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.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Investigating the Media: from September 11 to September 21

It is no surprise to friends and colleagues that one of the books I read this summer was Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace, by Douglas Fry (2009).  What does surprise some is the author’s thesis: For most of human history, humans have found ways to solve problems without war, through courage, conflict resolution, generosity, forgiveness, humor, and creativity. 
As an anthropologist, a student of humanity, Fry criticizes the tendency of many historians and anthropologists to over-emphasize war in the history of human behavior.  For the present and future, his research “suggests that humans have the capacity to replace the institution of war with international conflict resolution procedures to ensure justice, human rights, and security for the people of the world….”  In spite of the fact that many people think that peace building is impossible, Fry sees this potential for active peace building in human beings today, and he wants us to focus upon this positive view of human potential.  So do I.  

When I go looking for peace in the news, I can find it: people doing the impossible—using courage, conflict resolution, generosity, forgiveness, humor, and creativity.  The problem is: I have to look for peace news—it doesn’t seem to make the front page.  Our media seem to focus on the bad news instead, using the unfortunate motto: “If it bleeds, it leads.” 

That’s one reason the United Nations declared September 21 the International Day of Peace “devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.”  It is hoped that we can take one day, at least, to focus on the promise of peace.

Investigating the media: September 11-21

During the month of September, in the days between September 11 and September 21, my students and I investigate the effects of the media on our perceptions and emotions.  The anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001 comes quickly during the opening days of school.  The tragedy offers a host of important learning opportunities for our students and our country.  Yet, this event is too often covered in the mainstream media with a harmful absence of critical thinking and background information.

In the May/June 2002 Columbia Journalism Review, journalist Russ Baker (2002) chastised fellow members of the press for “wrapping themselves in stars-and stripes graphics” rather than asking tough-minded questions about the attacks and the American response.  He continued with a helpful clarification that it is necessary to “distinguish between patriotism, love of one’s country, and nationalism—the exalting of one’s nation and its culture and interests above all others.  If patriotism is a kind of affection,” he writes, “nationalism is its dark side.”  Students are able to understand this distinction, and it helps them evaluate media coverage of such events as 9-11.

The Center for Media Literacy offers us five questions to help us analyze media:

1. Who created this message and why are they sending it?
2. What techniques are used to attract and hold attention?
3. What lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented in this message?
4. What is omitted from this message? Why do you think it was left out?
5. How might different people interpret this message?

My students and I also use the research of Robin H. Gurwitch, modifying ideas from her Building Strength through Knowledge lessons for our students. 

Students keep simple media logs in the days surrounding September 11th.  They determine the emotional effects of specific media coverage in a category called “Promotes Healthy Mental Outlook vs. Hindrance to Healing.” Next, they tackle the category “Informational and Factual vs. Sensationalism.”  Some students are quite astute at seeing sensationalism for what it is. They appreciate historically comprehensive coverage while chastising channels for repetitive replaying of the burning Twin Towers, manipulation of images, and intrusive interviews, for example.  Finally, students determine whether coverage “Promotes Patriotism vs. Nationalism and Isolationism.”

Students build understanding of words that will help them analyze media coverage of 9-11: patriotism, nationalism, emotions, empathy, empowerment, resiliency, media, opinion, fact, sensationalism, manipulation, terrorism, and isolationism.  Family participation is key to a meaningful outcome. Indeed, in a letter home to families explaining our rationales, we strongly encourage adults to actively participate in the exercises, to discuss their own understandings and feelings with their children, and to listen to their children’s responses. We assure families that we are not asking them to immerse themselves in media coverage of 9-11, but that we want students to evaluate the effects of the various media upon them. 

We move from investigation of media coverage of 9-11-related events to local and global peacebuilding efforts.   

If the only knowledge students (and sometimes parents) have comes from superficial news coverage, teachers have to work extremely hard to bring historical perspective, controversies, and multiple sources of information into the classroom. And students appreciate it!  Further, if the only emphasis on current events is on negativity and violence, students do not appreciate the tenacity of local and global heroes working non-violently for justice and peace.

Returning to the same online and print news sources, we celebrate International Peace Day, September 21, with an analysis of neighborhood and international peace news.  

Before we can celebrate, however, students come to class complaining, “Mrs. Cannon, I can’t find anything positive in the news.”  Their complaints lead to discussion of why media focus on negativity and violence.  A perfect example is the fact that most of my students have heard of the Kony 2012 video that went viral in the spring.  It described the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army’s war against the government and people of Uganda.  But most students never heard of the Ugandan peacebuilder, Betty Bigombe, Ugandan government minister and peace activist who has worked for peace in Uganda for decades.  She says, “When you bring a political solution to any kind of violent conflict, then all these other underlying causes are addressed, and therefore people can start living together in harmony.  Peace is absolutely possible….”   I introduce her to them through a short online video.

After we watch the video demonstrating Bigombe’s courage and creativity in working for peace, we bring the search for peace news closer to home.  We identify issues of social justice, human rights, global outreach, and environmental sustainability to help students see that there is good news to be found—if they look hard enough.  I model such discoveries often, sharing with them news of neighbors beginning food banks and urban gardens, children starting animal shelters, and courageous peacebuilders around the world creating frameworks of durable, active, peace.  We use these examples as models to emulate—beginning our efforts in the world of our classrooms and school, working to make them safe, respectful, and welcoming places for all.

From 9-11 to Peace Day, students appreciate the chance to interpret media influence on their lives.  We can inoculate students to resist the mind-numbing impact of media in their lives. By helping students develop tools with which to engage with various media, questions to ask about the origins and purpose, and opportunities to discuss their emotional and critical reactions with parents and teachers, we can introduce a lifelong habit of critical—versus thoughtless—media consumption to our students and families. 

Finally, with a practical optimism about humanity’s potential, we can also help students identify the peacebuilding work going on around them—on Peace Day and every day.  Surely, they will feel empowered to join the effort to build a peaceful future.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Non-Violent Labor & Civil Rights Pioneer: A. Philip Randolph

For Labor Day: 

Learn about A. Philip Randolph, nonviolent labor organizer and civil rights pioneer (1889-1979).  Randolph founded and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  He bucked race barriers to build this organization of black workers into a strong and successful one, earning a contract in 1937 with the Pullman Company.  When Randolph told President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 that he would lead an anti-discrimination protest march on Washington, D.C., Roosevelt issued an executive order against discrimination in federal agencies, creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee.  Teach your students about the life and work of A. Philip Randolph