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

Visual Peacemakers

Image

Connecting with people across lines of difference is a fundamental goal in conflict resolution and this process has, in some ways, become more accessible due to the presence of the internet and social media tools.  Through a course I am taking focusing on Art as a means of social change, I came across the online resource visualpeacemaker.org.  This site is essentially a host for the collaborative project coordinated by the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers.  Working with such partners as Peace Catalyst International, the Guild of visual artist and photographers challenge stereotypes and prejudices by capturing the beauty of diversity.

The International Guild of Visual Peacemakers resource consists of collections of photographs, documentaries, and photo blogs that work to promote the message of the Guild as described in their manifesto.  By capturing the human elements of cultures, the project seeks to build peace.

Throughout history people have fallen into the trap of making enemies with, demonizing, stereotyping, and fighting the “other.” There has been a flood of conflict based on ethnic, cultural, and religious identity in the post-cold war era that has ended the lives of millions, destroyed economies, and torn apart families.

Much of this has been fueled by the growing availability of technology, especially photography and videography. While the written word carries an expectation for honesty, there is a void regarding the ethics of images due to their subjective nature. This void has opened the door for photographers to exploit people’s desire to confirm their thoughts about the “other”—mobilizing innumerable people towards slander, violence, and other fear-based responses.

Since 9/11, conflicts between Muslim cultures and western cultures have been growing in intensity. There are deep misunderstandings and stereotypes that are producing widespread fear and anger.

The International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP) was created to build bridges of peace across ethnic, cultural, and religious lines through visual communication that is both accountable to an ethical standard and created by those who authentically care about people.

This resource can be used in both the formal and informal learning space due to its accessibility and the intelligible nature of the content.  Visually the images are powerful and the stories that the pictures tell are worth sharing with students and learners of all ages.  This resource can incite discussions about toleration, diversity, and the beauty and dignity of human life which is aptly illustrated in this project.  This approach to facilitating understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures while also educating the international audience about global issues is creative response to the political, social, and religious conflicts that are prolific in our contemporary landscape.

Using this resources students will not only be exposed to global conflict as humanized by the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers, but will also gain insight into the varied approaches experts in the field of Conflict Analysis and Resolution are tackling and implementing.

Art + Sports = Peace Education!

In order to meet children where they are developmentally and intellectually, the Arts Olympiad program combines art, sports, and technology in a multi-level program to teach children aged eight to 12 years about peace. The program, implemented by the International Child Art Foundation (ICAF), is a worldwide initiative that engages children in peace-building on local (classroom), national, regional, and global levels, teaching them cooperation, positive identity formation, empathy, creativity, leadership, and multiculturalism (see more information here).

This specific program is intended be utilized by elementary school teachers (and possibly after-school childcare providers and other informal educators), and adaptations of it could be effective for children from early elementary school through middle school. By employing media that are universally accessible – visual art and sports – this program is both highly inclusive and successful at connecting children from vastly different regions and cultures. At the same time, the elements of collaboration and cooperation built into the program (for example, classes work together to select which artworks will be submitted to the next level of the competition) teach children tolerance and community.

Participation in the Arts Olympiad could be easily implemented in classrooms as well as in informal settings. Because the only materials required are art supplies (crayons, markers, paper, pencils), this project needs virtually no preparation. Ninety minutes should be plenty of time for children to draw their favorite sport, share their artworks, and decide together which pieces will be entered to the next level of the competition. Teachers should supplement the project with a discussion of sports in an international context, such as exploring the Olympic Games or the World Cup. They could even go one step further and use sports as a metaphor to talk to young students about conflict, collaboration, and healthy behaviors.

The Arts Olympiad supports learning about cooperation, tolerance, identity, empathy, creativity, and leadership throughout the four levels of the competition, as children are increasingly exposed to their larger local, national, regional, and global communities. It teaches multiculturalism and international relations in a way young children can understand, and exposes them to the understanding that, though people may have many differences, they also have much in common.

(By Emily Ludwin Miller, emillerk@gmu.edu)