Sample Readings for the CATW

What is Quality of Life? Adapted from Francisco Orozco

When you have the chance to live in another country, you realize how different people's values and lives can be. In some countries, people judge their quality of life by the amount of material goods they have. In others, material goods are not as important. When we talk about improving quality of life, it is a mistake to look only at the material side and ignore the spiritual side of life.

On the spiritual side, quality of life means having spare time for family and friends and for learning about art, music, and traditions. It can also mean thinking of yourself as useful to others and not feeling that you have to make more money than you need. When I stayed in a town in southern Mexico, I understood that quality of life is about more than modern material goods. As I walked through the streets, I saw neighbors talking to one another, artists selling traditional crafts, and musicians playing. The people in this town seemed to live happily despite their material poverty. Their traditional life produced a more stable society than one governed by money and goods.

It is true that a country whose society is more non-material may also have disadvantages like poor-quality roads and hospitals. In addition, a higher standard of living brings new technologies as well as better social and medical services that can make people's lives more comfortable. However, a higher standard of living can have negative results, such as increased crime and weak ties between family members and neighbors. This leads to a poor spiritual quality of life, which can mean that people living in this society may be more stressed and depressed even though they have more wealth.

Healthy Solution: Taxing Sodas. Adapted from an editorial by the New York Times Editorial Board

Seldom does one idea help fix two important problems, but a proposal to tax sugary soft drinks in New York State is just that sort of 2-for-1 solution. The penny-per-ounce tax on sodas and other sweetened drinks is a way to raise desperately needed money for the city and state in a bad economy. It also could help lower obesity rates, which have soared in recent years. The Legislature in Albany should adopt this tax quickly.

New York's governor dropped a proposed tax on sodas last year in the face of industry opposition, and lobbyists for soda companies are already denouncing the new proposal as unfair to lower-income families struggling through a recession.

It is time for Albany's lawmakers to stand firm against the soft-drink lobby. Their claim to be standing up for New York's poorest residents obscures the fact that those same people are their customers of choice. Poorer people, who lack healthy food choices, too often overload on sugar-laden soft drinks. Even though soft drinks are not the only cause of obesity, people in lower-income areas tend to suffer more from obesity, diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses.

The costs of health care for these illnesses are rising steadily. State budget analysts estimate that obesity-related problems cost the state an estimated $7.6 billion annually. This tax could bring in about $1 billion a year to help with those costs. The soda tax is supported by most health professionals across the state. The idea also got an important endorsement this week from Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, who said it could "make a major dent in obesity."

Mr. Bloomberg compared the tax on sodas to the steep taxes on cigarettes, which helped discourage many people from smoking. He estimated that the soda tax could cut consumption by 10 percent.

Are women really better at multi-tasking? Adapted from The Week July 20, 2010

It's official: Women really are better than men at juggling more than one task at once. At least, that's the claim being made by a team of British researchers. They gathered 100 students — 50 men and 50 women — and gave them eight minutes to perform three tasks at the same time. They all got the same tasks, which included solving simple math problems, finding restaurants on a map, and devising a strategy for finding a lost key in an imaginary field. Then, while they were juggling those assignments, the subjects received a telephone call, which they could answer or ignore. If they answered, they were asked some general knowledge questions while they continued the original tasks.

The women had few problems handling everything at once. In fact, 70 percent of them performed better than their average male counterparts. The men handled the math questions without many problems, and did OK pinpointing the map locations. But the women put them to shame when it came to the most complicated task, developing a plan for finding the lost key.

Men didn't approach the job logically. They just jumped into the middle of the field and dashed around looking for the key, never managing to cover the entire area. Women, however, tended to start in one corner, and methodically search the whole field moving out in concentric circles or lines. "It shows that women are better at being able to stand back," says one researcher, "and reflect for a moment while they are juggling other things."

However, there is evidence that multitasking is a drag on productivity for pretty much everyone, regardless of gender. The reason for that relates to basic structure of the brain: The right and left hemispheres cooperate when working on a single task, says researcher Dr. Etienne Koechlin. "But in two tasks, one hemisphere covers the reward of one task and the other hemisphere covers the reward of the other." That, unfortunately, applies to both genders.

Where Sweatshops Are a Dream. Adapted from Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times January 15, 2009

Many Americans are deeply offended by the idea of buying products that are produced in "sweatshops" in poor areas of developing countries where workers, often children, are paid unimaginably low wages in dangerous factories. These well-meaning people want to try to enforce fair labor standards in trade agreements so that factories have decent conditions and wages. They are concerned about the way that sweatshops exploit the poor.

But the problem really is that there are not enough sweatshops. For families who live in the dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, scavenging for garbage they could sell for five cents a pound, a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream. It is an escalator out of poverty, the kind of ambition that parents everywhere have for their children.

Sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause. Banning them because they do not meet the human rights standards of developed countries closes off one route out of poverty. In many poor countries, slaving away at a sewing machine is a good job.

Many people who work in development are coming to believe that one of the best hopes for the poorest countries would be to build their manufacturing industries. But global campaigns against sweatshops make that unlikely.

Americans have a hard time accepting that sweatshops can help people. But take it from 13-year-old Neuo Chanthou, who earns a bit less than $1 a day scavenging in the dump. She's wearing a "Playboy" shirt and hat that she found amid the filth, and she worries about her sister, who lost part of her hand when a garbage truck ran over her.

"It's dirty, hot and smelly here," she said wistfully. "A factory is better."

Playtime Is Over. Adapted from an article by DAVID ELKIND

Recess is no longer child's play. Schools around the country, concerned about bullying and arguments over the use of the equipment, are increasingly hiring "recess coaches" to oversee students' free time. Playworks, a nonprofit training company has already placed coaches at 170 schools from Boston to Los Angeles.

Critics have suggested that such coaching is yet another example of the over-scheduling and over-programming of our children. I probably have agreed with these critics in the past, but childhood has changed so radically in recent years that I think the trend makes sense, at least at some schools and with some students.

Children today are growing up in a world vastly different from the one their parents knew. Children aged 6 to 11 spend more than 28 hours a week using computers, cell phones, televisions and other electronic devices. Similarly, children on the whole lost 12 hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities.

One consequence of these changes is the disappearance of what child-development experts call "the culture of childhood." For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process. They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair.

We have to adapt to childhood as it is today, not as we knew it or would like it to be. The question isn't whether recess coaches are good or bad — they seem to be with us to stay — but whether they help students form the age-old bonds of childhood. To the extent that the coaches focus on play, give children freedom of choice about what they want to do, and stay out of the way as much as possible, they are likely a good influence.

In any case, recess coaching is a vastly better solution than eliminating recess in favor of more academics. Not only does recess aid personal development, but studies have found that children who are most physically fit tend to score highest on tests of reading, math and science.

Thumbs on the Wheel. Adapted from an editorial by MARK A. SHIFFRIN and AVI SILBERSCHATZ

Support is building in Congress for legislation that would require states to outlaw texting or e-mailing while driving. Such distractions cause tens of thousands of deaths each year. We believe the way to stop people from using cellphones while driving is NOT to make it a crime. Too many drivers value convenience more than safety and would assume they wouldn't get caught. A more effective approach is to get telecommunications companies to tweak technology to make it difficult or impossible to text and drive.

When a cellphone is used in a moving car, its signal must be handed off from one cell tower to the next along the route. This process tells the service provider that the phone is in motion. Cellphone towers could be engineered to not transmit while a phone is traveling. After a phone had stopped moving for a certain amount of time — three minutes, maybe — it would be able to transmit again.

Another solution would be to install hardware in cars and software in cellphones that would disable some phone functions when cars are moving. It would be the electronics equivalent of putting a guard on a knife handle or a grill over the blades of a fan.

This would, of course, affect passengers in moving cars as well as drivers. The inconvenience would arguably be worth it. But it is also easy to imagine technology that would allow only passengers to use their phones — by tethering them to devices, placed on the passenger side of the car, that would override the system.

While texting behind the wheel is a problem today, innovations may give rise to other risky behaviors within a few years, if not months. The best solutions will come not from lawmakers plugging holes in the dike, but from the engineers finding ways to make products safer.

In Groups We Shrink. Adapted from an article by Carol Tavris. Originally published in the Los Angeles Times, 1991.

Something happens to individuals when they are in a group. They think and act differently than they would on their own. Most people, if they observe some disaster or danger on their own—a woman being stabbed, a pedestrian slammed by a hit-and-run driver—will at least call for help; many will even risk their own safety to intervene. But if they are in a group observing the same danger, they hold back. The reason has more to do with the nature of groups than the nature of individuals.

In one experiment in behavioral psychology, students were seated in a room, either alone or in groups of three, as a staged emergency occurred: Smoke began pouring through the vents. Students who were on their own usually hesitated a minute, got up, checked the vents and then went out to report what certainly seemed like a fire. But the students who were sitting in groups of three did not move. They sat there for six minutes, with smoke so thick they could barely see, rubbing their eyes and coughing.

In another experiment, psychologists staged a situation in which people overheard a loud crash, a scream and a woman in pain, moaning that her ankle was broken. Seventy percent of those who were alone when the "accident" occurred went to her aid, compared with only 40 percent of those who heard her in the presence of another person.

Psychologists call this "diffusion of responsibility" or "social loafing." The more people in a group, the lazier each individual in it becomes. Often, observers think nothing needs to be done because someone else has already taken care of it, and the more observers there are, the less likely any one person is to call for help.

Is Music a Good Tool for Health? Adapted from "How and Why Is Music a Good Tool For Health?" by Elizabeth Scott, M.S. Guide.

Updated November 22, 2009.

Research has shown that music has a profound effect on your body and mind. In fact, there's a growing field of health care known as music therapy, which uses music to heal. Those who practice music therapy are finding a benefit in using music to help cancer patients, children with attention problems, and others. Hospitals are beginning to use music therapy to help with pain management, depression, to promote movement, to calm patients, to ease muscle tension, and other benefits. This is not surprising, as music affects the body and mind in many powerful ways.

For example, research has shown that music with a strong beat can stimulate brainwaves to synchronize with the beat. Faster beats bring sharper concentration and more alert thinking. Slower beats promote a calm, meditative state. Even after you've stopped listening, the change in brainwave activity that music causes can continue, which means that music can bring lasting benefits to your state of mind.

In another example, research shows that breathing and heart rate may be affected by the changes music can bring. This may mean slower breathing, slower heart rate, and an activation of the relaxation response, among other things. This is why music and music therapy can help prevent the damaging effects of chronic stress, thereby aiding not only relaxation, but also health. Music can also be used to bring a more positive state of mind, helping to keep depression and anxiety under control.

With these and other benefits, it's no surprise that music therapy is growing in popularity.

Writing Directions

Read the passage above and write an essay responding to the ideas it presents. In your essay, be sure to summarize the passage in your own words, stating the author's most important ideas. Develop your essay by identifying one idea in the passage that you feel is especially significant, and explain its significance. Support your claims with evidence or examples drawn from what you have read, learned in school, and/or personally experienced. Remember to review your essay and make any changes or corrections that are needed to help your reader follow your thinking. You will have 90 minutes to complete your essay.