Kony 2012- A Teachable Moment

By Caitlin Krause

Middle School English and Media Teacher

St. John’s International School, Belgium

8th GRADE ENGLISH:  KONY 2012 CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE

Regarding Kony 2012, the past ten days have been an absolute blur.  At each step, I have felt as if I am learning, too.  It was impossible to ignore this chance to bring such a dialogue into the English classroom; every student was talking about the video, relating it to class discussions.  They were passionate about expressing feelings about it—what a great opportunity for teaching! 

Still, there was no template, nor a set curriculum for such a thing, so it involved a great deal of energy, risk, curiosity, and communication, every step of the way.

The following are highlights from the past week and a half:

1. The Kony 2012 Video (http://vimeo.com/37119711)

I first heard about the video through friends and students in early March.  I watched it, and was curious about what students were thinking about it.  It is such a powerful, persuasive piece, and we had just been talking about persuasive writing in class.  We watched the Kony video in class together, and during the viewing, students had journals open and were told to write down their reactions, and also an evaluation of the ways in which the video works to persuade its audience.  We had been working with Rhetorical Devices, so students could reference appeals to Ethos, Pathos and Logos.  I also asked them to evaluate how graphics, music, and the use of technology (i.e. social networking, bracelets with codes, etc.) can make a difference in mass appeal of a social cause.  Their homework was to go home and complete the journal entry, and also gather (and read) three reliable sources outside of the Invisible Children source that talk about the issue.

2. Research

On my own, I read the following posts and articles, and received more news from friends.  During successive classes, students and I shared what we learned as we looked through the internet for reliable sources.  It led to great discussions about how to trust online sources, and what we think of the issue in general.  The following are two of the sources that we added to our collective gathering of information:

http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/07/guest_post_joseph_kony_is_not_in_uganda_and_other_complicated_things 

http://boingboing.net/2012/03/08/african-voices-respond-to-hype.html#previouspost

3. Viewpoints Voiced

When students returned to the following class, they were each given an index card with a different keyword/phrase on it.  These words included: ETHOS, PATHOS, LOGOS, PROPAGANDA, HYPE, NATURAL LAW, SOCIAL JUSTICE, etc. 

Each student wrote in his/her journal for ten minutes about the word and the way in which it could be linked to the video, in his/her opinion.  Then, they presented their thoughts to the class for 30 seconds each; this was a set time, so that everyone could have the chance to speak. 

However, there was no set order of speaking; students had to listen to each other’s presentations and decide their own “link” to the previous speaker, and stand up when they thought it was appropriate.  It gave us the chance to talk about issues in a philosophical sense, using the Kony case as a platform for discussing how media can operate on us.  The dynamic in class was incredible and powerful: students listened to each other and respected different opinions, and they were truly thoughtful in their responses and connections made.   In the end, we were all questioning social media and the role it can play in events involving Social Justice.  Ultimately, it’s about hearing different viewpoints; sometimes, “truths” can have many layers… 

4. Media and Debates

In media studies class, we formed a roundtable debate.  Five volunteers sat in an inner circle, facing each other.  These were the “Speakers”, who were required to speak their minds about the Kony case, while the other members of class formed a larger circle around them (I was part of this larger circle; we were known as the “Community”).  The Community was silent as the Speakers debated for about ten minutes, respectfully postulating and ultimately debating all sides of the issue, with no prompting from me or from the rest of the Community.  This was fascinating to witness, too.  The Debaters made many points; among them, the issue was raised about trusting philanthropic organizations that seem to have questionable financial practices.  Once the debate had ended, the larger class Community joined in the discussion, reacting to what had been said.  We then watched part of the Kony video announcement from CEO Ben Keesey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=cRx8aXaJ_Cs#!

We also read an article together; an Op/Ed piece by the journalist Nicholas D. Kristof:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/opinion/kristof-viral-video-vicious-warlord.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120315 

5. The Bigger Picture:

This was, essentially, an exciting past ten days that offered innumerable “teachable moments”, often occurring at such a rapid pace.  At each step, I was planning and reacting often simultaneously, thinking of what would be a learning benefit.  Looking back, I marvel at how much the students were able to address and learn, in the context of English and beyond.  They reacted to a powerful piece of rhetoric in mainstream media and evaluated it with care and precision; they researched for evidence and read articles.  They then parsed this information and tried to make sense of it.  They did not do this alone.  They shared this experience with families at home, and with teachers at school.  We were all open and learning along the way. 

I believe there are several lessons here; many more than I can name.  The first is about time.  I had an expectation for the week, which involved finishing the analysis of The Cask of Amontillado in class and moving on to discuss the background of the play Antigone.  Then, Kony was on every student’s mind, and I shifted my plans.  I felt that this issue demanded attention, not because it superseded Edgar Allan Poe or courses of study, but because the students were seeking answers, and it was a powerful moment for me to be right at their side.  Turning away from the issue and ignoring it was simply not an option.  We learned so much about persuasion (which, incidentally, ties in with Poe’s story quite well); we addressed concepts of Justice and Natural Law that will also link to Antigone, without a doubt.  What we shared in the past week was a true learning experience, in which there are no easy answers.

So much of education, I find, involves not seeking the one right answer, but instead, considering multiple views and cultivating innumerable questions… allowing oneself to have an open, questioning mind; a mind that respects others’ viewpoints, even as it forms its own convictions and beliefs.  This is somewhat paradoxical, I recognize, and, as a result, students are seeking much more than raw knowledge.   They are developing complex skills that are lifelong assets.

I was impressed by the dynamic working in the English classes over the past week, as the students formed communities together, and each community then grappled with this Kony issue that is complex in its many aspects.   The support that they gave to each other along this journey truly represented the Middle School Values of Companionship, Integrity, and Respect.

I wish to reach out and connect with other teachers and parents, too, because I know that the experience we shared involved a great deal of support beyond the English classroom.  Thank you for talking about this at home; for listening to the questions; for connecting with our class.  In my view, this is the best supportive platform we can provide, during a time when there are often many more questions than easy answers. 

This brings me to the article that I encountered today:

http://mindshift.kqed.org/2012/03/kony-2012-viral-video-prompts-a-teachable-moment/

Caitlin Krause

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