Influence of 'Kony 2012' Video Needs Moderation


Over dinner recently, I learned of my niece’s concern about her high school administrators removing the Kony 2012 posters that had been plastered all over the school. Kony 2012, a global campaign and viral video released by the nonprofit Invisible Children earlier this month, had fired her up and inspired her. My sister was thrilled to see her daughter so taken with a cause and so committed to having impact.

I suggested to my sister that perhaps the posters needed to come down so that teachers, students and families could take more time to learn about a very complicated and horrific situation. The recruitment of children into armed conflict is horrible and is taking place around the world. But at the end of the day, watching a video is not necessarily going to change anything. And learning solely through flashy, viral YouTube videos could be damaging.

A few nights later, I went to see what is now the highest-grossing American film of all time, The Hunger Games. This film tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world where children from different wards fight to the death in an annual televised event.

So what has this month taught our children? What are they learning about the African continent? What are they learning about killing, violence and children who are coerced to commit both? 

In 2002, I co-wrote an illustrated book, Africa Is Not A Country, which chronicles 25 stories of children and their families in their daily lives around the African continent. I was motivated to write the book after more than a decade of speaking engagements and organizing workshops in classrooms around the United States. The questions, comments and attitudes about Africa I heard from our classrooms were troubling: “Do Africans wear clothes?” “Why are they all poor?” “What is the capital city of Africa?” “There are cities in Africa?”

We must be mindful about the knowledge and information we share with our children about far-away places. The images and stories children see and hear form their base perceptions of the world around them. The pictures and words in books, movies, games and even on maps help or hinder children in building a foundation of appreciation and respect for humanity in all its diversity. Moreover, what we teach young children about the world can inspire their future curiosity.

Children should be introduced to activism, human rights and the violations of human rights that ignite activists. In fact, participatory activism involving children has been successful. Red Hand Day, an annual event that draws attention to child soldiers issues around the world, is a good example. But if we introduce complicated situations such as the LRA as “stopping the bad Africans,” we set our children up to assume they can save Africa—or worse—that they should be the saviors of Africa.

Countries in Africa, like countries around the world, have human rights problems. Our children should learn about them. But it sells short our children’s intelligence and the good human rights work going on around the world to teach it in flashy, dubious viral movies. Why not teach what people in Uganda think about Kony 2012? Our children, and the world about which we’re trying to teach them, deserve better.

Knight is a teacher, community volunteer and award-winning children’s book author based in Maine.


Here's a great article for

Submitted by ELATeacher on 17 April 2012 - 3:39pm.

Here's a great article for showing the Ugandan reaction to this video:

I think it's important to share this video with our students for a variety of reasons.

1. If we just ignore problems around the world because we fear teaching a negative impression of a group of people, we risk becoming the next generation to allow another Holocaust. Perhaps Rwanda could have been stopped if there had been a viral video about it.

2. Teaching HOW this video raised awareness is just as important as the issue itself. Our students are the next leaders of the world--we have to teach them how to share the ideas and beliefs they are passionate about.

3. We also have to teach students how to be critical viewers of videos like this. Several of my students have done far-reaching research of their own as they have thought about why they did or did not believe in the ideals behind this video and did or did not want to support Cover the Night.

ThinkCareAct Blog post:

Submitted by Susan Gelber Cannon on 11 April 2012 - 9:42am.

ThinkCareAct Blog post: Stopping Thoughtless and Violent Responses 2012: Responding to student and teacher questions about the video, I wrote a blog post with resources to help ourselves and students analyze the Kony 2012 video thoughtfully. Information and links provided propose nonviolent responses that (as history proves) will be much more likely to result in peacebuilding in Uganda than proposals in the film. Resources and links at

While I understand where the

Submitted by David Davis on 10 April 2012 - 7:05pm.

While I understand where the author of this article is coming from, I could not disagree more with the author. I think that a lot of people did not realize what the Kony 2012 video was trying to do. This was not a video to teach about the LRA and the invisible children. I saw it as a video to raise awareness that another War Criminal was still free somewhere. Yes it mentioned the LRA and told the story of one young man but the message behind was to bring Kony to Justice. Somehow people have lost sight of this. I teach 8th grade and showed it to two of my classes and the reaction I had from one class was absolutely amazing! The other class did not have the same reaction but they were interested... so if it takes a viral video to raise AWARENESS of something that has been going on for years then yes we should show it to our kids! Every now and then I wear a Save Darfur shirt to school and the students are always asking me what Darfur is? Or who it is? How many of your students know what has been going on the Sudan region? If we have flashy videos that catch the attention of students then we need to utilize them... yes we should preface it by explaining this does not tell all, but it is one persons point of view. Then we can say, go research this topic and see what you kind find out... Our children need to think for themselves and sheltering them from video's like Kony 2012 is no the answer. More importantly... Why is the world not knowledgeable about what the situations are that exist in Africa today? As a history teacher I tell my students that history will stop repeating itself once we actually learn from History.

But more importantly, aren't we always teaching our students that one person can make a difference? Well look at what one person did with a video camera and a flashy video...

When you suggested to your

Submitted by Lisa Flowers on 10 April 2012 - 6:02pm.

When you suggested to your sister, "that perhaps the posters needed to come down so that teachers, students and families could take more time to learn about a very complicated and horrific situation." You assumed that the teachers, students, and families had not or were not going to take the time to learn more. I teach high school remedial reading and used the very flashy and attention getting Kony2012 video as a way to introduce my students to a very real world issue. Your article makes the assumption that teachers are showing the video and then making posters with their students, you don't assume that we are using it as a starter to a very important conversation. My students were more engaged than they have been all year, and they read more articles about the video and situation than I could provide for them. I actually had students completing independent research because they wanted to learn more. We will be participating in Cover the Night - but we are doing so after learning more about the situation. The reality is that we, as a global community, can affect change, but we can only do so after raising awareness.

I think that the anti-KONY

Submitted by KConrad on 10 April 2012 - 5:06pm.

I think that the anti-KONY campaign, while complicated, is a very good way to get our nation (and the world) aware of what is going on in foreign countries and how children are often most affected. I think that there are varying levels of information that can be shared depending upon the age and interest of people. I don't think that it is presenting itself as interventionist or in any way acting as white people acting as the savior to Africans. It is important to name names when we can and identify those who violate human rights wherever that may be; there are bad Africans and there are bad Americans. While there may be oversimplification of the issue, it is imcumbent upon us to become more informed. KONY 2012 requires that of us, just as Amnesty International or Red Hand Day does. It is important to provide context and that is our reponsibility.

What is the difference

Submitted by Jana on 10 April 2012 - 1:20pm.

What is the difference between Invisible Children and the Red Hand Day sponsor?

Thanks so much for this blog

Submitted by Marti Weston on 9 April 2012 - 11:26am.

Thanks so much for this blog post. While I am committed to human rights and any fight against cruelty, I too worried about children (and adults) in the United States viewing the people and the countries in Africa through one horrific prism -- and losing track of the magnificent diversity, the many people committed to democracy and social change, the thriving middle classes, and educational institutions with global perspectives.

Excellent observations. Thank

Submitted by Charlotte Agell on 4 April 2012 - 6:42pm.

Excellent observations. Thank you. This went "viral" at our middle school, with hallway posters put up by passionate 8th graders. Without any context, the fifth graders were utterly terrified. Glad for the discussion.

This information is grossly

Submitted by Kim Klett on 10 April 2012 - 9:33pm.

This information is grossly inappropriate for 5th graders. For mature jr. high students and high school students, the posters and videos get their attention, and at least they know something about this important issue. What we hope is that they then will try to learn more. It has to start somewhere, and I think IC does a great job of putting the information out in a way that does attract attention.

I teach high school and my

Submitted by lisa englert on 5 April 2012 - 5:52pm.

I teach high school and my students and colleagues are all helping to raise money and awareness - we are not wearing the clothes, but we are plastering our school with signs that have a cross-out through his name - we want to make sure the message is clear not to celebrate or honor this horrific man.
We are taking signs to the streets so our community is aware of the atrocities he has committed.
The action we display in speaking out against these global monsters carry over to how we treat one another on a daily basis - we have to bring back civility

As you contunue your work

Submitted by Margy Burns Knight on 9 April 2012 - 12:59pm.

As you contunue your work please look at use with your students 2012 guide

Thanks for mentioning this

Submitted by Christine Root on 22 April 2012 - 6:48pm.

Thanks for mentioning this teaching resource, "React and Respond: The Phenomenon of KONY 2012." Here is the URL: (The URL in your comment does not work.)