Meet Karen Sklaire, one of our STTP Lead Educators who is passionate about human rights and the arts, and creator of our wonderful STTP theatre lesson.
1) What about Speak Truth To Power inspires you?
The first thing that hooked me was the name -- speaking the truth about what's really happening in the world- bringing it out in the open with the power of knowledge. Even though we are surrounded by news and media about what's happening in the world -- because it's not happening in front of our eyes -- it may not feel real. STTP allows us to dig deep into human rights issues that absolutely relate to our personal lives today. It forces one to see all the violations of human rights all around the world (many of which are in this country) and inspires you to want to be a part of the movement. The stories from the defenders are moving, deep and incredibly inspiring. Our students need to know what is happening in their world so they can be future defenders and that's exciting!
2) As an elementary school teacher, do you think the subject matter of STTP is too much for the youngest learners?
Human Rights begin at the most basic level -- the right to education, the right to free speech, the right to safety, food, water, shelter. There are many children who don't have a home because of poverty, or come to school hungry because they aren't getting the proper nutrition, there are children who are abused and subjected to unimaginable violence and mistreatment. It's never too early to bring awareness to what's happening in their world. The more they become aware, the less room there is for discrimination and misunderstandings. Knowledge is a powerful tool. There are subjects that the children will not understand, but topics such as bullying are at the forefront of education as schools are bringing in bullying prevention programs. STTP provides this education and more.
3) How do you bring the concepts of STTP and human rights into your classroom?
As a theater teacher, I begin with group work -- creating a safe environment for ensemble work. We are always talking about how to treat everyone equally. For the little ones we read stories such as The Ugly Duckling, The Tortoise and the Hare, and theHenny Penny- discussing how and why these characters are treated differently, then creating and acting out different scenarios on how to become more compassionate and empathetic to those who are different than us. We discuss the basic human rights and write original plays as a class about preventing bullying and helping others. For the older kids we devise theater pieces based on some of the readings of defenders of human rights. My fifth grade class is now writing a play about International Peace Day and how they can get more involved outside of the classroom and become defenders.
4) How do you see the play Voices From Beyond the Dark, based on the STTP book, serving as a base for human rights learning?
It is one thing to read a story about a woman who was sold into slavery at a very young age, escaped and dedicated her life to freeing other victims. It is another thing to step into her shoes and become her. Theatre is so powerful in that way. Students are more likely to not only retain that information by using all of their senses -- imagination, emotions, physical attributes and movement of these characters (defenders), but it propels them into wanting to take action (whether it is for that particular story or just to get involved in any sort of human rights movement). I truly believe this is a springboard and an opening into the discussion of human rights. This is my experience not only as an actor, but when I was going through the institute -- the play is what resonated the most for me (and when I taught a theatre lesson to the teachers at the institute -- many felt it resonated strongly with them). Education has to come from all sorts of different directions because there are so many different types of learners. Theater is an excellent way to get kids on their feet, involved and really invested in the subject.
5) What would you say to a teacher who is unsure about bringing STTP and theatre techniques into their classroom?
Don't be afraid to try something new! These defenders put themselves on the line to create change. Try something new. As I said before -- theater provides the platform to engage the students to want to know more. The lessons I have developed are very simple exercises that anyone can use in their classroom not just for the purpose of learning about these defenders, but for working on ensemble and teamwork within a classroom. They get everyone involved. Each student has a role and it's fun. Theater is one of many techniques used to engage and involve. It can be used with social studies, history, and even math and science. You don't have to be trained as a theater teacher to develop characters or take on the emotion of another human being. We do these things in the classroom already- this is just a way to enhance what you're teaching.
6) Last thoughts?
I really believe when I met Kerry Kennedy years ago and she introduced me to Karen, a new door had been opened. I have always wanted to make a difference and inspire my students, but the work of STTP created a whole new journey for me. It has made me a more compassionate person and has inspired me to not think so small. It is so thrilling to watch kids get excited about creating change in this world and there is something so cool about being a vehicle to guide them on that journey. Bringing the arts into this conversation is essential. And I'm so excited STTP is taking it on!