Activism or Slacktivism: Kony 2012 as a Real Life Global Case Study for Social Studies Students

@dang38 I think that our class should watch the #KONY2012 video in class tomorrow. And I think we should try get the school to partakeinit” ~C.B. Gr.10 Student St.  Andrew’s School~

 I first heard of Kony 2012 when a student tweeted me the above link to the twenty-nine minute video asking if we could watch it in class and perhaps be part of the movement that the group Invisible Children was advocating. This was important in two ways. Firstly, as indicated in other recent blog posts, I have been working on developing use of social media in the classroom; so the fact that a student saw fit, the day they learned of the classroom hashtag, on their own time tweeted to the class hashtag, felt akin to instant gratification. The second matter of import was that the student was expressing concern for a global issue that was current and in the process of going viral. I immeadiately watched the video myself and began thinking about how I could leverage this interest in one of my students into a major teachable moment.

The next day, in Social 10, I posed the question as to whom had heard of Kony2012? I got a mixed response with approximately a third of the class having viewed the video at least once. I proceeded to give students no more background on the video than that it was a grassroots movement begun in the USA to bring an end to the actions of one Joseph Kony – a Ugandan warlord. I proceeded to play the video and you could have heard a pin drop for the ensuing 29 minutes. As soon as I put the video on pause the class erupted with a variety of responses to what they had just seen. We began to discuss the Kony video in three ways. First, in light of the situation that was going on in Central Africa; we began with the basics – who can locate Uganda on a map? I got a couple of quick witted responses along the lines of, “…. its in Africa”; to the usual accompanying laughter. This portion of the conversation also revolved around an explanation of the history of the use of child soldiers by a variety of factions in that part of Africa. Secondly we examined the larger use of child soldiers globally – I wanted to make it clear to my students that we were not simply dealing with an African occurrence; but one that impacts several continents and hundreds of thousands of children. Finally, we proceeded to analyze the media that we had been exposed to; resulting in a very interesting discussion on the use of media in a global world. The extension of this was of course to get their reactions to the content of the video that they had just watched. With this much accomplished for the day I decided to leave the matter for the moment and finished off with my regularly planned lesson.

That evening I spent time doing more research on Joseph Kony and the backlash that was occurring in the media to the activities of Invisible Children. I checked my twitter feed to find that a couple of students had posted links to some articles on both Kony and Uganda in general to the classroom hashtag. Again I experienced a true sense of gratification; as learning was moving outside of the classroom and outside of scheduled class time. I proceeded to check out several articles that were sent and others that I located myself and prepared for what I hoped would constitute another highly interactive current events lesson.

” I’ve always known that we need to take a stand the problem is I don’t know how. ~L.H. Gr. 10 Student St. Andrew’s School~

The following morning I asked students  where they were at with respect to how they felt about what they had seen. I began by pointing out one of my favorite aspects about Social Studies – that it serves to disquiet the mind; once you know something you cannot, for lack of a better way of saying it, un-know it. In the news over night there had been a series of articles and editorials both supporting and criticizing Invisible Children. I had a variety of these articles ready for each of the groups I assigned. The student were given 25 minutes to review their articles and create a graffiti post on a piece of chart paper that explained the nature of their article – each group was then tasked with sharing their findings. The results of the discussion were impressive as a variety of sources from international news papers to Invisible Children themselves made comment on the initiative of the organization.

Students Sharing Findings on Kony2012 Articles

“As big of an impact the Kony 2012 video innitally made, as the days pass many more people are going to [sit] back and do nothing, and soon enough, Kony 2012 will blow by and become another example of slactivism.” ~N.M. St. Grade 10 student St. Andrew’s School~

“The video is not really focusing on informing you about the Ugandan people’s situation as, it’s about changing the people’s hearts.” ~A.M. Gr. 10 student St. Andrew’s School~ 

As the days and coverage of the story has progressed it has dropped out of top spot on major social media feeds as well as in the eye of mainstream news media. Following this last activity I have allowed the matter to rest for a bit – except for integrating it into an assignment that involved assessing the validity and authority of a source. After reviewing the key concepts about how to assess the validity and authority of a source I got students to apply this skill to analysis of time lines on the internet that dealt with Kony and Uganda. After each student had completed their evaluation of the site we have spent the first 10 minutes of each period sharing the sites that they have located and evaluated. Students became more astute, as the sharing sessions continued, about each site and its advantages as a jumping off point for more research. It was amazing to hear students build on each others experiences and provide increasing depth of analysis – going so far as to indicate if this was a site that they would use in the future.

“Most people that watch the video stop there and do not go into further research, and that makes their head stuck on what the video is just saying and they have no back ground information on the subject.” ~L.P. Grade 10 student St. Andrew’s School~

Last week I asked the class, at the beginning of the period, which was worse – to be unaware of a situation or to be aware of a situation and consciously decide that you were not going to take action? The response to this question was what one would expect – that one needs to take action once one becomes aware of a problem – though often times the situation is overwhelming and it makes it difficult for a single person to feel that their participation can truly make a difference. Several students also thought that the media nightmare that the actions of several of the group’s members including Jason Russell, who seemingly had a mental breakdown following the video going viral, has served to harm the public image of the organization. The last things that I have done to this point with my students is to examine their views on the Kony2012 experiences that they have had to date and the role that media and technology have played in this learning. These items they shared in the form of a blog within our virtual classroom – these blogs form the majority of the source material for the quotations that are included in this article.

The extension activity that I will be doing with this group is to expand the skill set that they are developing. I am still working out the details for the individual research project that can be implemented using the inquiry, assessment and sharing skills that this particular initiative had helped develop. More on that later. Where to next? Well there is a new Invisible Children video that is making the rounds – looks like my current affairs segment is looked after for another week.

Finding the Time Thingy

“When do  you find the time to write?” The question is posed as a colleague and I are ushering our families into the showing of a movie at the local theater. I do not recall the answer that I provided but I am quite certain that it was along the lines of, “Oh you know, I work it in here and there,” accompanied by some self-effacing laughter the conversation turns to the weather, our spouses health, progress of children in school or one of a multitude of those everyday conversation threads that entwine themselves into the brief passage of two people.

While the question and its setting are quite happenstance their result has not been. A number of times this summer, when I have had the opportunity to sit and think – usually while driving between family during our vacation to the Maritimes, I have wondered when I am going to have the time to write and post with anything that resembles regularity? An examination of any of the blogs that I currently work on shows that I tend to only post when I am off of school for the summer. If, as you read this, you feel that perhaps I am exaggerating just a bit for some sort of editorial effect, I would offer in my defense that today is the 04-Nov-11 and this post has not been touched since the 19-Aug-11; driving home for me again the topic of this post – Finding the Time Thingy.

I tell my students that writing is one of the greatest self-indulgences that you can engage in – I have expounded on its cathartic qualities, its ability to allow a writer to reflect upon major or minor occurrences in their life and to, if they choose to share it, build connections to others around the world. While I occassionally assume the pulpit in this fashion with my students it is my own practice that I must seriously begin to examine. I must admit that the allure of writing usually coincides with times when I have much to do and very little time to do any of it. There is no question that I have a full schedule during the school year – though as some of my friends point out – it is a full schedule that is largely a result of my own choices. There is fire practice two evenings a month, two more for station maintenance, six evenings a month out for cadets not to mention about 6 weekends a year that are devoted to exercises and community service, and I play darts every Friday evening at the local legion. There is a third of my evenings and about one weekend a month – though in September and October of this year the only weekend that I had off was the Monday of Thanksgiving weekend. While this may seem like a normal range of activity for someone who values social interaction and wants to be involved in the community it does not reflect the number of nights and weekends that are given over to planning and marking during the school year – which erodes volumes of what others would consider to be disposable or personal time.

I am not complaining, only attempting to provide insight into the situation that I seem to have gotten myself into, as I do enjoy all of the activities that I am involved with; they provide me with a great deal of personal satisfaction – especially as  my son is involved in the Junior Firefighters program and both of my children are members of our Air Cadet Squadron. On the other side of the scales are the parts of my life that I would like to get reacquainted with; these include but are not limited to friends, writing, completing home renovations, my dogs and most importantly my wife. The question becomes how best to achieve some balance between these two competing aspects of my life. I have friends and family who in the past have said to me, “Just say no…” when I indicate that I cannot join them for a different activity or event my question to them has often been to which element or part of my life should I limit or eliminate. If we are, in part, formed and nurtured by these experiences then which parts can one limit or remove and continue on as before. In some instances there are others who could be impacted negatively should I make a decision to become less involved with say cadets or the fire service – do their needs, hopes, or demands get to play a role in decisions regarding what will constitute balance in my life?

Or, perhaps I am looking at this matter from too much of a balance perspective – perhaps balance is not to be found in this situation and what I really have to decide is am I happy with the way that I am now and the way that things are unfolding in the present. If I enjoy being heavily involved in my community, my profession, and all of these other things that contribute to making me who I am perhaps I need to be more accepting of where I am at in life. Perhaps I should simply take greater joy in the time that I do devote to any of the elements or tasks in my life that I do. Be grateful for the time that I do have to write, the time that I do spend with my family, fellow firefighters, friends, cadets and students rather than trying to figure out how to better compartmentalize and streamline my life.

In either case I will probably continue to smile, work in things like writing here and there and maintain the self-effacing laughter – it tends to keep a person “real”.

Write What you Know…

I am not sure how many times I have said these words to my students; but suffice it to say that both they and I have lost track of the number of times that I have tried to make this their mantra.

Often, when faced with the task of writing something, students will very often repeat the age old litany of complaints, “I can’t think of what to write.” or, “How long does this have to be?” or “Is there another project that I can do for credit?”

To these, and the myriad of other complaints associated with trying to motivate others to write, I respond with, “Write what you know.”

It seems an easy enough initial solution. Students often find it easier to write from their own experiences, hobbies, summer adventures and the like than attempting to invent some sort of narrative on the spot. I encourage them to use that which they have lived as it is easier for them to develop their descriptive writing, there is also a chronology of actual events that they can use to keep their story straight.

Early on I had to fine tune this mantra a bit as I had students that chose to “over share” events that they had attended that were not appropriate for school. This again proved, for some of my budding writers, to be a point of frustration – as one student chided me for censorship. I countered with the fact that while it may seem that way, in actuality it was about responsible writing – that one could be held accountable for that which they have chosen to write. In their particular case I explained, the parents of said budding writer may conclude that the written excerpt was tantamount to a confession about what had happened over the weekend and choose to proceed accordingly. At this point the objection to my “jack-booted” style of  censorship was immediately withdrawn and a more appropriate topic explored.

That said, I find myself in a bit of a quandary when it comes to my own writing. It feels like a classic case of, “do as I say not as I do,” as I explore the genre of writing that I really want to engage in – that of the fantastic. I must confess that though I have read a great deal of this sort of fiction and been taken away to castles, caverns, mountain tops and fiery pits where I have vicariously engaged in battle with everything from orcs to evil wizards; all of this falls outside of what I legitimately think of as “what I know.” So, my question at this point in the writing process is not how to overcome the writer’s block; it is a matter of figuring out how to “Write what I know” so that I can start down this path of exploration.

While this does amount to a self reflection question – I would welcome people’s thoughts or links to posts that might be of assistance in this matter.

Published in: on July 30, 2011 at 2:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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