Students from all religious and cultural backgrounds are coming together in classrooms all over the world through Tony Blair’s program ‘Face to Faith’ and learning that they have much more in common than they thought.
Face to Faith is an innovative program for students from 12 to 17 years old. By providing an online video platform where students from (currently) 19 different countries can discuss world issues with other students from different religions, cultures, and beliefs through face to face dialog, students are finding it easier to connect, learn, and create new perspectives and worldviews.
“The Face to Faith program is unique and far reaching in its potential to promote religious literacy among young people from different nations and religious traditions." Professor Harry Stout, Yale University
Face to Faith allows students to connect with other students from around the world to share their cultural differences, gain understanding of their traditions, and celebrate their diversity instead of only barely glazing over in text books.
Usually you’ll find that students are initially interested in asking exploratory questions concerning everyday life:
“How long is your school day?”
“Do you switch rooms every period or do you stay in one class and have the teachers rotate rooms?”
“When is lunch?”
“What’s for lunch?”
“How much homework do you have each night?”
“What do you do after school—play videos games, sports, music, etc.?”
Teachers are given the freedom of how they want to implement the program into the classroom teaching schedule. According to Tony Blair's Face to Faith website, most teachers have used to program to ‘deliver elements of’:
- Social Studies
- Religious and Civic Education
- In addition, Face to Faith can be used and accredited against the Cambridge Assessment IGCSE in Global Perspectives and, is recognized by the International Baccalaureate (IB)as a resource that students may use for their community service work.
Instead of just reading about the social, religious, economic, or historical structures of life in different cultures and understanding how they view and interact with the world around them, students can now share and learn face to face.
Allowing students to talk with other students about belief and faith without the leading of a parent, teacher, or other adult with some kind of personal agenda is an incredibly inspiring conversation to listen to. Children have their own perspective of life which is a much more positive, magical, and problem solving perspective than adults who run the governments of the world.
By creating a multi-cultural communal social platform, teachers are able to introduce and begin to cultivating a positive worldview in the minds of students. Research shows that this kind of consistent community-interaction produces positive change in the perceptions of youth, giving them an opportunity to discover a worldview which encourages them to think critically, forming new opinions about other religions, races, social groups, and cultures.
A Study from Psychologists at Harvard, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington reveals the importance of creating consistent cross-cultural community interactions for change;
“Integration, by itself, has not been shown to produce dramatic changes in attitudes and behavior. But many studies show when people work together in a structured environment to solve shared problems through community service, their attitudes about diversity can change dramatically.
By including members of other groups in a task, children begin to think of themselves as part of a larger community in which everyone has skills and can contribute. Such experiences have been shown to improve attitudes across racial lines and between people old and young.
There also is preliminary evidence that unconscious attitudes, contrary to initial expectations, may be malleable. For example, imagining strong women leaders or seeing positive role models of African Americans has been shown to, at least temporarily, change unconscious biases” – Source: Teaching Tolerance
Some of the same studies show that between the tender ages of 3 and 6 years of age parents are the biggest influence on the way a child will judge the world around them. Around 10 years old children who are raised in loving families where parents are actively involved and shown that they are loved regardless of ‘what they do’ will start to form their own positive open minded ideas about the world around them. While children who are raised in an environment of violence, a lack of parental involvement, and other dysfunctions are more apt to pick up the prejudice opinions of their parents and other parent-like role models out of the inner need to find some type of acceptance.
“Social scientists believe children begin to acquire prejudices and stereotypes as toddlers. Many studies have shown that as early as age 3, children pick up terms of racial prejudice without really understanding their significance. Soon, they begin to form attachments to their own group and develop negative attitudes about other racial or ethnic groups, or the ‘out-group’. Early in life, most children acquire a full set of biases that can be observed in verbal slurs, ethnic jokes and acts of discrimination.” - Teaching Tolerance
Through Tony Blair's Face to Faith, the foundation is helping create cultural bridges between students of different faiths, beliefs, and races upon which students can safely cross over and learn from each other, and feel free to ask questions concerning the traditions of other faiths. By students being provided with the opportunity to dialog face to face with other students, they’re able to learn just how ‘human’ and similar they are.
One American high school student shares in a ‘Face to Faith’ online video conference that gaining knowledge of each other’s faith and beliefs is the key in fighting violence between cultures and religions:
“A major issue of different religions is a lack of knowledge. If we learned about each other more, and if we grew more tolerant of each other than these attacks wouldn’t happen as much.”
-Student, America, [Speaking in a video conference]
What other students are getting from Face to Faith live video chats:
“After the video conference, I realized that regardless of the diversity of our world’s cultures and religions, most if not all, have an utmost respect towards other religion. Another observation that caught my attention is that it seems that both schools share the same desire for freedom. As a student of X School that practices the Catholic faith, I do certainly wish to be able to grasp more knowledge concerning the faith of other individuals. I’m definitely looking forward to our next video conference.” -Student, 16, the Philippines
“My class had a video conference with people in Lebanon today and I think it went really well. The kids at the Saint Joseph School were so nice! They were really supportive of our religion and didn't judge us at all. They really supported of our beliefs and how our religion works.” -Student, 17, Utah, USA
“This video conference really helped to breakdown the stereotypes that we have had and we have created bridges over the cultures.” Student, India, [Speaking in a video conference]
Students who do not believe in God are also finding Face to Faith a safe platform to share what ‘Faith’ means to them. One such student from India shared that although he doesn’t believe in the Supernatural he still has faith;
“Faith for me is not belief in the supernatural or the power above. Faith for me is belief in myself--belief in myself to pave my own path and destiny. It is belief in the power of humanity and that we can live together peacefully and happily.” – Student, India, [Speaking in a video conference]
Maybe the answer to so many of our hot topics and current world problems could be worked out if we thought more like children. Maybe that’s what the Bible was talking about when it was said:
“Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” (Psalms 8:2)
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” – Jesus (Matthew 11:25)
Youth are not inherently prejudice. Children don’t look at a person and automatically make a negative judgment about them. In fact children have to be educated as to why one person can hurt another person, or how one country can go to war with another country, kill people, and it be considered ok and even good. Children who are raised in Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, (etc.,) homes are all the same on schoolhouse play grounds. It’s not until they’ve receive the knowledge from those they trust, that they begin to create separated categories for people in their minds.
Face to Faith follows a set of principles by which it operates. The program uses the acronym “Respect” so teachers and students alike can better remember those principles.
“We ensure that everything we do, from the most strategic level, right through to classroom activities is informed and inspired by these principles.
- R Respect: Our world is a diverse world. To communicate and grow we must respect one another’s beliefs, values, attitudes and faiths.
- E Education: Good learning creates understanding, overcomes prejudice and opens the gates of dialogue. We are here to teach and to learn, not to convince or convert.
- S Safety: A safe environment allows everyone to share with confidence. Help create one around you and watch everyone flourish.
- P Perspective: Long journeys start with small steps and eyes lifted to the horizon.
- E Empathy: When we try to see the world through other people’s eyes, we open our own.
- C Celebration:We’re all different and that makes us special – so let’s bring our differences to the party!
- T Trust: Through building relationships with people around the world, we learn to trust one another that our beliefs and values will be accepted.
Our work is also informed by the Toledo Guiding Principles on teaching about religions and beliefs in public schools – we agree that there is a positive value in an approach that teaches respect for everyone’s right freedom of religion and belief, and that teaching about religions can reduce harmful misunderstandings and stereotypes.”
Face to Faith is currently a free program to schools that register. There are around 100 schools participating in the program within the United States including;
- Brighton High School, Utah – Read: ‘Utah Council for the Social Studies- Face to Faith Experience’
- Holland Hall School, Tulsa – Read: ‘I’m a Tulsa Kid: Grant Gebetsberger- Holland Hall Face to Faith’
- Lewis and Clark High School, Spokane – Read: ‘Rights, Responsibility, and Respect – Face to Faith pdf’
- Regis High, New York – Read: ‘Students Participate in Face to Faith Video Conference’
- Pacific Ridge School, San Diego – 'Read: Students learned about the importance of festivals in their respective cultures’
- Chantilly High School, Virginia – Read: ‘To bridge religious divide, let students engage students’
- St Paul’s School for Girls, DC – Read: ‘St. Paul's School for Girls launches Face to Faith program’
- Nashua High North, New Hampshire – Read: ‘In Nashua and Cairo, ‘teenagers are teenagers’
Other countries participating in Tony Blair's program include; Australia, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Pakistan, UAE, the UK, Jordan, Egypt, Italy, Canada, Israel, and Palestine.
For more information on Tony Blair’s Face to Faith program
- Face to Faith Online
- Face to Faith’s Current News Room
- Article: ‘Back to School putting a face to another’s faith’ by Charles C. Hayne (The Washington Post)
- ‘Test Yourself for Hidden Bias’ – Professional Development Tests/ Project Implicit
- Tony Blair Faith Foundation
What do you think about Tony Blair’s Face to Faith concept?
Is this something that you would like to see your local schools participating in?
How do you feel this concept can change the future? Or will it?
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