthcoming supplement on abortion law, which will be ready for release in the fall of 2016, dissects the two January 22, 1973 Supreme Court decisions decriminalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Another multimedia educational supplement entitled Who Was the Real Margaret Sanger? which will debut in [the fall] of 2016, explores the legacy of Planned Parenthood and its founder. Public interest in this particular topic was sparked by the undercover videos produced last year by the Center for Medical Progress.
The CLSP team has taken special care to use language that is appropriate for each unit study’s target age. The team also aims to make everything lively, interesting, and down-to-earth. It relies heavily on a host of pro-life subject-matter experts for both authoring and review, but it also works to ensure ease of use and readability.
“People who are expert in their fields and close to certain subjects will often speak in language that may not be readily understood by our audience,” notes Daub. “Because we want our material to engage students, we work closely with both experts and teachers to ensure that our material is factually accurate, easily understood, and user friendly.”
“Our new videos series on Margaret Sanger is very engaging for students,” says Mary Kizior. “Combining lesson materials with multimedia and interactivity makes the material really come alive.”
Beginning last year, the CLSP team started attending educator and homeschooling conferences to market its products. These conferences are held throughout the US and often draw thousands of attendees. Sometimes parents aren’t immediately convinced they needed educational material with a pro-life focus.
“Parents will tell us ‘We’re already pro-life,’” observes Catherine Daub. “But what they don’t understand is the difference between simply being pro-life and really understanding pro-life topics. Families need to build that solid foundation in pro-life values so that we can change the culture. With CLSP, we give families the tools and resources they need to help their kids become effective pro-life advocates as they grow up.”
As the program gains momentum, new materials are constantly in development to meet the growing needs of parents and teachers. American Life League president Judie Brown spearheads each new project by connecting the CLSP team with pro-life subject-matter experts.
“I like to think of the Culture of Life Studies Program as a collaboration of the pro-life movement,” says Laura Kizior. “It’s that combination of new technology and the wisdom of pro-life leaders that makes CLSP stand out among other pro-life education programs.”
Once a supplement has gone through an initial development stage, parents and teachers are called upon to give their feedback.
“The input that we receive from parents and teachers is invaluable,” continues Laura Kizior. “Because they’re the ones who are actually using our supplements, it’s important for us to listen to their concerns in order to make the supplements as easy to use as possible.”
But parents and teachers are not the only ones who have responded favorably to CLSP. This past January, Laura Kizior and Mary Kizior were interviewed on EWTN’s At Home with Jim and Joy, and in March, Cardinal Burke wrote a letter to ALL president Judie Brown, expressing his endorsement of the program: “The Culture of Life Studies Program of American Life League provides an excellent program to teach children, from their earliest years through their teens, in an age-appropriate, consistent and systematic way, to understand and embrace the culture of life.”
The Culture of Life Studies Program has big plans for the future, which include the introduction of their first multimedia supplement series for high school students. A trailer for the team’s upcoming video on Margaret Sanger debuted at this year’s March for Life Conference, held January 21 in Washington, DC. It was clearly a hit among the high schoolers in attendance.
“Our booth was very popular and the students were riveted by the video trailer,” says Mary Kizior. Teens at the conference had heard of Margaret Sanger but assumed she was a decent person. Their jaws dropped as they learned of Sanger’s depraved ideas and tyrannical agenda.
The CLSP eventually plans to publish material online. It also hopes to broaden its focus. As a project of American Life League, both its educational content and marketing methods contain an explicitly Catholic focus. In the future, CLSP hopes to create versions of its materials that will work for all Christian teachers and parents.
The CLSP is also working to build alliances with like-minded organizations. Besides creating more distribution opportunities for the program, such alliances enable CLSP and other groups to share ideas and content and even collaborate on projects.
“I reach out to people by attending conferences and by participating in blogging forums for parents,” says Flores. “Homeschooling parents get a lot of their information from these forums. When one of these forums has good things to say about us and our program, it’s very beneficial.”
The team also recently attended a conference of Catholic religious educators. According to one elementary school educator, that diocese’s entire respect life curriculum has to be shoehorned into one day.
“That tells me we have a lot of work to do,” says Flores. “We will be reaching out to religious education directors on both the parish and diocesan level to make them aware of the importance of giving students these tools. We know that Planned Parenthood is working diligently in the public schools to defeat the culture of life, and we will continue to work diligently to counter them.”
Rob Sample is a freelance writer from Monroe, Connecticut, and father of two teenagers. He has worked in publishing and corporate communications for 30 years and has been published in a variety of business, scientific, religious, and educational publications.