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Advocacy: What Should Educators Think About "KONY2012"

ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 12 11.02

One of these days there will be a viral education video out there like Kony 2012, the Internet meme of the moment (and perhaps of all time, says the Atlantic Wire). Don't laugh -- I'm sure there are folks out there trying to create a viral hit about schools as we speak.  Your friends will start sending it to you on Facebook with the message "have you seen this? or "check this out!"  But will it help?

The ever-enthusiastic Whitney Tilson tells us "we gotta figure out how to get something like this going viral for our issue." Documentaries like Waiting For Superman, Two Million Minutes, Race To Nowhere are long form examples of much the same thing. -- dramatic stories told in a clear way, plus a concrete call to action (share this, write your elected representatives, donate here). The Gates Foundation's Stand Up (2006) and EDIN'08 included similar elements.

But, alas, there are problems with Kony2012 not too dissimilar to the ones we've encountered with education-related advocacy efforts like WFS and Race To Nowhere.  In particular are issues of accuracy and context, use of funds,  the focus on a relatively minor issue, and the simplistic-minded solutions.  Here are some of the articles raising those issues:  Kony 2012 Group Responds to Increasing CriticismThink Twice Before Donating to Kony 2012How You Should Feel About Kony 2012Kony 2012 Director Says It's Not About Money.

Not that it really matters, but I find the whole thing a turn-off.  The production is so slick, and the look-at-me narrator is so alienating to me (a 20-something Davis Guggenheim), the inaccuracies are so staggering (Kony's long gone from power).  But many will argue that my knee-jerk nausea or the inaccuracies or funding issues aren't the issue, really -- that breaking through is all that matters, that something good will come out of this even if it isn't the apprehension of Kony or dramatic improvements in the lives of Ugands.  And I have to admit there's something to that argument. Advocacy is messy business. Complacency is a real problem.  Hmm. What do you think?

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In case you haven't already read it, here is Invisible Children's response: http://www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html

This is well put. I am sorry to just be reading it now, but very on-point. I actually have non-teacher friends and relatives that say to me, "I just saw Waiting for Superman and was thinking that you must love that movie!" Then I have to decide whether this is the time and place to start ranting angrily to someone whose attention span for discussing education issues is a lot more limited than mine. People who want to make sure outsiders understand the complexities of any issue are at a big disadvantage compared to those who would like to use the issue to become a celebrity.

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