By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.

Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Teaching about Muhammad Ali: Olympian, Boxing Champ, Humanitarian, & 2012 Liberty Medal Recipient

Muhammad Ali was recently announced as the recipient of the National Constitution Center’s 2012 Liberty Medal, awarded to “individuals of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe.”  The award makes me smile.  I never liked boxing as a sport, but I always liked Muhammad Ali.  Aside from his obvious talent, Ali had guts, he spoke out, he was funny, and he refused to fight in a war I also protested.   His religious views interested me in Islam, and his views on civil rights provoked me to become a more multicultural person.  Using his world-renown, he embarked on citizen diplomacy missions whose success intrigues me.  Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Ali continues to work for the greater good: “I wanted to use my fame, and this face that everyone knows so well, to help uplift and inspire people around the world.”

This complex figure is one who will captivate the imaginations of students: a world famous athlete and humanitarian with a hip-hop wit and outspoken views.  Ali’s civil rights, humanitarian, diplomacy, and anti-war and anti-racism work are deserving of attention in the classroom. 

The links below are good tools for introducing students to Muhammad Ali.  Numerous encyclopedia articles and biographies are also available.  In 1967, Ali spoke out dramatically against the Vietnam War. The YouTube video provides details of Ali’s refusal to be drafted that galvanized the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s-70s.  The Constitution Center announcement provides background information on the Award and Ali’s career.  The Ali Center website provides videos featuring the Center’s core principles (respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, spirituality, and giving) and a Peace Garden curriculum, inviting schools in underserved communities to apply for funding to plant gardens.  Finally, the Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Staff provides a strong defense of Ali’s choice as Liberty Medal recipient. 

The selection of Muhammad Ali is controversial, and this aspect of the award is one to pursue with students.  For example, the Inquirer website has a reader poll featuring questions suitable for a classroom debate: Was it right to give boxing great Muhammad Ali the 2012 Liberty Medal?  Yes, honors his fight for religious freedom…  No, he dodged the Vietnam draft…. Yes, despite Parkinson's, he's devoted himself to traveling the world on humanitarian missions….  No, better candidates than a former heavyweight boxer…. Other aspects of Ali’s life provide students with opportunities to explore such topics as the relationship between the religion of Islam and the Nation of Islam, freedom of religion afforded under the U.S. 1st Amendment, the U.S. civil rights and anti-war movements, diplomatic and hostage crises from Lebanon to Afghanistan, and brain injury among athletes.  Ali will receive the award in a ceremony in Philadelphia on September 13, 2012.

·         Link to YouTube Video—Muhammad Ali: Went to jail rather than be drafted for war:    Muhammad Ali defends his 1967 decision to refuse to fight in Vietnam: "My conscious won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father....”

·         Link to National Constitution Center announcement of Muhammad Ali as winner of 2012 Liberty Medal:

·         Link to Ali Center:  

·         Link to Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial praising the decision:  Ali a good choice for the Liberty Medal

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Revolution in our Thinking -- July 4th

On the resource-rich Zinn Education Project website, Bill Bigelow of Rethinking Schools asks us to rethink the 4th of July.  He writes:

[T]here is something profoundly inappropriate about blowing off fireworks at a time when the United States is waging war with real fireworks around the world….  U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone have killed more than 200 people, including at least 60 children. And, of course, the U.S. war in Afghanistan drags on and on. The pretend war of celebratory fireworks thus becomes part of a propaganda campaign that inures us—especially the children among us—to the real wars half a world away….
Bigelow invites readers—especially teachers—to investigate other ways to look at July 4th.  For example, he suggests employing Ray Raphael’s research depicting a more complete story of the American Revolution.  Raphael writes about omissions from American school textbooks of the active participation of lower and middle class Americans in working for independence, as well as the 90 “declarations of independence” from various localities that preceded Jefferson’s version. 

I ask my students to consider whether the Revolutionary War itself was even necessary.  For years, I have incorporated non-violence strategist Gene Sharp’s March 1976 article, Disregarded History, to enhance students’ understanding of successful nonviolent techniques Americans used in the years preceding the Revolutionary War.  As my students formally debate whether the American Revolution was necessary in order for the United States to become independent, we realize there are many legitimate arguments suggesting that the protracted and bloody conflict could have been avoided with continuing economic boycotts and collective nonviolent actions that had already proven effective by 1776.  Read about numerous instances of economic and political non-cooperation Sharp details in the section American Colonial Nonviolence, circa 1776.

Teachers also need to help students rethink what the American Revolution meant to American Indians and enslaved Africans.  “Should they celebrate July 4th as Independence Day?” I query.  In years of asking students to consider this question, only one parent has objected.  But to numerous students (and many families) the question was an eye opener, leading to critical and heartfelt exploration of the painful violence toward Indians and enslaved Africans perpetrated by our country’s founders.
Bigelow refers to Frederick Douglass’s 1851 speech about the 4th of July:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?  I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.  To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity….
Completing the American Revolution for many African Americans is a process still underway.  But revolutionary—and nonviolent—action for equal rights is detailed compellingly in the 2001 movie A Force More Powerful and in a 2012 speech by Civil Rights leader Dr. James Lawson.  Lawson studied Gandhian nonviolence in India and incorporated techniques of nonviolent direct action in such effective Civil Rights campaigns as lunch counter sit-ins in the American South.  To become critically thinking citizens, our students must learn that these stories, too, are part of the American Revolution.

I ask my students to consider whether citizens of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan might look at American soldiers as occupiers—as Americans thought of British soldiers in the 1700s.  We compare the “messiness” of the American Revolution with the “messiness” of current revolutions around the world.  By considering such diverse aspects of July 4th, are we asking our students to become anti-American?  Of course not.  Are we asking them to be thoughtful Americans?  Yes. 

I agree with Bigelow that 4th of July fireworks can be jingoistic and disturbing.  But I also use their noise and smell to evoke empathy in my students for their global neighbors—kids like themselves—who live in war zones, who experience American drone attacks, and who experience the shocks of blast after blast—night after night.  Is this something our students want for themselves or their fellow children on the planet?  Aren’t “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” rights they want for all members of the human family?

Former president Jimmy Carter asks Americans to remember another declaration of rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, establishing “equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile….”  In a June 2012 op-ed piece, Carter bemoans the direction of U.S. foreign policy, with assassinations, drone attacks on civilians, and torture:

At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of law and principles of justice enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But instead of making the world safer, America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends….
During my peace education sabbatical year in 2005-06, I asked Norwegian peace mediator Johan Galtung what American youth most need to understand about their role in the world.  He answered that most of the world’s citizens want Americans to walk humbly—to realize that the United States is a nation among nations—and that we need to cooperate with the world community.  Days like the 4th of July, or September 11th, or the International Day of Peace give us opportunities to awaken a thoughtful and active spirit of American and global citizenship in our students.  Let’s empower them to rethink our revolution.