My class started watching the movie Hotel Rwanda today, but before we started watching, I wanted to get a small taste of how much my students knew about genocide and the different mass killings that have happened in their lifetime.  This is what I found: only one student felt comfortable enough to articulate what genocide is.  Only one student knew about the Rwandan genocide.  Only one student know about the genocide that happened in Bosnia.  Only one student knew about what has been happening in Darfur.  And all this knowledge was shared by only two students.

I’ve done some work on developing empathy within my students, but how do you get students (and people in general) to care about what happens on the other side of the globe which has no direct (or even indirect) impact on their lives?  How do I as a teacher get students to care about what’s happening in different parts of the world when they can barely keep their own lives together?  How do you train students to habitually look outside of themselves – and then to care about those less fortunate?  I want my students to feel a holy anger towards injustice.  I want the plight of the weak, addicted, and poor to wrench their hearts into action.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand to tap my students on the head and “POOF” they suddenly have a global consciousness.  And perhaps the answers to my questions lies in exposing the muffled cries of pain and injustice that come from the city we live and learn in.  Perhaps it is only when you develop a local consciousness – when you can look into the eyes of a passing beggar or stand up for that kid who keeps getting picked on or pick up the empty bag of McDonald’s carelessly tossed from a passing car – that you can ever hope to care about what’s happening in proverbial Timbuktu.  Perhaps it’s necessary to stop focusing on the needs a world and a half away, and start noticing the needs in our own backyard.

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