Using Living Newspapers to bring world events into the classroom

The Living Newspaper Project is an innovative program to reinvigorate civic education through the dramatization of contemporary human rights issues. The current project builds on the United States Federal Theater project, created under the 1930s New Deal to put unemployed researchers, journalists and performers to work creating theater pieces about events of the day. Today’s Living Newspapers take place in the classroom where the Living Newspaper—literally, a newspaper brought to life—engages students in conducting research on current events, crafting critical and creative writing, and staging public performances. Students gain a greater ability to understand and affect the world around them through an interdisciplinary, hands-on, collaborative project. The ultimate goal is to take action – by simply being aware of injustices or actually taking steps to do something to change the situation.

Re-created by the Humanities Institute at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin in partnership with the Performance as Public Practice Program, Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, and the Theatre Action Project, and handed over to local teachers, the Living Newspapers across Disciplines program illustrates the power of connecting students to the world around them through interdisciplinary and interactive approaches. Living Newspapers provides teachers with the tools to guide their students through a Living Newspaper unit in classrooms as diverse as English, Social Studies, Spanish, Astronomy or Theater Arts.

Participating teachers receive the Living Newspaper Resource Guide, containing TEKS-aligned model lesson plans, evaluative tools, and resources[NP1] , and the ongoing support of a program team comprised of subject specialists, UT Austin graduate and professional students, and UT Austin faculty. In addition to the academic skills emphasized by the program, students also benefit from relationships with graduate and professional student guest teachers and, through them, exposure to an unprecedented array of post-secondary school opportunities and careers in the humanities, higher education, law, public affairs, and the arts.

In creating Living Newspapers, students choose their own topics, an element that has been critical to the success of the program. Also critical have been the flexibility of the curriculum and the creation of a program that could be adapted to a variety of classrooms and disciplines.

For example in classrooms across Central Texas Living Newspapers were incorporated into:

  • A foreign language project which focused their AP Spanish class on human rights issues in Latin America.
  • An AP economics class to help students think about the real life application of the theories they explored in class. Students made short films about topics ranging from the outsourcing of jobs to India, to piracy in the music and movie industry.
  • A public speaking class that offered a chance to get public speaking students comfortable talking in public about important issues.
  • A creative writing class where students wrote plays about contemporary issues of importance to them, including topics ranging from gay marriage to arranged marriages.
  • An astronomy class to help students teach each other about the solar system.
  •  A project on genocide in countries ranging from Bosnia to Darfur – as visuals students sketched words such as Agony, Genocide, Fear and Death on their arms.
  • A theater piece, “Got Rights”, where students in Austin graphically illustrated the violations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) by depicting 20 children struggling with issues such as child labor, the AIDS epidemic and juvenile detention.

As a direct result of her participation in “Got Rights”, one ninth-grade student deepened her involvement in the Invisible Children movement, an effort to educate people about the 20,000 Ugandan children who have been kidnapped and forced to work as child soldiers. After incorporating the issue into the Living Newspaper, she organized screenings of a documentary on the issue at her school and held a benefit concert to raise money for the organization.

In the course of its three year history, the Living Newspaper Project has reached approximately eighty Central Texas middle school, high school and community college teachers, as well as several hundred students. In August 2009, in an expansion of the Living Newspapers project beyond the academic year, a Summer Youth Performance Troupe was initiated. This five-week summer workshop involved 16 middle and high school students in a five-week Forgotten Gateway immigration project at the Texas State History Museum.

Already there have been requests for the curriculum from Japan to Massachusetts. Students, by being given the freedom to choose subjects that interest them personally are encouraged to become leaders and activists on global issues from their own local community.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

The living newspapers approach relies on classroom teachers to engage students in an exploration of human rights issues. Teachers can play a significant role in helping students understand connections between their lives and human rights issues, and can be powerful allies in building a human rights-respecting culture.  This tactic could also be used in the community to build interest and engagement in human rights.  As the students select the topics that they are most passionate about, this tactic is widely adaptable to focus on diverse human rights issues around the world.