During the election, teachers around the US struggled with issues arising in their classrooms — new kinds of bullying, confusion between fact and fiction, fear. And in the 100 days since President Donald Trump was inaugurated, those topics only continued to generate challenges for teachers.
The organization USC Shoah Foundation heard those concerns and developed an initiative called “100 Days to Inspire Respect” to support learning through Trump’s first 100 days in office.
“We heard from teachers in our network the difficulty they were having talking to their students about what was happening and cutting through the rhetoric and disrespect,” said Claudia Wiedeman, director of education at the USC Shoah Foundation.
Every day, a new downloadable lesson went up on the organization’s website iWitness. They're built around handpicked testimonies from the organization’s archives of 55,000 videos from survivors of genocide and war out of 62 countries in 41 different languages.
“This wasn’t a political thing for us. It was responding to specific things we were hearing,” Wiedeman told Metro. “We have the living history, and it was so amazing to go through and find the themes we were looking for that were appropriate to address things like, racism, human rights, resistance and respect.”
The lessons were eagerly received — downloaded 100,000 times. In the US, 16,000 teachers utilized the program in all 50 states.
The program also took from resources outside of their archives. For day 96, the lesson called “The Lollipop Moment: Small Acts of Everyday Leadership,” which was built around the idea of fostering civic responsibility, included a TED Talk from renowned leadership speaker Drew Dudley. It also included two testimonies from Holocaust survivors, and then had students create videos of their own demonstrating small acts that had big effects in their own lives.
Another lesson with the theme “My Story Matters” had students write six-word stories about countering hate.
“Hate starts with fear of others. Remove appearance. We’re all the same,” wrote a 9th grader in Florida.
“Adding personal stories to the curriculum was a way to for students to develop their capacity for empathy and to identify with the strength of the people they were seeing," Wiedeman said.
Additionally, the program gave students an opportunity to become digitally and media literate. They could use the program’s free video editor, for instance, and tap into the network of other classrooms involved around the globe.
The organization plans to continue its Witness lesson plans beyond Trump's first 100 days, and are building new curriculum that can be used for elementary school students, too.