OPEN MIC: Teaching Global Citizenship Through Film

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If a film is a mirror of the culture that bares it, there is a wealth of information in the images it shows us. A scene from GREY MATTER.

Former intern Andrea Moran on bringing film in the classroom and why a plan for international education is so important…  

A few months ago, U.S. Department of Education released its first ever plan for international education. The 16-page report, titled “Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement” is a 4-year strategy for increasing American students’ knowledge and engagement with world affairs.

It stresses the need for students to develop the skills needed to “understand and interact with the world, including language skills and an appreciation for other countries and cultures.”

(I’m surprised this is the first time they put this issue on the front burner, but hey, better late than never!)

It got me thinking about what we teach in our schools, but even more importantly, what is left out.

Last year, I taught English in a high school in Chile. It was interesting to see the differences in education between the two countries- but also, a similarity. One day before class started, I saw one of my seniors browsing though his world history textbook. I asked him what they were covering, and he told me World War II, and “mostly Europe”. We started talking about other big conflicts and I mentioned the Rwandan Genocide.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Just like him, when I was in high school, our curriculum didn’t cover this. I actually learned about Rwanda from a survivor who came to talk to my French class. I remember the horrifying details of how he hid in the bushes to escape the rebels, not knowing if his family was still alive. I remember sitting there, watching him speak so calmly, and I could not believe that I hadn’t heard about this until now. So when my student in Chile told me he had never heard about Rwanda, I knew I wanted to do a lesson for his class.

There wasn’t a survivor that could speak to them, so I turned to film. I knew it would offer a way for them to connect to the event. I chose Hotel Rwanda.

I know some people believe using film in the classroom is a waste of time, or that it’s a lazy way to teach, but I disagree. When paired with a solid lesson, film can be a powerful way of giving context to a world issue.

A scene from GREY MATTER

A scene from GREY MATTER

Hotel Rwanda sparked conversation from my students. They could not believe this event had happened. One student even wrote down the film’s name in her notebook, so she could rent the movie for her family, she told me.

The film also gave them a way to talk and think about themes like propaganda or apathy. (Hutu Power Radio helped show the impact of propaganda.) Using film in the classroom wasn’t a replacement for a lesson: it was a platform for teaching about these universal themes.

This is what attracted me to the Global Film Initiative. When mainstream news or a school’s curriculum doesn’t cover important current events or times in history, film can bring us these voices.

In a world that needs more diplomacy, more empathy, and more understanding, film can be a solution. Just like many Americans, many of my students in Chile may never have the chance to travel outside of their country. Film can bring the world to them.

As the U.S. hopes to increase students’ engagement in global issues in 2013 and beyond, let’s look to global film as a good first step.

And teachers, if you want to teach about Rwanda, make sure to check out Global Lens’ 2012 film GREY MATTER. (And yes, you can download the awesome discussion guide right here.)


Andrea Moran has years of journalism experience abroad and in the U.S. She has previously worked in online marketing at and has taught English in Chile. She holds a B.A. in Journalism with a minor in French from San Francisco State University.

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