November 2011 Issue
October 26, 2011

Teachers spearhead Speak Truth to Power student video contest

Author: Leslie Duncan Fottrell
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Celebrating the Speak Truth to Power project are, from left, NYSUT president Dick Iannuzzi, Kerry Kennedy, human rights defender Harry Wu, teacher Drew Beiter, NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler and teachers Ben Higgins and Joe Karb.

Joe Karb and Ben Higgins are passionate ambassadors of the Speak Truth to Power project, a multi-faceted program that brings global human rights violations — and the defenders fighting to stop them — into sharp focus.

After participating on the Speak Truth to Power curriculum writing team in 2010, Karb, Higgins and colleague Drew Beiter — all members of the Springfield Faculty Association — searched for an additional way to engage students and teachers in social justice.

What better way to put human rights into focus than a video contest, with the grand prize being a showing at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival?

"I've used video in my class and find it a powerful learning tool," said Karb, a middle school social studies teacher. Having students create their own videos is a great way to gauge whether they have grasped a topic, he said.

The idea was a hit and the Speak Truth to Power student video contest was launched by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and NYSUT. The contest receives support from the Tribeca Film Institute.

New York state students in grades 6 through 12 are eligible to enter an original short documentary about a human rights violation and the human rights defender who works to change what is wrong. The deadline for entries is Jan. 31, 2012.

"We live in a society that not only is concerned about injustices next door, but also about injustices around the world," said Higgins, who is the K-12 technology integrator for the Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District.

Students may choose from a host of topics, including child labor, political oppression, women's rights, immigrant rights and torture.

"By looking at people around the world, we are giving the students powerful examples of how one person can make a difference," Karb added.

Students can begin their research online at The website provides teachers and students with information, technical support and links to the Speak Truth to Power online curriculum, which brings the defenders' powerful stories to life.

The curriculum is based on the book Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who are Changing the World by Kerry Kennedy, president of the RFK Center.

"We tried to make it as simple as possible for students to become producers," said Higgins. The website features a framework, with step-by-step guidelines. But Karb says these are only suggestions.

"There are any number of ways to do this. There is no right or wrong way," he said. Working on the video project fits in with New York state learning standards, Karb said. "Students will be doing research, writing a script, organizing and putting it all together," he said, adding, "part of the new Common Core Standards is getting students to publish online."

NYSUT has partnered with the RFK Center on several social justice projects, beginning with the creation of the "Speak Up, Speak Out: Robert F. Kennedy Champion of Social Justice" lesson plans for grades 4, 8 and 11, and on several Speak Truth to Power projects.

"Social justice is a NYSUT framework," said President Dick Iannuzzi. "It is vital that students learn that, when faced with injustice, speaking up and speaking out is the right thing to do."