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The Human Face of Human Rights: Illuminating Standards Video Series

This video challenges the Common Core College and Career Readiness Habit “They come to understand other perspectives and cultures” as described in the standards as only being addressed vicariously through reading about other cultures. Featuring a project in which students interview international refugees from human rights abuses and consider their courage and stories in writing and photography. This film celebrates the power of experiencing other cultures first-hand, through direct relationships.

The Illuminating Standards Project

In the last two decades of the ‘standards movement’ in American public education, many educators have concluded that ‘teaching to the standards’ and project-based learning are incompatible. Ron Berger (Expeditionary Learning) and Steve Seidel (Harvard Graduate School of Education), co-directors of The Illuminating Standards Project, wondered if this conclusion was true. Indeed, they speculated that long-term, interdisciplinary, arts-infused, community-connected projects may well be one of the best ways to actually see what state standards look like when fully realized in the things students make in school—to make the standards visible.

Three questions frame the work of The Illuminating Standards Project:
~ What does it look like when state standards are met with integrity, depth, and imagination?
~ How can we use standards to open up and enrich curriculum, rather than narrow and constrain it?~ How can we use student work to raise the level of our understanding of standards and our dialogue about them?

The Videos

Collaborating with Berger and Seidel on The Illuminating Standards Project, over 30 students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have explored these questions by choosing projects from the Student Work Archive in the Center for Student Work and considering the ways in which those projects did—and didn’t—meet specific state standards. Further, they examined how the student work illuminated the standards—and vice versa. Many of those students created short films and 13 of those films are presented here.

We invite you to watch these films and we encourage you to use them as the catalyst for discussions with your colleagues about the relationship between your commitment to meet demanding state standards and approaches to designing powerful learning experiences for our students.


- One of the dispositions laid out by the Common Core State Standards is that students will come to understand other perspectives and cultures.

- Make clearly aware the part around looking at human rights came was that we have a population in Portland, it is a refuge resettlement city and so there are people coming here and living here who come from nations that have experienced human rights crises and that’s why they’re here. And their children are hearing the children that are going to our schools.

- The disposition states, “Through reading great classic and contemporary works” “of literature representative of a variety” “of periods, cultures and world views,” “students can vicariously inhabit worlds” “and have experiences much different than their own.”

- But really, it started with the documentary work and then realizing that this was content that would be important to kind of address. Marcy Angelo is from Sudan. She got very angry one day, and she was enraged, and she was so mad that we were doing this curriculum, “How dare you do this curriculum?” And what she was able to articulate was that it just made her so angry because she realized that, and she said this out loud to the class, “How dare you all not know.” “How dare you not know what my experience has been,” “and what goes on for us in our countries,” “and how dare you need to learn it in school.” And clearly she was able to get to a point, of course we all knew well, “We don’t know,” “and therefore isn’t it good that we are sitting” “and we’re gonna learn this together” “and this is our opportunity?” But she had to go to that place first, and it transformed the class. In an interview with her peers, Ekhlas said, “I was 13 years old when I left Sudan.” “My family came to the US because they were afraid” “That the war in Darfur was going to come to Khartoum.”

- The most difficult part about interviewing someone that you don’t know yet is because you don’t know how deep you can get into their background and their stories because sometimes they’re like, they either don’t want to share that much, or we’re the answer to their prayers and they’ve been wanting to share their stories for a long time and we’re the people that can help them do that, and help them help us.

- I don’t want to tell her story, that’s what we have, that’s all we have. So you’re giving the person this gift that you are honoring them to that degree, that they have an opportunity to tell their story, and you are then receiving that gift because there is no greater gift to receive than someone else’s story.

- Ehklas loved her life in Sudan, she loved the beauty of her country, she loved her friends and family, she loved school and her lifestyle. America is different.

- We’re all trying to be our best selves, we’re all trying to move toward optimizing things that are awful for us, and I think for her she was there, and it was really interesting because she was about six years older than me at the time, maybe seven, and she had two kids already. And it was so easy because of how honest she was to see a reflection of myself.

- Everybody has the potential to be incredibly articulate because once you’ve been moved and transformed, you’re articulate.

- Once you get to that place of truth and you realize how to be honest with people that way you reach a state of forgiveness where you’re like, “You’re a human being,” “I’m a human being, we’re both trying” “and we can be honest about that.”

- That happens, and it’s happened over and over and over again. It happens for every single kid involved in the project, I haven’t seen anybody not have it happen because it’s just true. And isn’t that something we need in our world today? When we talk about twenty-first century skills, and yes they need to know how to use their technology effectively, and even all of the fundamental skills that kids need to have to navigate this world, but it could be a lost and dying art unless we teach it.

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