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Lessons from the Holocaust for Victims of Bullying

Research into many case studies of school shootings by professors from Wake Forest and Clemson has suggested that bullying occurs frequently, that about 75% of children experience bullying at some time in their school lives, but that shooters seemed often to be particular targets for relentless bullying.(1) Schools have re-doubled efforts to prevent bullying, however,
what may be overlooked in these admirable prevention efforts is the long-term impact of bullying on its victims. According to Dr. Mark Dombeck, even after the bully has been apprehended, punished, suspended, or otherwise silenced, the victim still suffers—with low self-esteem and poor self-image, with anger, depression, the failure to trust others, and increased difficulty in personal relationships. In his article, Dombeck also discusses the possibility of recovery from these effects:

People who have been bullied have been fundamentally dis-empowered. Their feelings of personal safety have been violated and their belief in their own competency and adequacy has been brought into question. Such people may exist in a state of perpetual avoidance and paralysis. In order to feel good about themselves, they will need to break through that paralysis and engage in something that helps them feel like they are gaining in power. Not power over others, but power over themselves. No other people can do this for them. Each paralyzed person has to decide to empower themselves.

There are a million avenues one can go in to fulfill an empowerment goal, the one that is right for any given person being a function of that person’s talents and opportunities. Anger can be productively funneled into a competitive endeavor (such as education, business, sports, gaming or some other means of becoming excellent) or a creative expression.
In teaching about the Holocaust, especially with younger children, teachers sometimes compare Adolf Hitler to an oversize bully, one who is exceptionally mean and who “picks on” millions of people who are at his mercy. Of course the scale of his actions is so extreme, the horrors he set in motion so terrible, the devastating effects on his victims so overwhelming, that the comparison seems very limited, even though it may help children understand genocide a little or even be useful in a school anti-bullying campaign.
Where this analogy may be more useful is in looking at the results of bullying: the anger, depression, social breakdown. How does one repair the effects of bullying?

The film Defiant Requiem, the story of a concentration camp near Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. At Terezín, more than 100,000 Jews from many countries in Europe were interned by the Nazis from 1941 to 1945. Many died of starvation, disease, and forced labor. One would expect to find, during the years of this brutal incarceration, only anger, depression and despair.

Instead, prisoners gathered after long workdays to put on plays, to make music, to prepare and listen to lectures on an extraordinary range of subjects. Teachers supervised art classes and artists, forced to work during the day for the Nazis, worked late into the night on their own, recording the sights of the Terezin. One musician, Rafael Schächter, used a piano and a single copy of Verdi’s Requiem to train 150 Jewish singers to interpret this Catholic Mass for the Dead. Its hymns of “Libera me” and “Dies irae” expressed respectively a passionate desire for freedom and the belief that a Day of Judgment would bring the wrath of God upon the Nazis. They were given the opportunity to sing the Requiem in a concert attended by the Nazis in a unique act of defiance.

Defiant Requiem captures the horrors of the Third Reich, but it also shows the power of the human spirit to sustain itself in the creation of art and beauty under the most egregious circumstances. The prisoners at Terezin empowered themselves, in Dombeck’s sense, by using their talents for creative expression, staving off the despair that one would expect to find amid such horrors. In their work, they found hope, joy, companionship, support and strength to continue. As such, they provide a model for all children, but especially for those who have taken the brunt of bullying and who need to find a way to empower themselves again.

(1) See Mark R. Leary, Robin M. Kowalski, Laura Smith, and Stephen Phillips, “Teasing, Rejection, and Violence: Case Studies of the School Shootings” at

ANNOUNCING: Storytelling and Digital-Age Civics Webinar Series

We want to call to your attention a really exciting webinar series which USC Annenberg’s Media, Activism, and Participatory Politics (MAPP) research group is helping to organize in collaboration with the MacArthur Connected Learning Initiative, the Youth and Participatory Politics Network, Youth Radio, the Black Youth Project, and the Media Arts and Practices Division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Over four webinars, you will be able to hear from line perspectives from a range of youth who are seeking to change the world.

This webinar series explores storytelling as a practice that bridges cultural and civic/political engagement. We define storytelling as a shared activity in which individuals and communities contribute to the telling, retelling, and remixing of narratives through various media channels. To create these stories, youth make use of various media including theater, photography, blogs, books and videos. Organized around the lifecycle of a story, this webinar series will explore the affordances and challenges of digital media for civic action by bringing together civically active youth to discuss how political narratives are created, produced, spread and recontextualized through “digital afterlife.” To encourage a fruitful discussion, we have invited people and groups who represent a broad range of perspectives and practices.

Webinar 1: Finding your story (Tues January 14 @10am PST)
Webinar 2: Making your story (Thurs January 16 @10am PST)
Webinar 3: Spreading your story (Tues January 21 @10am PST)
Webinar 4: Considering your story’s “afterlife” (Tues January 28 @10am PST)

More info:

Teaching Peace in a Violent World – The Dhamma Brothers

We hear about problems regarding overcrowded prisons and the rising crime rate. How does that make you feel? If you are similar to the average high school student or adult, you have pretty strong feelings on the topic—feelings that don’t include much empathy. But what if there were a chance of reducing the violence? What if hardened criminals could learn to embrace peace? The Dhamma Brothers film demonstrates just how to do this.

Rehabilitation in Prison

The Dhamma Brothers is a powerful film depicting the true story of inmates in Alabama’s Donaldson Correctional Facility. This prison holds 1,500 men and is considered to hold the state’s most dangerous prisoners. Within this dark environment, a growing network of men gather to meditate on a regular basis.

In January 2002, an ancient, rigorous meditation program called Vipassana, based upon the teachings of the Buddha, was brought inside the walls of this maximum-security prison in the Alabama countryside. Vipassana is rigorous, and even intense requiring 100 hours of meditation over a period of 10 days; one inmate, Grady Bankhead, says it was harder than being on death row. Considered worse than worthless by their society, these men undertake a radical inner journey that transforms their self-image, gives them power over their impulses, and enables them to give back to the narrow community in which they must spend their years.

Journeys in Film Curriculum

Journeys in Film is now offering a new curriculum, based on The Dhamma Brothers film and book, Letters From the Dhamma Brothers. The curriculum covers many areas including

– Getting to Know the Dhamma Brothers | Film Literacy
– Prison Writing | Literature
– Meditation and the Human Brain | Psychology, Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Neurology
– Introduction to Buddhism and Meditation | Psychology; History; Religious Studies
– American Prisons Today: A Statistical Study | Social Studies; Criminal Justice; Sociology
– Racial disparities in representation and sentencing
– Rehabilitation programs in correctional facilities
– Beginning Meditation | An Experiential Lesson

Additional Themes explored in this guide are:

– The power of meditation
– The hero’s journey archetype
– Prison stereotypes
– The U.S. prison system
– Prison reform
– Disparities in sentencing
– Mindfulness

Lessons in Empathy

One of the many beautiful lessons this film has to offer is one in the development of compassion. As the prisoners meditate, many began to understand the ramifications of their own actions. They feel copassion for the families of their victims. One of the Dhamma Brothers had his daughter murdered, and during his his meditation was able to let go of his need for revenge because he understood the human element in the man who murdered his own child.

As students learn about the Dhamma Brothers, their histories, and their pathways to healing, they become able to relate more to the complexities of the penal system. As one student wrote, “This film really opened my eyes to a lot of different things. My views on inmates is changed. Just as the men in the film. I no longer view them as inhuman people, but as human beings.”

Meditation Leads to Healing

Back in 2002, the prisoners learned about Vipassana meditation. The word Vipassana means “seeing things as they really are.” This was an intense 10-day program in the prison in which the prisoners couldn’t speak for the first nine days. It was successful, yet threatening to some of the leaders in the prison who were concerned that the prisoners would become Buddhist. Ironically, while the meditation sessions have roots in Buddhism, they don’t highlight any god. In fact, they teach concepts embraced by many religions, including Christianity. During an intense moment in the film, the Vipassana program is shut down.

After a few years, the prison had a change in administration, and the program was reinstated. Since the Vipassana meditation program was introduced, the prison has seen a 20% reduction in institutional infractions & segregation time .

Educators from various walks of life are embracing the curriculum based on The Dhamma Brothers. One sums up the experience by saying, “This course of study did inspire students to pursue research topics and engage in service learning. The materials generated great discussions, especially around film analysis and portrayal of prisons/prisoners, rehabilitation, mindfulness and research.”

You can download the curriculum at no cost, and find out more about the film on the Journeys in Film website (

Keeping the Classroom Current with Film

Teachers face the challenges of keeping up with the latest trends. So what’s the buzz this year?

Keeping Current in the 2013 Classroom

From what I see on education sites and from what I hear in the hallways, teachers are working on adjusting to the nightmare of the common core, new technologies and devices while trying to maintain a collaborative learning environment. I also see an upswing in lesson plans promoting empathy, kindness and human connections.

This is good news for Journeys in Film since its free curriculum ( focuses on teaching global connections using film while still covering core standards in the educational system.

Using Technology in the Classroom

Now I know viewing films in the classroom isn’t exactly cutting edge. In fact, I had teachers centering lesson plans on films (on actual reels!) way back in the 1970′s. However, teachers today teach through film in the classroom differently. And more effectively, in my opinion. Today’s educator knows that teaching with film is more than viewing a film then having a question and answer time. Film is a springboard for immersive learning.

Now film is used more as a tool to reach students of various learning styles. It is a conduit for hands-on lessons as well as a tool for promoting discussions which teach a variety of subjects ranging from math to art to science and sociology (and more).

Reaching all Learning Styles

One of the best parts of using film-based lesson plans in the modern classroom is the way it promotes versatility in learning. This is extremely important according to a study published in February of 2013. This study entitled Assessing experiential learning styles: A methodological reconstruction and validation of the Kolb Learning Style Inventory[1] notes that “convergence of teaching and learning styles will not only increase the learning effectiveness of students, but will also increase student flexibility, permitting them to alter their learning styles in response to varying environments.

The Common Core and Student Benefits

Educators teaching with Journeys in film free lesson plans note that the lessons utilize technologies and devices and maintain a collaborate learning environment while promoting empathy, kindness and human connections–perfect tools for the modern classroom. Each lesson in the Journeys in Film units was written to meet one or more of the standards and indicators listed by McREL. The lesson plans are also aligned to the new common-core standards. It is a relatively easy task for teachers to read through the standards listed and identify the corresponding state standards.

When educators teach through film, students benefit. Teachers have reported that the Journeys in Film program was beneficial to their students; reported student gains in “empathy” and “acceptance”; and progressive increase in “curiosity” about the world beyond their own cultural groups as well as the ability to make distinctions that are more refined e.g., not confusing Iran for Iraq.[2]


[1] Chris Manolis, David J. Burns, Rashmi Assudani, Ravi Chinta, Assessing experiential learning styles: A methodological reconstruction and validation of the Kolb Learning Style Inventory, Learning and Individual Differences, Volume 23, February 2013, Pages 44-52, ISSN 1041-6080,


Parenting in the Digital Age

How much digital technology do you use in your household? Do you find it helpful in educating your children? Recently I read a study entitled Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology[1], and I have to confess that I was a bit surprised by some of the results.

In a world of apps and smartphones, the television is really holding strong. And so is the concept of life beyond technology. Perhaps this is why the Journeys in Film curriculum reaches so many people so well. It merges the two concepts.

The Benefits of the Television/Film Screen

I’ll be honest now. When my kids were young, and I decided to focus on some global education, teaching my kids about India didn’t start out well. They were confused with the idea that people from India were not the same as American Indians. When they looked on a map, India seemed very far away.

How could I get them to see that children in India had a very different upbringing and culture than the upbringing to which my children were accustomed, and yet they also had a lot in common with my children? If I could teach through film, the visuals would explain it all. A perfect example of a film that would have worked is Like Stars on Earth [2]. The digital visuals would:

  1. Give my children accurate views and sounds of India
  2. Keep my children learning without their realization thanks to an enthralling story
  3. Teach my children that kids in India are similar to us in regards to family interactions and emotions and important life issues

Like Stars On Earth is a film that is part of the free Journeys in Film global education curriculum offerings[3]. It tells the story of Ishaan. Eight-year-old Ishaan’s world is filled with wonders that no one else seems to appreciate. Adults are more interested in things like homework and marks, but Ishaan just can’t seem to get anything right in class. When he gets into more trouble than his parents can handle, he is packed off to boarding school to “be disciplined.” New art teacher, Nikumbh, soon realizes that something is wrong and sets out to discover why. With time, patience and care, he ultimately helps Ishaan find himself.

The Benefits of Stepping Away From Digital Technology

As good as a film is, one doesn’t want to teach through film only. It’s never enough to stop after a viewing when one wants to get full value. The global education lessons must extend beyond the screen. This is why Journeys in Film offers curriculum that uses a film as a springboard rather than a stop.

In addition to the general entertainment value, this curriculum meets standards in math, science, language arts, social studies, media literacy and visual arts while also covering:

  • Cultural geography and history of India
  • Bollywood – music and dance traditions in Indian film
  • Creating tension between characters
  • Dyslexia, brain function and individual expression
  • Diwali and Hinduism
  • Using percentages and probability for calculating grades
  • Traditional Indian music instruments and contemporary world music

It does this through games, culinary lessons, face-to-face interviewing and other hands-on activities.

While it’s true we are fortunate to live in a hi-tech world, it’s clear that parents and educators benefit from using technology as a tool rather than let it overwhelm. This is parenting in the digital age.



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Films & Lesson Plans
Defiant Requiem
Experience the power of the human spirit to create art and beauty under the most deplorable circumstances of the Holocaust.
Learn More   
The Dhamma Brothers
Witness the transformative power of spiritual practice inside a maximum security prison of the deep south.
Learn More   
Please Vote for Me
Share a thought-provoking lesson on Democracy with your students, and discover Chinese culture and more along the way.
Learn More   
Children of Heaven
Help your students understand cultures of the Middle East through Iranian cuisine, geography, and other social studies lessons.
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Beat the Drum
Follow young Musa's quest for survival, understanding, and community while learning about HIV/AIDS.
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Whale Rider
Explore cultural changes across generations, as young Pai becomes the first female leader of a Maori community.
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The Way Home
Teach students about inter-generational conflict and globalization.
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The Cup
Immerse your students in the traditions and culture of Tibet through this award-winning film.
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Like Stars On Earth
Explore India’s culture through Bollywood and a young boy's struggle with dyslexia and bullying.
Learn More