Wednesday, December 30, 2019 — While most of us witness violence, name calling or petty theft at one point in our lives, our response can set us apart. Will we intervene on behalf of strangers, or stand back and watch as a bystander?
New Kosovan refugees arrive at a camp in Albania. Through the Red Cross Exploring Humanitarian Law curriculum, students develop critical thinking skills by discussing challenging situations like this one. Ursula Meissner/ICRC.
This question is at the core of Paul Frankmann’s classes in Aurora, Ohio. Using the free Red Cross Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL) curriculum, he emphasizes that his students have opportunities to apply basic humanitarian principles in their everyday life. In turn, he shows how those principles form the basis for international laws like the Geneva Conventions, providing insight into armed conflicts and spurring discussion about other historic events.
“We spend our classes humanizing historical events such as the American Revolution, Civil War and the Barbary Pirates,” Frankmann says. “We see how they connect and apply to similar situations today, such as Abu Ghraib and pirate attacks off the Somali coast. Exploring Humanitarian Law is phenomenal, like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s opened the world to my students. They’re not memorizing—they’re experiencing.”
While many don’t think about how these principles apply off of the battlefield, Frankmann combines his experience as a teacher, citizen and former member of the military to show the importance of humanitarian law. In the process, he teaches both critical thinking and empathy.
“Students come to understand that there are no easy answers, that there are different perspectives and that choices have consequences,” he says.
Aligned with social studies requirements around the United States, Exploring Humanitarian Law offers activities that can be used as a whole or mixed and matched into existing lessons. High-quality resources, including news accounts, letters, videos and interactive projects bring real events and people to life, helping teachers connect lessons of the past with current events. These materials are used in classrooms in more than 40 countries.
Frankmann finds a number of benefits to the curriculum. For instance, it helps his students think beyond themselves to larger issues in the world.
It has inspired them to achieve. After incorporating EHL into his curriculum, his class’s passing rate for the Ohio Achievement Test in Social Studies increased by 19%.
It also helps them progress from bystanders to active members of the community. Some of his students have volunteered for the American Red Cross. Others have decided to start clubs like Model United Nations.
Because of these experiences, Frankmann has become a strong advocate for the curriculum, asking other teachers to consider adopting it.
“I believe that EHL implemented globally has the power to change people, and through people, to change the world,” he says.
This February, during Black History Month, the American Red Cross recommends that interested teachers sample Exploring Humanitarian Law by incorporating information about bystanders into their existing lesson plans for civil rights. Learn more by visiting Module 1A at www.redcross.org/ehl.
As a member of the Red Cross global network, the American Red Cross works to raise awareness about the Geneva Conventions, the basic rules of international humanitarian law and the neutral, impartial and humanitarian role of the Red Cross during armed conflict.
You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. Donations to the International Response Fund can be sent to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.