A Guidance teacher friend sent me a link to the Kony2012 post on YouTube. The short, heartwrenching film outlines atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA originated in Uganda but now operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and southern Sudan. Its ranks include ‘child soldiers’, children kidnapped, brutalised and trapped in a cycle of violence. As a result, Kony is top of the International Criminal Court’s wanted list but has succeeded escaping capture for years.
Jason Russell, the young American filmmaker, first met Jacob, a bright, articulate Ugandan, ten years ago. Jacob had witnessed his brother’s brutal execution by the LRA.
The LRA abducts children, turns girls into sex-slaves and boys into child-soldiers. Hundreds of children, fearing or escaping from this possibility, are shown in makeshift shelters without food, clothing or education: “If this happened anywhere in America, it would be on the front cover of Newsweek,” said Russell and it was this that provided his moral imperative to tell the tale of these damaged, traumatised child- victims.
He founded the charity, Invisible Children. He also spent the following years making his film. It was uploaded on YouTube on 5 March this year and by 10 March it had achieved 66 million global hits, primarily from young people across the world.
Teenagers, rightly, horrified at the dehumanising theft of the childhoods of tens of thousands of young Africans, are protesting. Gordon Shaw, headteacher of Eastbank Academy, has indicated that every child in social subjects classes in his school had heard of the movie.
Glasgow Caledonian University’s Douglas Chalmers said: “Anything that brings an awareness of civic issues to younger people can only be good.” That is not so and the mass teenage identification with this film poses issues for educators in the electronic age.
The Lord’s Resistance Army originated in Uganda as a quasi-religious movement opposing what it perceived as government atrocities against northern Uganda’s Acholi people. Jason Russell’s film ignores the historical background, concentrating only on sensationalist LRA atrocities. Its primary purpose is to maintain commitment to the small group of US army advisers supporting and training the Ugandan forces.
The idealism of countless young people galvanised across the globe is hugely reassuring. The atrocities of Kony and LRA are also appalling.
It is another matter entirely to assume that US troops in Uganda is the best means of ending Kony’s terror, especially since Kony has not operated in Uganda for many years.
We should ask whether the answer to crimes against humanity is to dispatch the US military. We should question the history, nature and government in Uganda. We should question the film itself: documentary or emotional propaganda?
There is also a range of intellectually credible arguments against Russell’s favoured strategies for ending Kony’s terror. Google ‘Kony’ and you’ll find them.
What this film demands of educationalists is the development of rigorous intellectual skills among our IT-savvy young people. These skills include historical analysis, the ability to separate reason and emotion, rational and critical thinking, seeking the counter-argument before accepting the argument and evidence-based analytical skills. These skills have always been an essential part of any worthwhile educational system. They are even more essential in the world of YouTube and instant-access media. We want global citizens but informed global citizens.
We should not douse our young people’s altruism or enthusiasm; we do require to offer them the tools to determine for themselves where best to apply their idealism. Schools should not denigrate new media but certainly should point out the emotional strings it can pull and Russell’s film certainly pulls such strings.
This article was first published in Holyrood Magazine on 26 March 2012: http://www.holyrood.com/articles/2012/03/26/from-the-chalkface-2/