What my students taught me about Kony2012

Last week, I had a whole big non-fiction unit planned out where we were going to use the book a lot and maybe read a memoir. I love memoirs….but then a student said to me, “Ms. Norman, we should watch the Kony 2012 video right now. It is important. It was like almost thirty minutes, but I watched the whole thing.”

I know that may seem like a not big deal, but it is. Try getting a tenth grader to pay attention to anything for more than 5 minutes, then you will know. This was a big deal. And all of my kids were talking about it, not just my sports kids or my drama kids or my under or over achieving kids. All my kids. What? Okay…maybe this is a thing.

When I got around to looking it up on Friday night my facebook page was already full to the brim, with the video, thoughts on the video, articles and rants about what was good and what was bad. Apparently this was a thing. As of writing this it is the most viral video of all time.

It was a little crazy getting to the copier every morning. It was even more insane teaching articles that had been published just hours before. While everyone likes to claim that they just loooove when their students are engaged, engaged students are unpredictable and you never know what is going to come out of their mouths when they have an opinion about something.  Plus they forget to raise their hands and talk over each other and then you have to yell.

But it was worth it. I saw, in even my most cynical students an awakening of something. This was big enough to care about. This thing mattered. They were able to look at the bigger issues, the deeper story. We talked about nodding disease and Gulu town thanks to this article. My students were quick to point out that these stories were too complicated. “There are too many characters, ” they told me. This is true for both twitter and simply too many people to talk about. “We are uninterested in complicated issues,” and “How will we know when those problems end. This seems doable.” They are nothing if not honest, my students.

We talked about how a video goes viral with this article, (but I found this one later, and it is better. This is what happens when you are doing a lesson plan in real time). My students are so brutally honest about what appeals to them. No punches pulled, no attempt at saving face so they can look more benevolent than they really are. Pure  answers as to what gets their attention and why. “We want to feel like we matter.” “We want to feel like we could make a difference.” “No one wants to think that hard” (Did I mention their honesty?) “It is easier if someone tells me what to think.”

We talked about who controls what stories are told (here) and how Americans have a savior complex (here). “Mrs. Norman” they said, “If we had been told other people were already doing something good and we were just supposed to join it, we wouldn’t.” “We like it when things are all about us. Even when they aren’t.” Isn’t that the truth about humanity?

And at the end of the week, when I was burned out by the way the story was told and the money that was put to making the video, the misrepresentations and and the feeling that even if we somehow managed to do this one thing (through the leadership on the ground locals who know best how to navigate a complex situation), it wouldn’t be enough, even then my most cynical kids had this to say. “It isn’t right that this is happening. Anywhere. Period. If it were happening in the U.S. someone would stop it. Why should this be any different?”

I was reminded why I like to work with teenagers. Particularly the younger half of high school. They still believe in the should. They believe that if something is wrong it should be corrected. Even if there are other problems that should also be corrected, when something is as wrong as Joseph Kony is. Teenagers still believe that our actions matter.

All this week we will be in the computer lab, using photo story for windows to make our own videos, informing more on the complicated issues in Uganda, or advocating for our own charities. I hope to have my own youtube channel next Monday where I show you the work of my students. But last week, the work of my students was to renew my hope.