Getting Real about Personal Responsibility

Oct 28, 2013 by

cheyanne and momThe 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.”

Rebekah and grandmother“The world is not a friendly place.”

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.

grandfather“Now in most cases, you’ve got both parents working. Kids have lots of free time on their hands. They need supervision.”

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.”

connie 1“The Bill of Responsibilities Course will help you become a better teacher.”

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.

bor rd dsThe 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.



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A Song About War Worth Your Attention

Oct 1, 2013 by

Barry Keenan3Barry Keenan

(A regular feature on the Bill of Responsibilities website is acknowledging people’s products and behavior that we believe deserves recognition.)

Barry Keenan is a well-known and critically-acclaimed LA singer/songwriter. His song “Our Comfortable Lives” is a tribute to the men and women in the military who sacrifice their comfort so that we may preserve our own. Sometimes our comfort insulates us from the contributions made by others. Sometimes to the point that those contributors become invisible.

Barry’s song has touched tens of thousands of people. It was the #1 song on Neil Young’s “Living With War Today” website for 62 weeks in a row and currently ranks #1 again. This fact says a lot about the song’s power because the site ranks the popularity of more than 3000 songs.

The song was published this year in a French textbook that included the lyrics of Woody Guthrie, Eminem, Paul Stookey, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ray Davies, Freddi Mercury, among many others.

BOR musicDespite his rock star appearance and being the author of a “war protest song,” Keenan, the father of three, ranging from 8 to 19, is not easily labeled politically. “While I believe the government is responsible for its actions, I also believe each individual is responsible for his or her actions as well. I also believe that parents are responsible for their children. There will come a time when my kids are responsible for their own actions. Until then I do my best to provide them the best tools with which to build a good life. Today more than ever children need parents to be parents. Parents influence their children’s behavior, whether they intend to or not. For me, being a parent–being there for my kids–is the most important thing I do.”

Our Comfortable Lives

I saw a man wounded/The physical kind
He had shrapnel in his head/It severed his mind
It’s so terrible war/People suffer and die
While we go on living/Our comfortable lives

 Now the folks on the hill/Have their cocktails at eight
The finest of food/Is served on their plate
They dine and decide/Your future and fate
You have to be special/To get through their gate

For thousands of years/We can’t get it right
We torture and maim/And kill when we fight
It’s a terrible war/People suffer and die
While we go on living/Our comfortable lives

 I think a cease fire/Would serve us all well
It’s time to bring peace/And love to this hell
Death after death/It’s the toll of the knell
It’s time we start ringing/The new freedom bell

 I saw a man wounded/The psychological kind
He had hate in his head/And death on his mind
It’s a terrible war/The innocent die
While we go on living/Our comfortable lives

“Doing radio for so long, I have heard some of the best songwriters.
This is a well-crafted song, written by a brilliant songwriter.”
- Roz Larman, Host/Producer, FolkScene Radio, July 2010
“Barry–very powerful, and moving too!”
- Drey Samuelson, Chief of Staff for US Senator Tim Johnson
“The song is great! If it can only be played in every language and in every country in the world!”
- Michael CY Tsang
“This song is the most relevant social song for this or any other war generation that I’ve heard.”
- Gene Herd
“The lyrics are very powerful and timeless. This song moves my soul and makes me proud to be an American.”
- Michelle Williams

Click here to hear the song


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