Kony 2012 . . . What about Thailand?

It’s been well over a month since Kony 2012 went completely viral. In fact, if you didn’t already know, Kony 2012 is the most viral video in internet history thus far. Whereas it took Rebecca Black’s “Friday” 45 days to reach 100million views, it took Kony 2012 a mere 6 days to reach the same figure. (My apologies for now getting that song stuck in your head for the next 45 days.)

During the days of people quick to jump on the Kony bandwagon, quick to jump off the Kony bandwagon to jump on the criticism bandwagon, quick to jump on the bandwagon of people making fun of Jason Russell, and a whole other range of quick jumping onto various bandwagons, criticisms and defenses flew like wild tater tots in a lunchroom food fight. At my school, we hosted an open discussion forum and I tweeted all the links that were flying at me with various opposing viewpoints in an effort to share all perspectives and offer a chance for us to have constructive conversations about how to best take action. Should we “Cover the Night?” Continue with the flashmob? Celebrate Uganda? Redirect efforts to similar issues in Thailand? Support Kony 2012 however the campaign takes shape?

Disappointingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, few people turned up to the open discussion, and even fewer offered useful ideas for how to move forward with taking action on the issue. It seems, as it often does, that people are quick to point out what is wrong without offering a chance to do something right.

People also have very short attention spans, moving quickly onto the next hot button topic. Where Kony 2012’s original documentary reached over 100 million views in 6 days, their second documentary, Kony 2012: Part II – Beyond Famous, hasn’t even yet reached 2 million views and it’s been up for two weeks.

Thus, it feels like we did exactly what the critics of Kony 2012 said we would do: got really excited about something which we really didn’t know all that much about because there was a really slick video and all our friends were doing it, got bored with it, and moved on with our lives . . . Leaving nothing unchanged and validating the naysayers. “Hah! Look at the ignorant youth with their silly social networking! Good for nothing!”

Which is why I am pleased to say that several stand-out students throughout Bangkok are not amongst these people. During the initial Kony fervor, a dozen or so international school students got together to plan their Kony activities – Cover the Night, organizing a flashmob, spreading awareness, etc. As the criticisms and differing perspectives came out, they examined these and decided to reorganize their campaign into Kony 2012 . . . What about Thailand? focusing on issues of child trafficking right here in Thailand.

Though their Facebook group is significantly smaller in quantity than the original Kony 2012 Thailand group – a mere 400 as opposed to over 3000 members – their focus and determination is admirable. They have continued to meet, research local issues, and are planning action in June, allowing themselves more time to ensure that their campaign will be thorough and thoughtful.

Kony 2012…What About Thailand? (First Viewing) from Amornthep Sachamuneewongse on Vimeo.

What a wonderful example of people who got involved, cared, and are actually continuing to do something about an issue that they may not have cared about before. Whatever you think of the Kony 2012 campaign and all the surrounding publicity, ask yourself this: What have you done to make our global community a better place? What about you?

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Kony 2012 – Capitalize Critically

If you haven’t yet watched the Kony 2012 video by now, or at the very least, seen that name splashed all over your Twitter and Facebook you probably haven’t been on the internet in the past three days. In the same way the “Internet” united, outraged, over SOPA and PIPA, or equally fervently to Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” Kony 2012 is one of those moments when we all feel the connection to one another via our digital lives with an intensity usually reserved for ridiculous memes or outrageous youtube vieos.

Kony 2012 first appeared in the form of an email to me from a year 10 student at 9pm on Tuesday night. She, like many others, watched the documentary and eagerly urged,

. . . but I just can’t not do anything about this and imagine how much NIST could help this program out! I understand that we have a lot of CAS activities going around, but this is too powerful too ignore!

I was in the middle of watching the video when another student called,

Ms Teresa, have you seen this Kony 2012 stuff? It’s blowing up. We have to do something about it. Can we put up posters at school tomorrow?

I watched as the Kony 2012 Night Sweep BKK group gained over 400 members in two hours, mostly international school students around Bangkok. Many of these were students who had recently attended the first annual Bangkok ServICE Conference hosted at NIST, which aimed to bring together student service leaders from 12 international schools to collaborate and take action. As of writing, the group now has well over 3000 members.

I was thrilled. Still high on the energy of the three-day conference that left all of us, teachers and students, buzzing with the excitement of what we can do together, this seemed to me like the perfect example of students using social networking for good; finally collaborating across schools to do something bigger, better, more meaningful, and with more impact in Bangkok.

I had no idea how big Kony 2012 would become. By the next morning, Kony 2012 was splashed all over my news feed from friends all over the world, the Bangkok Facebook group was reaching 600 members, and the video had gone completely viral. And with it, the criticisms.

It makes me exceedingly proud and hopeful that it was the same year 10 student who originally emailed me about Kony 2012 who first shared these criticisms with me, a day after the campaign had gone viral,

I honestly think Kony 2012 is a scam. Just look into it, I’ve been vising sites for the past few minutes and so many of them raise good points about Joseph Kony and about the Invisible Children foundation themselves. Although this is unfortunate, I really think Kony 2012 is a great idea because it raises awareness of Human Trafficking. I don’t want to bring the entire group in before you agree with me that these might be a scam. I don’t want to be the one breaking down all these brilliant ideas we had today.

First here: http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/post/18890947431/we-got-trouble

Just a site with people’s opinions: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120306231805AAppFMO

BUT THIS SITE IS THE MOST EFFICENT IN INFORMATION:  http://ilto.wordpress.com/2006/11/02/the-visible-problem-with-invisible-children/ – especially the third paragraph.

I honestly don’t know what to believe because it is a lot of information to take in. So yeah, just check it out and tell me about what you think.

I had a sneaking suspicion that the Kony 2012 campaign was a bit too slick for its own good – but I’d brushed it all aside, caught up in the excitement of student action and feel-good nature of watching the world rally around a good cause. I am so proud of this student for being intelligent enough to follow up and investigate deeper. Since then, I”ve been reading up on various other articles, most relevantly this one from the“Visible Children” tumblr blog quoting various influential experts and their anti-Kony 2012 sentiments. 

But here’s the thing: When the world, especially youth, rally around important issues such as child soldiers and human trafficking, it is important to direct their energies and excitement in a meaningful way without deflating their hope and optimism. They are not trying to be “the great white hope” or arm a questionable army. They want to save children and stop a bad man.

And who doesn’t?

So how do they do it? How do we do it?

It is moments like this that define a person’s belief in humanity and the ability of us collectively, and as individuals, to make an impact. To do good. And if the message we send back is, “Hey, actually, Uganda is old news, Kony is uncatchable, and your campaign posters just make you look naive,” then they will believe, like so many of us, that the world is broken and there is nothing we can do about it.

So what do we do?

I’ve looked more into Invisible Children. Yes, it is an organization with questionable finances. Yes, it lacks transparency. No, the majority of its money does not go to rehabilitate the very children around whom its campaigns rally.

However, what Invisible Children and Kony 2012 has done, which no one else has been able to do, is put the name of Joseph Kony out into the public. They’ve accomplished what they set out to, which is to bring infamy to this man, make him as famous as Lady Gaga or George Clooney, so that we will not stand idly by. Is, perhaps, he an old issue? Yes. Would this film, perhaps, been more relevant ten years ago? Yes. But the fact remains that now millions of people are at least aware of an issue that they weren’t before. And we should not take credit away from the significance of that.

And what to do with this excitement? This perhaps currently misdirected spirit of good-doing?

Here’s what I propose, for my Bangkok community:

  • Capitalize on Kony 2012. Continue to put up posters and campaign. Make Kony known.
  • Learn more, individually, about the issues. Read the counter-arguments against Kony 2012. Learn more about the LRA and what’s going on in Uganda. Decide where you personally stand.
  • Use the fervor. On April 20th, let’s Cover the Night as planned. On April 21st, we will flashmob.
  • Don’t buy their press kits. By all account, Invisible Children isn’t the organization we want to support financially; rather it’s the organization we want to support publically because they have the attention now.
  • Produce our own Kony paraphernalia. Charity Palette, Bangkok’s own student-run organization, will design Kony t-shirts specific for Bangkok. Students are already busy designing bracelets and other posters.
  • Use the money we raise to support an organization that work on this issue by more directly supporting the children rather than supporting awareness-raising. Awareness has been raised. Invisible children no longer needs our money. Based on very brief research, below are some possibilities that are ranked higher by Charity Navigator. Suggestions welcome, we still have over a month to research and decide on a good place to funnel donate our money:

It’s hard to do a good thing. This world is complicated, filled with different people’s own self-interests. We have to be wary so that our kind hearts are not taken for naivete, and yet we have to remain optimistic and believe in the power of the collective to do something good.

So, I thank the Kony 2012 campaign for giving us this collective feeling of wanting to make this world a better place. Quit making sarcastic comments about the MTV and youtube generations being naively caught up in wanting to do good, and help us actually do it.

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Inevitable Conclusion?

My school in downtown Bangkok is closed for two days leading up to a holiday because of worries about flood waters finally reaching Bangkok. The word “flood” hangs heavy on everybody’s lips as we discuss the issue with a mixture of guilt and relief; guilty because the priority of saving Bangkok led to the destruction of livelihoods and homes of so many Thai citizens and relieved because we get to have an extra two days of holiday and get out of dodge or witness it all from high apartment buildings and reassurance that we have somewhere to go.

The students are thus on two days of online learning, something that has happened far more frequently in my teaching career than I’d ever expected. As part of their learning, students have been making comments sharing their thoughts, feelings, and information they’re learning about the floods to our blog. Their comments have been poignant, thoughtful, and provocative.

The most startling comment I’ve come across is from a precocious year 7 student, who writes,


I personally think that the floods may have good uses. the world is already so badly overpopulated by people, maybe it’s a good thing to get rid of a lot of humans at a time so the world can make up with what we’ve destroyed. i think everyday about how much better or worse the world could be without people:cry: . I’m not scared of the flood, I keep getting that feeling that it’s going to flash flood, and there’s no escape anyways…

There is something terrifyingly honest about this comment. For all that we teach about sustainability, overpopulation, human impacts on the natural environment, has she reached the most logical conclusion of them all? I always worry when working on sustainability and environmental issues that the inevitable conclusion is, “Yes, it’s all our fault. If we just get rid of humans, this planet would be a happier place.”

Is this a statement of gloom and doom? Or just honesty?

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Walking the Talk

As I mentioned in my last post, Walking the Talk is our school theme for the next two years. While it does have a certain cheesiness about it, I actually quite like it as a guiding principle. Too often as educators do we do plenty of talking, but not a great deal of walking, figuratively speaking of course.

In fact, we do plenty of talking about not just doing the talking:

  • Walk the talk
  • Practice what you preach
  • Live it, don’t laminate it
We also tend to ramble (and blog) on and on about the IB Learner Profile, mirror cells, essential agreements . . . and carry on doing as we’ve always done.
How do we really walk the talk? How is this possible when we talk about differentiation but staff meetings are run in draconian whole-group methods? When we promote collaboration but disregard it ourselves for the sake of efficiency? When we teach about the importance of sustainability but walk around with lunch and coffees in styrofoam and plastic containers?
This post offers no answers but just some thoughts for consideration. For as hackneyed as it is, walking the talk is important. But how do we walk ‘walking the talk’ instead of just talking about it?
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Inbox: 0

Today I ran the session about organization and communication using Microsoft Outlook for the year 7 tech conference at school. During the session I showed the students two screen shots, one of an inbox cluttered with mail messages and another of an inbox completely empty, and asked them to decide which was the “better” inbox. Different groups were of different opinions, with many concluding that the one with the cluttered inbox was better because, “That’s what my inbox looks like” and “We should keep emails.”

I then explained to them that the goal of email was to achieve Inbox: 0. That email should be read, dealt with, and deleted. Sometimes “dealt with” means doing an action, sometimes it means saving an attachment, and occasionally, it means filing it into an Outlook folder. The point was, however, that the inbox itself should stay as close to 0 as possible.

I gave them the analogy of having conversations with folks face-to-face. You don’t walk around having conversations and then saving them in your pocket. You communicate and then you take action. Sometimes you follow up with another conversation. Other times you exchange physical objects. Occasionally you make a note of a conversation somewhere to follow up later. So why is it that we’re so inclined to hang on to email conversations forever?

Probably because it’s easy. Or because sometimes saved emails have been proof of a task done or a promise made. But as a general rule, emails should be cleared out.

So, I took my own challenge. I went through my Outlook and wiped it clean, filing and saving what I needed and deleting the rest. It was terrifying! As I went along, I discovered that most of the emails I kept fell in one of these three categories:

  1. Emails I kept because I was postponing dealing with them.
  2. Emails I kept because they had attachments or links I wanted to keep.
  3. Emailed I kept with time-sensitive information (price quotes, accommodation confirmations, etc).
And I’ve decided for this year, my goal will be to do this:
  1. Don’t postpone. If I need to do something, do it. Don’t put a little red flag on it and hope that it’ll seem less daunting or annoying to do tomorrow (or the day after . . . or a year later when it’s too late).
  2. Save attachments if they’re necessary. Bookmark links on delicious. Or just delete the damn thing if it’s kind of interesting but I’ll never look at it again.
  3. File these into appropriate folders. And delete once the time has passed.
I have no idea how it will go. For now? I have achieved this:
I have no idea how long it will last, but I’m pretty happy with it for now. Our new theme at school is Walking the Talk. And I do believe my favorite thing about teaching is when I become a better person by trying to model what lessons I’m imparting to the students.
Check back in a few weeks! Hopefully, Inbox: 0 will still be true.
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What are we ‘giving’ the students?

Today, on a mini-van back from a beautiful trip up to the Children of the Forest with my school’s year 9 students, I overheard two of the girls talking about grades and report cards. They were comparing which classes were easy to ‘get a 7’ in as opposed to which classes only ever ‘gave 6s.’ Again, it reiterated for me that grades are something that we, as teachers, give to the students; not something that is reflective of what the students have achieved or have the potential to achieve.

And, I think, again, what is the point of assessment (in its current form, as represented by letter or number grades)?

For us as teachers, we hope that assessments are a way of giving us a quick check of students’ understanding and a way for us to give them formative feedback that will guide their learning. Students, though, don’t seem to see it that way. Grades are, rather, something that a teacher ‘gives’ them based on whether or not they did what the teacher wanted them to do. Not a reflection on how much or what or how they learned.

We want learning to be the process and the product and grades to reflect that journey. Instead, it seems that grades have become the product and ‘learning’ (but not really learning, just figuring out what to do to make the teacher ‘give’ you a ‘good’ grade) has become the process to that product. Should ‘education’ be the means of obtaining a bunch of good grades?

In a word, no.

I know I’m the first one to think about this problem. I know there are thousands of brilliant minds out there pondering this same exact issue, perhaps even right this second. But again, I come back to what do we do about it?

I had the same conversations as a student as my students are having now. Is there any way to break this cycle? What is that way?

Someone, anyone, help!

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Confession Letter about Report Cards

Dear Parents,

I wish I could give you a recording of what’s going on inside my head when I sit down to give your child a “mark” for his report card. It’s a narrative explosion that goes a bit something like this:

OK, criterion A, he got 6, 7, 7, 6, 8, 7 . . . he sometimes uses terminology appropriately. Gosh, he was great during that discussion we had about the Xayaburi dam. But then he really was clueless when it came to mapping. He’s such a quiet powerhouse. I didn’t think he understood anything at the beginning of the year, but the when we had that discussion, he really shone . . . Oh wait, right, numbers. How do I represent that with a number? Um . . . 7. Sure. That seems right.

Then, a little while after that . . .

OK, now he has these four numbers that represent four facets of his learning. Now, let me check boundaries . . . right. He’s getting a 5. A 5. A year’s worth of learning and understanding and skill and personal development and I give you a . . . 5.

This is underwhelming.

Can I tell you about how gracefully he puts up with the overbearing student in class? How I wish I could have known him better this year because he’s so quiet? Can I give you this one memory I have of him challenging the dominant student in class once during a discussion and blowing us all away? Nope.

So, here’s a 5. And 5 short comments that can’t begin to capture what I think I know of his learning and understanding. And, really, I have another 100 reports to write. 100 x 5 comments each is a lot.


I really don’t have the answer when it comes to report cards, I really truly don’t. All I know is it hurts to think that everything we have done is boiled down to numbers. How can you quantify learning?

Wait. How Can you quantify learning?

You can’t.

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