Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Speak Truth To Power - The Student Voice

Source: Speak Truth To Power
In our struggle to meet the goals and objectives in our classrooms, sometimes the importance of human rights doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Yet, in the world we live in, it’s exactly the topic we should integrate into our teaching to engage the minds of our students. Whether historical or present day, the issues and the activists who made a difference in human rights can inspire them to do the same.

This month we had the fortunate opportunity to attend Joseph Karb's workshop “Human Rights Education in the Middle School Classroom: What You Do Matters” at the New York State Council of the Social Studies (NYSCSS) annual conference, where we learned about Speak Truth To Power. This passionate teacher from Springville Middle School captivated us with his presentation. It's no wonder that he was chosen as the National Council for the Social Studies Middle School Teacher of 2012.

Source: Speak Truth To Power
The project began as book by Kerry Kennedy that was later produced as a play during the Clinton administration. It went on to become one of the Great Performances on PBS and is now a project of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. Its mission is to use the experiences of defenders of human rights to educate students to get involved and take action through its curriculum, lesson plans, and resources.

Building on this global initiative, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), in conjunction with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, decided to take Speak Truth to Power into the documentary world with a video competition. This contest challenges middle and high schools students in New York to create a film based on the defenders of human rights from around the world. The goal is to connect kids with the idea that they can make a difference by having them actively engage in the process to promote human rights through a 3-6 minute video.

The following link is to just one of the winning videos about Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani human rights lawyer, from the 2012 competition, and it does not disappoint.
Click here to link to school video
The capacity for change is enormous when students embrace the process. It’s a win-win on multiple fronts that starts with the empathy generated by getting involved to the reward of knowing you could make a difference. It takes time, but it is time well spent. Judging from the workshop we attended, these students took this project on like a badge of honor. That’s education.


  1. What an excellent project and inspiring results. For most students, but especially middle school, the ability to put themselves in the circumstances of those who have made difficult decisions to act for human rights can be nurtured by exploring the lives of activists. Challenge students to explore (do the research) to find out what experiences these activists may have had as young people that later propelled them into "doing the right thing." As for speaking truth to power, I'm all for it, yet teachers may find their efforts impeded by: i) colleagues for whom any view is "OK" and just another POV; ii) the notion that teachers should never share their views with students (lest they influence them), i.e. don't explain the flaws in the arguments of Holocaust deniers but rather expect students to figure this out on their own; iii) parents, school boards, and politicians that expect teachers to adhere to a false kind of patriotism (never criticize the US).

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