Raising Awareness of Social Justice and War through Film and Poetry

By Gaylie, Veronica | Radical Teacher, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Raising Awareness of Social Justice and War through Film and Poetry


Gaylie, Veronica, Radical Teacher


The Voices in Wartime Education project is a non-profit organization dedicated to exploring conflict through education and the arts. The 74-minute documentary Voices in Wartime juxtaposes images of war with the words of soldiers, poets, and others who experience armed conflict first hand. I ordered the DVD and decided to show the film to my student teachers at UBC Okanagan, a campus located in the predominantly suburban city of Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.

After watching the film, my students were shaken to the core. Viewing the violent images in the context of poetry had a much greater impact than simply viewing distant photographs or films in the news or on news blogs. So far, our course topics had included teaching and learning around middle school methods, basic lesson planning, cooperative learning, integrating interdisciplinary coursework through technology, outdoor learning, and teacher professionalism.

I now invited the students to take a step towards developing empathetic, socially engaged classrooms. I wanted to incorporate public, community, mindful public action into my teacher education program. Spontaneity, and the unplanned aspects of lesson planning, was also part of the lesson. I knew the best way to get them thinking about empathy would be through poetry.

We watched relentless images from various wars and ravaged natural landscapes, many in developing world contexts. Afterwards, the students were dead silent, and troubled. The images of war were real; what they had seen and their reactions were important yet impossible to assess using a rubric; for the most part, they were not used to the classroom as a place that prompted such stark, emotional awareness. How does a teacher then respond to such a strong, unplanned response? The film comes with an extensive curriculum guide that includes debriefing activities intended to help students make sense of what they have seen. And yet, as the students experienced for themselves the frustration of war is also its senselessness.

In the end, the film prompted us into spontaneous action. …

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