The Teen Bill of Responsibilities Course has been offered in several Los Angeles schools for nearly ten years. This most recent class was taught by Connie Bessman-Natt and was not without its unique challenges, including dealing with the emotions of having a classmate murdered this spring.
“As a single parent it’s my job to show my daughter what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Stephen Smoke, the author of the FREE course (available to any teacher as a FREE PDF DOWNLOAD on this site) worked with Connie to tweak the course wording to make it more meaningful to students and responsive to their needs.
In fact, Stephen sat in on a few of the classes. “One thing that was different about this particular class is that it was ‘opt-in.’ That is, it was offered at a college campus near a couple of high schools, and participating students signed up and received special credit for completing the class. Several of the students’ parents and grandparents brought them to every class. To me, that shows a special commitment – on the part of the student and the parent or guardian – to do the things important to succeed. Clearly, to them, personal responsibility is important.”
Shortly after the class was completed, Connie and some of the students (as well as a few of the parents and grandparents who watched — or participated in — the class) were interviewed. This video was produced and edited by Ken Hanada, with the help of Hiroshi Igaki. Ken is the producer of “Pursuit of Loneliness” (an official 2012 Sundance Film Festival Selection). The photographs in this post are lifted from the video.
In their comments, the viewer senses an unmistakable commitment to the fundamentals of a successful life. “As I watched the video,” explains Stephen Smoke, “I got the feeling that something separates these students from the crowd. A large part of what separates them from their peers – besides their own commitment to succeed – is the commitment and support of key authority figures in their lives. Also, the elements of love and mutual respect are on display in the video. These elements are often taken for granted, or actually missing from too many relationships.”
The Teen Bill of Responsibilities Course
The Teen Bill of Responsibilities Course is a 6-part course that can be taught in one day, over a number of days, or one lesson per week over a 6-week period. Each lesson deals with a different aspect of personal responsibility and each lesson builds on the previous lesson.
The course is taught using a combination of teaching methods: the Socratic Method and Guided Discussion. In this course, the views of the teacher – and the author, for that matter – are irrelevant to the students’ learning experiences. Questions are asked and students’ answers are acknowledged but not judged. That is, there are no “wrong” answers. All the experiences discussed are the students’ experiences, and all realizations and conclusions reached about the idea of personal responsibility will be the students’ own.
Even though teachers are instructed not to make judgments about students’ answers, that doesn’t mean the course teaches that making a judgment is wrong. On the contrary – part of taking personal responsibility is the ability to understand that rights are linked to responsibilities and that people are accountable for their actions. When the student understands this, in his own terms, the student begins to cultivate and exhibit better judgment in determining his own actions.