Beyond Belief ☆

When TC’s Professor Margaret Crocco of the Social Studies program began working on a study guide for the 2007 award-winning documentary, Beyond Belief, she quickly realized her team would have to perform a balancing act in order to complete the project. The challenge: to present the material about a film set in Afghanistan in such a way so as not to become a social studies lesson about the country and its religion, but an exploration of loss, tragedy and the human condition.

The film, directed by Beth Murphy of Principle Pictures, tells the story of Susan Retik and Patti Quigley. The two US women, who lost their husbands in the attacks of 9/11, turned their grief into a mission for compassion by establishing the Beyond the 11th Foundation. This organization provides support to Afghan widows who have been afflicted by war, terrorism, and oppression.

Murphy approached Professor Crocco about creating a study guide to accompany the film for students in grades 8 – 12, as well as college-level students and adults. “They wanted to emphasize the shared humanity of the women in the US and Afghanistan,” explains Professor Crocco. However, in creating the study guide, Professor Crocco’s team would also have to address the target audience’s lack of knowledge about Afghanistan and Islam.

For that reason, an advisory board comprised of TC’s Louis Cristillo and Monisha Bajaj, and Iftikhar Ahmad of Long Island University (CW Post) was assembled. “We wanted to make sure we vetted it [the guide] through experts on Islam, Afghanistan, women and women’s education,” Professor Crocco emphasizes. With a modest grant of $6,728 from the Beyond the 11th Foundation, the team, which also includes veteran educators and curriculum writers Maureen Grolnick and Keri Plassmann, began to tackle their complex task. They have done so in several creative ways.

First, they have augmented the study guide with references to reputable websites for accurate information about Islam and Afghanistan: “Teachers are being encouraged to go to well-regarded Internet websites, and that is important because there is a lot of inaccurate information circulating [about these subjects],” points out Professor Crocco. Second, by collaborating with EdLab at Gottesman libraries, clips from the film will be posted online and provided with discussion boards around them using Vialogues, a software program developed by EdLab. The aim is for teachers to use the interactive space to exchange ideas about incorporating the film into their classroom instruction.

The Beyond Belief study guide is currently in the final stages of editing, with a finished version slated for completion at the end of April. With $10,000 of additional grant funds from the Massachusetts Humanities Council, a series of professional development workshops will be held this spring and summer to gather feedback about the study guide from teachers and design a comprehensive Teacher’s Manual and supplementary online materials.

Beyond the 11th Foundation

Beyond Belief at Principle Pictures