April 24, 2009

Lions, Crocodiles...and the WTO?

This video has been circulating for some time now - for those of you who haven't seen it it is a video that captures an extrodinary set of events. I had heard that it was going to be made into a National Geographic documentary and I guess that is true (look here). If you haven't yet seen the video, watch it first before reading on.

Wow! A complex video, and story, in so many ways. Not only are there evil villians (the lions and a crocodile), but also a happy ending (maybe not for the predators but certainly for the water buffalo). And then of course there are the people watching.

Okay, intersting...so what? Well, as teachers, we always look for a learning opportunity. I was excited by this video, it interested me immensly...but now what? How can I use it? Well, it just so happened that in my Social Studies classes we were discussing what I like to call the 'big fish, little fish" topic. I offer a comic strip that shows a big fish about to eat a medium sized fish who is about to eat a little fish. The captions read (from big fish to little fish) "the world is just", "there is some justice in the world", and "there is no justice in the world". Now, for you Social Studies teachers you immediately understand that we will go on to talk about power and justice in the world...for you Math teachers, well...there are 3 fish. I next offer the comic strip that shows a big fish about to eat a little fish; the little fish then whistles and all his little fish friends show up and together - eat the big fish. The comic strip is called "organize" and the lesson is taken from the book Rethinking Globalization (check out their website...it is a great organization).

Given this context you may begin to understand what an opportunity a video like "Battle at Kruger" offers for extended learning. We began to use the Battle at Kruger as an analogy for the world in relation to power struggles and justice. Who might be the big fish and medium fish (e.g. lions and crocodile). Oh, I see, well the lions could be the United States and Canada and the little fish could be India or Pakistan etc... Students then came up with some general analogies that I really liked. The lions and crocodile could be "developed" countries, transnational corporations, or world organizations (such as WTO) and the water buffalo could be "Third World" countries and governments. The people on the safari could be us. You see, the water buffalo finally realize that they are powerful through numbers and fight back. The people on the safari simply sit back and watch - they do nothing to interfere (and some eventually benefit from the video). We had been talking about sweatshops. Students applied this to the video. If Third World governments worked together to demand better conditions etc... the lions and crocodiles would have less power. And what about us, the safarians, what should we do? Anyway, students eventually developed their own in-depth analogies of the situation. Had it not been for this video I would never have thought of using the animal kingdom to connect learning of power and justice with a deeper context. But I guess that is the joy of teaching, finding those things that really connect and solidify student learning on a deeper level.

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