December 2012 Issue
November 20, 2012

Speak Truth to Power launches 'Ethel' lesson

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United

Ethel Kennedy

The Speak Truth to Power initiative has added a lesson plan on Ethel Kennedy to its treasure trove of teacher resources.

The teacher resource center is part of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, named after her late husband. The lesson plan was released just after the opening of the HBO documentary "Ethel," which is based on the matriarch's political awakening. It was filmed by her daughter, Rory Kennedy.

Using the historical research in the lesson plan, students can imagine themselves at the forefront of many pivotal events in the mid 20th century: the McCarthy hearings, the Civil Rights movement, Cuban Missile Crisis, the groundbreaking political elections of the 1960s and the battle for labor rights.

These are the events Ethel Kennedy's life was immersed in as a politically active woman and wife of a Senator and U.S. Attorney General. The Kennedy's were dedicated to social justice and service to their country.

"Ethel is a welcome addition to Speak Truth to Power because she has much to teach students," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, who sits on the RFK Center board.

"She understood the importance of living during important historical events and responding to those events, as well as the evolving role of women in politics and society.

"Most importantly, she has lived a life of social activism and has never shied away from speaking truth to power," Iannuzzi said.

Teachers and students using the lesson plan will explore politics as a tool for doing good for others; living an engaged life as an example for one's children; the role of politics in addressing social concerns in the 1960s and today; and evaluating the importance of parents sharing with their children the work they do and the values they hold.

The RFK Center partnered with HBO Documentary Films to develop lesson plans that use documentary film footage as an entry point for discussion and exploring topics explored in the film.

The "Ethel" lesson, aligned with Common Core standards, is now a part of the more than 30 existing lessons featured in the Speak Truth to Power human rights curriculum, at

The lesson highlights the importance of the social justice and human rights issues that Robert and Ethel Kennedy fought for in the 1960s and how these issues have shaped contemporary culture and politics. The Kennedy's had 11 children, whom Ethel raised primarily on her own after RFK was assassinated in 1968. At the time, Ethel was pregnant with their last child.

"Ethel's been a guiding force," said Andrew Graber, Speak Truth to Power program coordinator in Washington, D.C. "She encouraged her sons and daughters to make a better world. The role she played was getting people to take on bigger issues around the world."