Kony 2012 teaches students to get involved

The other morning one of my students came to me with excitement and energy – a rarity for a teenager prior to the beginning of high school classes. “Have you seen this Konyvideo,” she asked me. The name sounded familair – I have read stories about the notorious Joseph Kony and other ruthless warlords in Africa, but not of the soon-to-be viral sensation.

“You’ve got to see it,” she said. “It’s terrible what’s going on Uganda. We’ve got to do something.”

My students were enthralled and galvanized by the video, purchasing the action kits, wearing handmade signs that read “Stop Kony 2012” and organizing efforts to raise funds and awareness. A YouTube video lean on substance and perspectives had my students inquiring about activism and Africa.

But all I could see in the 29-minute video, which now has 78 million views and counting, was a lesson in persuasion and the New Media. Call me callous, but I was less concerned about the cause and more intrigued and excited by the method of the message. As parents and educators, we must learn from Kony 2012 the ways in which our children and students are informed and motivated so that we can expound the necessary knowledge and wisdom to an educationally deprived generation.

The fact that kids are more prone to get their information outside of the traditional resources of past generations is nothing new. Even in 2004, we knew that many young people got their political news not from their civics teachers or major news papers, but from satires including The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.

However, the method has evolved as much as technology has in the past eight years. Jason Russell, creator the video, and his organization, Invisible Children, accomplished something that we teachers struggle to do on a daily basis: Motivating kids to do something productive and useful than debating who is the most beautiful. And he did that through the life blood of the American teenager: YouTube and Twitter.

The video’s timing was perfect for me, as I was teaching Eliezer Wiesel’s powerful Holocaust memoir, Night. You can make connections between the Holocaust and the genocides in Africa. And Russell made it even easier when he include pictures of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust in making references to Joseph Kony and his actions.

Jason Russell Screenshot from the film

After watching the video, my students knew everything that Jason Russell wanted them to know: Joseph Kony kidnaps and mutilates children, and in order to stop him, we must make him famous so governments will work harder to stop him. Using ethos (an appeal to ethics and credibility), Russell cites the International Criminal Court as verifiable proof that Kony is a legitimate criminal. Using pathos (an appeal to emotions), Russell causes many teary eyes with the heart-breaking interview of Jacob, a child who at the time of interview would rather die than live in a world without his deceased brother or a future. Using logos (an appeal to logic) in a very effective way, Russell set up a series of projected images, each adding to the equation of stopping Kony, and he made it so simple that a 5-year-old could understand.

I wish I could say my students knew on the same level everything that Wiesel wanted them to know through his memoir. It could be some fallacy in my teaching methods, but unfortunately, the Holocaust didn’t occur in the days of YouTube, Twitter or computers that can fit in the palm of my hand.

As Russell showed us, you can develop a cinematic video, post it to YouTube, and have it tweeted and re-tweeted by millions, thereby getting your message out to those with energy and desire to do something. Too bad many of today’s youth are ignorant to other real and pressing causes, as pointed out by The Daily Show’s commentary.

Let’s use Kony 2012 to teach our children and ourselves some valuable lessons.

First, let’s teach our children how to be persuasive through the means they love to use. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had to use marches, church pulpits and the power of oratory to help persuade the country to embrace civil rights. Today, we can use social networking to convey important educational things like the issues surrounding the 2012 elections or why it’s important to science and technology for us to go to the moon.

Then let’s teach them the substance that missing in the video, such as Ugandan efforts to call a peace with Kony that was thwarted by outside forces. Let’s make a YouTube video on that. I can speak from experience that simply showing the articles and news clips criticizing the video only helps to bolster the youth’s affinity for the video; after all, who likes a hater?

Lastly, let’s teach ourselves how to use the format of Kony 2012 to reach our youth. Make video lessons on YouTube. Use more computers and tablets than chalkboards and worksheets. Make learning engaging by making the introduction simple and gradually increasing the rigor of the concept. My students were perplexed that Kony 2012 was not a lead story on the Web site of CNN, ABC News or FOX news the day after the video came out. Yet they didn’t have a grasp of the day’s actual lead story – Super Tuesday. Why? Because nobody has a captivating video on presidential elections. And, well, our nation is slowly becoming civicsilliterate.

Today’s youth cannot be reached by the ways the previous generation. When I was in high school, many computers didn’t have the Internet and were only used as word processors (they taught us WordPerfect!) and databases. Since that prehistoric time of 15 years ago, we are now in the second generation of websites that allow us to be interactive and more communicative. Let’s use them to teach and to enlighten instead of criticizing them.

Otherwise, we’ll lose our youth, and as one of my students so masterfully inferred, a whole generation could become “mind slaves to the Internet.”