Bridges To Understanding

I recently learned about Bridges To Understanding through another popular organization, Teachers Without Borders (TWB).  This year TWB has decided to adopt Bridges To Understanding’s youth programs and educational curriculums since the non-profit organization, founded in 2001, will be dissolving (http://www.teacherswithoutborders.org/programs/teacher-programs/peace-education/bridges-understanding).  The Bridges To Understanding’s vision was to “empower and unite youth worldwide, enhance cross-cultural understanding and build global citizenship using digital technology and the art of storytelling” (http://www.facebook.com/bridgesworld?sk=info).

I thought it was interesting to see how Bridges’ two core curriculum-based programs, the Bridges Ambassador Program and the Bridges Global Citizens Program, connected students across the globe in a way most educators (especially those in a public education system) would never accomplish in the traditional classroom setting.  The Bridges group laid the groundwork for a “network of established partner schools and community organizations in Seattle, Peru, Guatemala, South Africa, India and Cambodia where [their curriculums] have been adapted to insure cultural relevancy” (http://www.facebook.com/bridgesworld?sk=info).  The first curriculum, the Ambassador Program, teaches children how to create digital stories about their daily lives, local culture/traditions and community.  With the help of Bridges staff, teachers lead discussion forums on conflict and resolution as well as environmental sustainability issues through both a local and a global lens.  The second curriculum, the Global Citizens Program, works on a more international approach by bringing together partner schools around the world into a classroom-to-classroom discussion forum to talk about important global issues.  This allows students to view others’ videos while sharing their own stories, photography and ideas (http://www.bridges2understanding.org/programs/programs.html).

Contextually, this peer-to-peer learning can be implemented at any age level.  In our global environment, the use of digital technology is something many young children are learning far more quickly than in the past generation.  I think both science and humanities teachers should be encouraging technology-based curriculums such as this one into their classrooms since it not only broadens the children’s skill set for the future workplace (arguable one goal of education), but also gives them the opportunity to explore a vast amount of new information available online.  Technology is typically applied in science classes, but by introducing online discussion forums into humanities classes, students are able to personally clarify the local context of the broad cultural content they learn.  By giving youth a protected informal setting, educators can eliminate some of the psychological barriers preventing students from asking questions in the formal classroom setting while increasing the perceived self-importance of other individual youth who take pride in speaking about their culture; perhaps, for many, this is the first time a foreigner has taken an interest in their lives.

The Bridges organization has added a resource called the Bridges Passport Program for educators to help implement their curriculums with ease.  This program provides educators with access to “ten youth-produced digital stories, with accompanying story guides, for classes to explore rich multicultural content” in the context of any existing curriculum (http://www.bridges2understanding.org/programs/programs.html).  After the merger with Teachers Without Borders, educators can also access both of the Bridges’ curriculums through the TWB website.  The only logistical setback would be that individual classrooms would need access to either a computer, camera or a TV to view and create the digital stories.  I would suggest taking the last class of each week to focus on a global issue presented within the content youth learned in class that week.  Educators can alternate between using a story guide to watch and discuss an international student’s video one week and having their students create videos to post online the next week.  If there are time restraints on watching videos or creating videos which is probably more likely, educators should encourage students to meet outside of school to discuss possible global issues in their local community and think of ways they can incorporate these themes into both a video and the lessons they are learning in class.  The application to already existing class material is key.

This resource is geared heavily towards conflict resolution and human rights education; hence, it would fit well into humanities classes.  Pedagogically-speaking, educators would use this to build trust across cultures and community building.  This resource allows students to explore alternative perspectives on global history and learn how they can reframe it to incorporate means of peace.  Bridges To Understanding specifically works to “develop students’ cross-cultural understanding, as they discover differences and similarities in the challenges faced by their peers in other countries” (http://www.facebook.com/bridgesworld?sk=info).  This requires students to not only become leaders to actively discuss issues in their community, but also active listeners to other students’ problems.  On a practical level, they must also become familiar with technology.  I believe the Northern Virginia public school system would make an excellent candidate as well as George Mason University for implementation of these programs since we have public access to many forms of technology.

Resources:

http://www.bridges2understanding.org/ – The Bridges To Understanding website

http://www.facebook.com/bridgesworld?sk=info – The Bridges To Understanding Facebook page

http://www.teacherswithoutborders.org/programs/teacher-programs/peace-education/bridges-understanding – The Teachers Without Borders website

The Dhanak Film Club

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I first came across this film club through a friend in my Globalization and Culture (CULT 320) class last year who was specializing in South Asian relations.  The Dhanak Film Club is sponsored by the Institute for Peace and Secular Studies in Pakistan.  The Institute is a community supported voluntary effort for the attainment of a peaceful society through non-violent means.  The Dhanak Film Club is one manifestation of this effort.  According to it’s promotional poster, it’s a “film club which goes beyond the black and white categorization of our usual cinematic experience.  Dhanak represents a rainbow of ideas, theme and issues thus providing a unique experience every week” (http://peaceandsecularstudies.org/?p=333).  One university student, Umer Latif, said “the basic idea behind Dhanak is to raise social and political awareness among the masses as well as underline the importance of common human heritage transcending the bounds of caste, creed and nation” (http://myclassiccollection.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/cinema-for-peace-building/).  The club, hoping to promote empathy and peace through the movies, briefly introduces each movie and follows it with a 15 minute discussion (http://peaceandsecularstudies.org/?p=333).

This concept of promoting alternative discourse through popular movies is definitely transposable to all cultures.  I believe film clubs would not only be applicable to U.S. educational settings, but would also be very popular among students.  Who wouldn’t want to watch a movie?  There is also a natural desire to discuss the movie with friends afterwards.  I think the key is the way in which that discussion takes place.  This peace-building activity would be very useful in the high school setting where teachers often eliminate most forms of creative learning from the curriculum in an effort to increase the efficiency of lecture-style teaching.  Using popular films in the classroom to engage students in thinking about the nature of societal issues would encourage many students-at-risk in conflicted urban neighborhoods to continue coming to school instead of dropping out.

Logistically-speaking, the teacher could spend one-third of class lecturing on the historic context and educational knowledge needed to understand the film; one-third on watching the film; and the final third of class on discussing the implications of the themes in the film.  Considering it is impossible to watch the whole movie in class, the scenes selected could be used to promote a full-length screening of the film after-school in a film club meeting.  With the use of a TV, a DVD player and access to a public library’s DVD collection, the teacher could easily incorporate this concept into the classroom.

The key is using the film for educational purposes rather than simply making it a free day with no work.  It’s important to use this resource as a pedagogical means to encourage critical thinking on the values promoted through film.  The teacher should make equal time in passively watching the film and actively discussing how the film could be viewed through a peace-building lens rather than a violent one (as is often the case).  The teacher may also choose a film that specifically highlights problems also present in the students’ environment to not only give students alternative endings, but to make students question why these problems are present in their community.  The application of film can be used to promote first empathy and then, community building.  The goal of using this film concept is promoting human rights education in the classroom by teaching students the skills (critical thinking and public speaking) to fight for democratic justice in their own community.  I think both high school teachers and film students/human activists could benefit from starting film clubs in their schools/communities.

Resources:

http://peaceandsecularstudies.org/?p=333 – The Dhanak Film Club website

http://myclassiccollection.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/cinema-for-peace-building/ – An article from the January 2011 edition of “Trail Blazer” (An Indian youth magazine) describing the power of film screening as a peace pedagogy