July 19, 2002
UW-RF, K-12s, Red Cross Teaching Rules of War
A partnership of metro area teachers, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and the American Red Cross has been working to bring the Geneva Conventions alive for American high school students.
The working group, meeting recently at the University at the request of the national headquarters of the Red Cross, has been exploring how to make numerous activities of an international humanitarian law curriculum fit the national standards for U.S. social studies in American education. Red Cross Chapters in Wisconsin and Minnesota co-sponsored the working task force.
Participating in the work group with UW-RF faculty are teachers from the River Falls, New Richmond and Ellsworth school districts.
"We live in a time of heightened awareness of armed conflict and the reality of war," said Ogden Rogers, Associate Professor of Social Work at UW-RF and the project facilitator. "The American public needs to know what the rules of human conduct in war are. The Red Cross has a responsibility to reach out to the public and inform it about the meaning of the Geneva Conventions. These are the living rules that help to save lives and to relieve human suffering, even in the terrible face of war."
The project recruited area high school educators to form a focus group to help devise ways that will help American students and teachers learn about the treaties that define war crimes and basic human rights during times of armed conflict.
The teachers focused on national standards that serve as the guidelines for social studies education in the United States. The American Red Cross hopes to take the findings of the group to develop curricular materials for use in American schools.
Local teachers involved in the effort include River Falls High School social studies teacher Doug Hjersjo, who enjoyed the opportunity to lend his expertise in the effort. "These materials will provide students with a opportunity to become actively involved in the learning process," said Hjerso. "The interaction at the UW-RF workshop provided the educators an opportunity to critique and evaluate materials for the Red Cross."
Teacher Mark Stoetz, a participant in the group from Ellsworth Senior High School, noted, "The issues involved in the international humanitarian law are often overlooked by American educational institutions. I was excited about the opportunity to contribute to finding ways by which the Geneva Conventions can be introduced to American teachers and students."
New Richmond teacher Michelle Riba-Doerr said, "I think this is really important for U.S. students because of the increasing political violence that people in the world can experience." A second New Richmond teacher, Mandi Erickson, said, "I'm anxious to see how this important material can be implemented in my own classroom. It was an honor to be working on building a bridge between the Red Cross Movement, educational colleagues, and the Geneva Conventions."
The group was joined by two members of the UW-RF faculty, History Professor Kurt Leichtle and Emeritus Professor of Teacher Education DeAn Krey. Krey, who recently retired from the University, has been nationally recognized as a contributor to setting the standards of social studies in the U.S. She said she found it very satisfying to work on a curriculum that will be meaningful for youth all over the world.
The American Red Cross hopes to make materials available to U.S. educators in the coming year. "We were very excited to partner with UW-RF and the area teachers who formed our expert task group," said Laurie Fischer, international services associate for the National Headquarters of the American Red Cross. "The River Falls area is a wonderful place to gather advice on how to present the important message of the Geneva Conventions to American Students. We are so thankful to find such professional and caring volunteers to help us with this mission."
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