Desmond Tutu: Reconciliation

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ©2000 Eddie Adams


  • 9 – 12


  • Justice

Additional Resources


  • Article 6: Right to Recognition as a Person before the Law
  • Article 7: Right to Equality before the Law
  • Article 8: Right to Remedy by a Competent Tribunal


  • What approaches are used to resolve conflict?
  • What needs to be in place for reconciliation to be successful?


  • 80 minutes


After this lesson, students will be able to

  • Know who Archbishop Desmond Tutu is and why he is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and human rights defender.
  • Distinguish between different approaches to achieving justice and resolving conflict.
  • Advance peaceful means to conflict resolution.


  • Drawing inferences
  • Making conclusions
  • Organizing and interpreting information
  • Inquiry and critical thinking
  • Group discussion


  • Social Studies Standard 2: World History Commencement
    • KI 1 PI 1, 3; KI 3 PI 1, 2, 3; KI 4 PI 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Social Studies Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government
    • Commencement KI 1 PI 1; KI 3 PI 1; KI 4 PI 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
  • English Language Arts Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; Writing PI 1, 2, 3, 4
  • English Language Arts Standard 3: Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 2, 3, 4; Writing PI 1, 2
  • English Language Arts Standard 4: Language for Social Interaction
    • Commencement Listening/Speaking PI 1, 2, 3; Reading/Writing PI 2, 3

NYS P-12 COMMON CORE LEARNING STANDARDS for ELA/Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12

  • RH/SS.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • RH/SS.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
  • WH/SS.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • WH/SS.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.


  • Reconciliation
  • Apartheid
  • Afrikaner
  • Patriotism
  • Restorative justice
  • Repression
  • Post-conflict
  • Revenge
  • Genocide
  • Amnesty
  • African National Congress


  • Justice
  • Human rights
  • Individual responsibility


  • Internet access


  • Students should have an introduction to at least one case of internal conflict, political or ethnic.
  • This lesson should be taught after students have studied the post World War II world and global issues.


Student Activities


Teacher will ask students to read the interview with Archbishop Tutu from Speak Truth to Power and view “Desmond Tutu: Truth and Reconciliation.” (symbol for link) In this lesson, students will gain a greater understanding of the ways to resolve conflict.

After reading the interview and viewing the video, conduct a class discussion based on these questions:


  • How does Archbishop Desmond Tutu define forgiveness?
  • What examples of forgiveness does he write about?


  • What are the three ways the Archbishop gives as examples on how to deal with post-conflict reconciliation? Give your interpretation of each example.

What did Archbishop Tutu mean when he said, “The past refuses to lie down quietly,” with regard to reconciliation after apartheid was outlawed?


  • Carousel Activity:
    • Write the following words on flip chart paper and post them on the classroom walls: Punishment, Revenge, Reconciliation, and Retribution.
    • Ask the students to write their “first thoughts” about each word.
    • After they have completed responding to each word, ask the students to write one word or statement under the appropriate word.
  • Break the students into four groups and distribute one word per group. Have each group discuss and present the collective thinking about the word they were given.
  • As a class, discuss the responses and decide which approach will bring about the best resolution.


  • Give students the following quotations and discuss their meaning.
    • “Until we can forgive, we will never be free.” – Nelson Mandela (anti-apartheid activist, former President of South Africa)
    • “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” – Nelson Mandela
    • “Reconciliation is to understand both sides; to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then go to the other side and endure the suffering being endured by the first side.” – Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese monk and activist)
  • Divide students into two groups for a debate. Allow time for the students to discuss their strategies for the debate and to write talking points.
    • One side should argue that reconciliation is necessary.
    • One side should argue against reconciliation.
  • After the debate, discuss how neither side of the debate has to exclude the other.
    • Reconciliation includes justice.
    • Use this quote: “Reconciliation should be accompanied by justice, otherwise it will not last. While we all hope for peace, it shouldn’t be peace at any cost but peace based on principle, on justice.” – Corazon Aquino (former president of the Philippines; first female president in Asia)
  • Point out the continuing problems in countries or for groups which have not reconciled.
  • Have students try to think of other countries in which reconciliation has succeeded or failed.
  • Students should pick a divided country/region and write a paragraph of forgiveness from the perspective of each side to the other.

Become a Defender

  • Watch the video clip Desmond Tutu: Hope in Troubled Times. While Archbishop Tutu is widely known for his role in the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in South Africa, he is as passionate believer that each and every person can make a difference.
  • Start a peer mediation program in your school. If there is one, become involved.
  • Create materials such as posters and brochures to use in a teach-in at your school, community center, faith-based group, or civic group. The materials should specify a global conflict (including the USA) and attempts to reconcile the parties’ differences. Consider how these local groups could assist in helping the global organizations.
  • Draft a play using a global conflict that is in a state of negotiations for reconciliation. Use information from the Archbishop’s interview and videos, as well as knowledge of social studies to write a convincing argument for reconciliation.


The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is sponsoring an annual contest honoring a student who submits the best advocacy activity based upon the lesson studied. A goal of the lesson is to instill into each student that one voice, one person can make monumental changes in the lives of many. Tell us how you “Became a Defender”!


  • A one-page summary of the advocacy activity
  • Digitized copies of materials that can be sent electronically
  • Photos of the activity (please include parental consent form)
  • A one-page summary of how the activity made a change in the lives of one person or many


  • A week long “virtual” internship at RFK Center
  • An opportunity to meet the defender through a SKYPE visit,
  • A visit from Kerry Kennedy or a defender to your school
  • A poster of a Speak Truth to Power Human Rights Defender
  • A donation of a signed copy of Speak Truth to Power for the school library

The application and instructions for entry can be downloaded here (link for materials)

The deadline for all applications is the third week in November.

The winning student and teacher will be notified by the last week of January.

Reconciliation Resource Network

The Reconciliation Resource Network is an online initiative coordinated by International IDEA. This network is comprised of reconciliation experts and holds periodic meetings to support the overall development of its work.

Reconciliation Processes in Africa:

Non-Governmental Organizations
A list of organizations working toward reconciliation in Africa.

Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation in Rwanda
This website lists organizations working on peacebuilding in Rwanda. This list consists of both government and civil society organizations and is largely edited by its readership.

Race and Reconciliation
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation funds organizations that work in South Africa and the Western Balkans to overcome legacies of violent ethnic or racial conflicts.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation
The Fellowship of Reconciliation, with a history of almost a hundred years of work for peace, justice and nonviolence, focuses the power of compassionate action by individuals throughout the world to their work for reconciliation. provides information and analysis about political, economic, environmental and social developments in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as in Russia, Turkey, and Southwest Asia.

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