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Students on a Global Stage

Image originally uploaded on 2010-10-31 02:53

Essential Guiding Question: How can technology help my students see themselves as citizens of the Global World and take part in a social action project to push for positive change?

One of the many marvels of technology in the classroom is the realization that the world of student learning no longer needs to be contained within the four walls of the classroom. An internet connection is a passport for many young people to discover facets of cultures and lands that otherwise might have been undiscovered country. As educators, we should try to tap into both that opening of the world and our students’ interest in technology and connecting with others to engage them in global affairs in meaningful ways. The Many Voices for Darfur project is one such example of how students in my relatively sheltered suburban school district in Western Massachusetts were able to use the power of persuasive writing and their own voices to engage on the world stage on an issue of poverty, violence and inequity in Sudan, Africa.

The brainchild of George Mayo and Wendy Drexler, the Many Voices for Darfur project was conceived during the 2007-08 school year as both George and Wendy, after meeting for the first time at a conference, proposed using the concept of Weblogs for social action with students. Their idea: to have a single day when young people from all of the world would provide evidence and persuasion for world leaders to act aggressively to bring peace to the Darfur region of the Sudan, where militias were decimating villages and causing atrocities against the Darfur people.

In the weeks leading up to the launch of the Many Voices for Darfur project, my sixth graders worked hard to come to understand what was going on in an area of the world they had not often thought about. We watched documentary videos, read articles and had frank discussions about what it would be like to live under such conditions. As it turned out, we were also in the midst of lessons around paragraph writing in our curriculum and the idea of using their emerging persuasive skills for an authentic audience on a global stage made sense to them.

Image originally uploaded on 2010-10-31 02:51
(Student Sample)

But students wanted to take it even farther. Throughout the year, we engaged in various podcasting projects as we talked about the use of “voice” of the writer to engage readers and listeners on different levels. After going through the research, planning, drafting and revision stages of writing their persuasive paragraphs, we moved to recording them reading their own compositions as podcasts. Grouped together as a class, the collective power of their voices lent another dimension to their pleas to government officials to do something to end the violence.

Still others began to create Powerpoint presentations with the information they had gathered during their research stage. They used visuals to bring home the fact that people were suffering and that it had to stop.

And then, there was our music video. We were inspired by a video by the group Mettafix, which wrote a song about the Darfur refugees and created a touching video that amazed my students. I suggested we could do the same. After students and I collectively brainstorming lyrics that would provide the framework for our views on the crisis in Darfur, I created music using an online music composition tool (called JamStudio) and recorded the lead vocals, with all four of my classes of sixth graders mixing in their voices as back-up on the chorus (with Audacity software). We then gathered images and created our own music video that we shared with the Many Voices for Darfur projects.

All of these mediums of media then came together on the day of the Many Voices for Darfur initiative, as my students went online and transformed into multimedia bloggers – posting not only their persuasive writing, but also their voices and for some, their collected images. By the end of the project, there were more than 650 different students writing on the same topic and calling for social justice in the Sudan.

As a school, we felt part of something larger than our small school. Posts on the blog came from all over the world as young people from various countries joined in the call for peace and the end of violence. As a class, we discussed common themes and wondered whether the writing would have any real impact on politicians who could make as difference. The violence in Darfur unfortunately continues to this day, but I would not call the work of my students wasted as I know that most of them, and their parents, still follow the developments in Africa closer than they had prior to the project and that may yet transform the world into something more positive

Discussions About This Resource

dogtrax's picture

I was in a workshop once, and shared this project and the Darfur song/video that I did with my students, and one teacher pretty heatedly told me I was exploiting the folks in those images. I explained how we did the song -- through serious research and looking at a variety of sources - but her criticism stung, and I wonder if you have the same
reaction.

Would you include the video here in this resource?

Kevin

Elyse Eidman-Aadahl's picture

This is such an important question that it seems to me reason alone to consider the video. Once I read through to your teacher reflection, it took on a different significance.  The question about the video itself seemed localized to the video as a product.  In your reflection, the comments took on the force of commentary about the Darfur project itself.

In terms of the video, the critique of the use of images of human suffering is an important and long one in development work and global action projects.  it is, of course, everywhere, and the images are powerful motivators of action whether they are are conflict or starvation or tragedy like flooding. And the action is intended to help the suffering, so the intended effect is often achieved.  

But folks do note that the cumulative effect of seeing such images might be to cast these people -- generally of color and in poorer nations -- as unable to manage their affairs, as only a 'drain' on the largesse of wealthier nations, etc.  Over the last 15 - 20 years, media watchers have seen several large global charities, for example, remake the way their feature the recipients of charity (think Children's Fund as an example) as full of potential and deserving of investment as opposed to beleaguered and deserving of help.  Your question reminded me of this issue.

So with that in mind, I was looking at the film itself.  One thing that struck me is that the context for the images is not easily developed in a music video, so the images didn't seem to be nested within an argument that would make them feel 'required'. I was interested in the shot of the hat with "don't look away" (or something like that), and wondered whether it would have felt different if some of the images would have come then -- as if in an argumentative structure. Or, if after the map image, some of the images of Darfur in stable times might have come then.  So for me as a viewer the issue of whether the images are exploitative connects to whether they are used within the argument of the piece that made them necessary then and there, as opposed to general imagery.

But your reflection that referred to the comment on the last page of your resource seemed to raise the ante to talking about the whole project itself, which would include the larger Darfur project and its engagement and 'use' of young people.  I've heard this argument before too -- that these large scale social action projects, when they become the stuff of schooling, are inherently exploitative of the young people, taking their energy and enthusiasm and channeling it in ways the teacher determines.  In this case, I wonder whether part of the trigger for the comment was that the video was of the teacher's song.

I appreciate the moral question embedded in this perspective and think it is useful as a prompt to reflection.  But i don't buy it automatically.  On the one hand, taking students' energy, interests and enthusiasms and channeling it in productive ways seems to me a definition of good teaching. And then about the Darfur social action project, I have to say that out here all the way on the other side of the country I saw young people deeply concerned and involved in the issue.  It was more than just a savvy media campaign, it was also the resonance of child soldiers, ethnic warfare, many things.  Why shouldn't they be allowed and supported to follow this interest through in their schooling?

Long winded response!  Need to get off the soapbox.  Short version -- the video with your reflection raises interesting issues and therefore perhaps should stay in.

anne-charlie's picture

Hi Kevin,

Elyse has covered lots of ground. I'd add only this: that the video raises for me the question, "who gets to represent whom?" When I watch a Ken Burns video of, say, baseball, this issue stays below the threshold of consciousness, at least for me. But it bounces up above the threshold when I see this video. Why?

One answer that comes quickly to mind: different power relations. That is, Ken Burns' subjects are, at least in the world of baseball, people who have, or who have had, some power, some success--many have had more of both than the photographer. In the Darfur video, the power relations are different: the huddled children have very little power--and it becomes clear that they have no power over the ways in which they are represented. If we were dealing with student writing, we'd ask permission to use the writing, because we'd not want to represent the student without permission. It does not seem as if anyone asked these children whether or not they could be photographed, and if so, under what conditions those photographs could be used.   

i'd keep the video in, nonetheless, in part because it raises such an important issue. It has made me think--not an easy task these days!

Charlie Moran