The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Continual Reconstruction: The Confederate Flag Controversy in the Classroom

The Confederate flag stands—or sits in a museum display case—as a symbol of very different sentiments depending upon perspective.

For some, the flag flies in pride of past Civil War fighters and American heritage, but to others, it is an archaic symbol of racism, segregation and slavery in the United States. Following the fatal shooting of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley finalized a bill to remove the flag from the state capitol building on July 10, 2015.

“No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel pain. No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel like they don’t belong.”  Governor Nikki Haley

When the Charleston shooting first spurred national debate about whether the Confederate flag should be lowered, one female activist took it upon herself to scale the 30-foot flagpole and remove the battle flag herself.

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June 27, 2015. Bree Newsome climbs South Carolina Capitol building’s flagpole, removes flag.   Washington Post.

“I’m prepared to be arrested,” Brittany Ann “Bree” Newsome told police, who demanded that she come down. Then she climbed a bit higher to unhook the flag before descending to greet the authorities, who handcuffed her and immediately put the flag back in its former position.

Newsome spoke for a greater community when she explained her motive:

”We can’t continue like this another day. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.” —”Bree” Newsome

Politicians have struggled to reach an agreement about how to best honor history through the flag’s placement. A majority of civilians and government officials haven chosen instead to focus on what lies ahead; whether or not the flag represents a commendable moment in time, it does not represent the future of the United States.

An immense, mostly cheering crowd gathered to see the official lowering of the Confederate flag on July 10 — in the state that was the first to secede from the United States in 1860. Back then, Southern states that depended upon slave labor saw Abraham Lincoln’s election as a threat to their lifestyle and liberty. South Carolina lead the way in separating from the Union to form a new nation called the Confederate States of America. Ten other Southern states followed suit: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The ideological and legal division between the (Northern) United States and the Confederate States of the South led to the Civil War.

“It wasn’t just about rights for African Americans, it was about reconstructing the nation…. It was about wholesale re-conceptualization of rights, on a national and international scale.” — Michael Vorenberg

Tensions continued to rise after officials removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol. On July 19,  confrontation occurred at a rally between members of the Ku Klux Klan and the New Black Panther Party.   At the height of the Klan in 1925, there were an estimated 5,000,000 members, while in the Civil Rights era (in the 50s and 60s) there were about 42,000 members. Approximately 24,000 remain today. While the KKK has diminished over time, this is the first Klan rally in South Carolina since the late 1980s.


Perceptions of race and its relevance throughout history remain a highly contested topic. Still able to provoke anger and pain, past instances of racial inequality can be difficult to discuss.   For students and future leaders who will likely face similar challenges, this history is important to learn.

New standards of the Texas State Board of Education in 2010 will introduce a new social studies curriculum to 5 million public school students this upcoming semester. Many people are concerned that stories of suffering and fighting for civil rights are veiled, important lessons left unlearned.

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Money in Politics

“Elections should be determined by who has the best ideas, not who can hustle the most money from the rich and powerful.” There are the words of Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democrat nomination for the 2016 presidential election, famous for being a self-described democratic socialist and the longest serving independent in Congress. While Sanders is known for pushing political boundaries, his views on money in politics are not exactly radical. A recent CBS-New York Times poll has shown that a whopping 84 percent of people (90 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans) think that money has too much influence on political campaigns today. 46 percent of respondents believed that the system for funding political campaigns is so flawed it must be completely rebuilt.

Although campaign financing did not rank high on the list of most important problems facing the United States (the economy and jobs, predictably, dominated the poll), campaign funding is becoming an important talking point in the long run up to next year’s election. For example, Hillary Clinton, the predicted front-runner for the Democratic nomination, has made campaign financing a key element of her campaign. “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all—even if it takes a constitutional amendment,” Clinton said at an event in April 2015.

The controversy around money in politics revolves largely around recent developments in laws about campaign funding. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that there cannot be limits on third-party spending on political campaigns. This ruling was based on the First Amendment. But why is third-party political spending important? What is the public’s concern?

The New York Times released the following video, explaining “the murky process of campaign contributions and the impact of anonymous donations on the political system.”

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In many ways, the question of campaign finance is similar to many other questions we ask about the government, the United States, and the world we live in. Decisions about issues like how money in politics should (or should not) be regulated revolve around values. Values play a key role when defining the broad parameters of public policy. What do we believe about ourselves? What matters most to us? When strongly held values come into conflict, which are most important? Equality or free speech? The democracy of changing a system that most people believe to be in need of an overhaul, or the stability of maintaining a system that is not ideal but works? Some values fit together well. Others are in conflict. Governments and their citizens are constantly being forced to choose among competing values in their ongoing debates about public policy.

The Options Roles Play in Choices curriculum units not only invites students to identify and express the key values present in different policy perspectives or options, it also creates a framework where students can identify and prioritize their own values.  As the United States enters this long campaign period, recognizing values and how they relate to policy will be a vital part of being an engaged citizen and choosing a government that will help create the kind of future you want to see.

 

Related resources from the Choices Program:

Considering the Role of Values in Public Policy is an activity that uses “value cards” to analyze how political values play a part in civic life.

U.S.RoleStudentThe U.S. Role in a Changing World is a full-length curriculum unit where students reflect on global changes, assess national priorities, and decide for themselves the role the United States should play in the world today. It places U.S. policy in global perspective, inviting students to decide how the United States should frame its future.

A Changing Cuba

Since December 17, 2014, when Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced that the U.S. and Cuba would normalize relations after over fifty years without any diplomatic ties, Cuba has dominated U.S. headlines. Some people see this historic shift as the latest in a series of short, dramatic periods of change that characterize Cuban history—starting with Cuba’s struggles for independence from Spain and U.S. occupation at the turn of the twentieth century to the Cuban Revolution of 1959 that continues to this day. These people view Cuba as a “place frozen in time,” characterized by vintage cars and crumbling buildings. But in reality, Cuba is constantly changing.

Life in the Cuba of Tomorrow

“Life in the Cuba of Tomorrow.” Bruce McCall, The New Yorker.

For instance, Netflix received a lot of attention earlier this year for announcing that it would make its TV and movie streaming service available in Cuba. The announcement was one of the first from many U.S. companies lining up to do business in Cuba as U.S. restrictions are lifted. As many critics noted, the Netflix announcement was primarily symbolic, for only about 5 percent of Cubans currently have full access to the global internet. Furthermore, Netflix would cost users $7.99 per month, which is almost half of the average Cuban’s monthly salary.

But less well-known is that Cubans have been watching shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black for years, albeit illegally. Despite limited access to internet and outside media (both due to government censorship and the U.S. embargo), Cuban citizens have developed various strategies for accessing the news and entertainment they want. Many Cubans pay a small fee to receive what is called El Paquete Semanal (The Weekly Packet), an external hard drive containing downloaded newspapers, movies, TV shows, music, sports, magazines, and other content produced in countries around the world. A new paquete is produced at the end of every week. Some have called this creative way of accessing media Cuba’s “offline internet.”

In addition to initiatives like el paquete that come from the Cuban people, the government has been making changes that originated well before negotiations to restore relations with the United States began. Since becoming Cuba’s president in 2008 after his brother Fidel stepped down from a nearly 50-year hold on power, Raúl Castro has passed a number of significant reforms, gradually but fundamentally transforming the Cuban economy and society. In this video interview with Choices, former research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations Michael Bustamante discusses some of these many reforms.

 

 

While the recent shift in U.S.-Cuba relations is indeed a major turning-point for Cuba, the country—both its people and its government—has not been idly waiting for the United States to change its policies before making changes of its own. Yet many questions remain about what Cuba’s future holds. How will the economic changes in Cuba affect ordinary Cubans across the island? Will these economic reforms be paired with greater political freedoms? Will Cubans still have access to free health care and education? How will Cuba relate to other countries, particularly the United States?

 

History, Revolution, and Reform: New Directions for CubaChoices new curriculum History, Revolution, and Reform: New Directions for Cuba helps students understand Cuba’s most recent economic, social, and political changes with a historical framework stretching back to the country’s precolonial past. The curriculum puts special emphasis on the many perspectives Cubans on the island have about their country’s history and its future.

Mexico: Searching for a Safe Future

Miriana Moro (CC BY 2.0)

 

In September 2014, in the town of Iguala, Guerrero, first-year students from the teacher training college of Ayotzinapa came into conflict with the police, who fired on their bus. During the confrontation, forty-three of these students disappeared. The remains of only one of the students have been found.

Guerrero is known as one of the poorest and most violent states in Mexico. Its inhabitants live under the constant pressure of poverty and fear. The following video by The New Yorker shows that the abduction of the students of the Ayotzinapa Normal School is part of a long-ignored history of insecurity and pain in Guerrero.


Note: this video contains some disturbing content and images.Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 10.51.20 AM

 

The abduction has shaken the world. Not only has it shown the violence against young innocents (in stark contrast to the common narrative of Mexico’s violence being enacted between drug cartels and national security forces only), it has also shown the striking complicity of the central government in brutality against ordinary citizens. The Mexican government’s claims that the students were murdered by drug-traffickers after being kidnapped by police, and their promises that municipal government officials will be tried have been greeted with scorn. Witness testimony suggests that, in addition to local police forces, military personnel from a nearby base were also present at the confrontation. But the government refuses to investigate the military. Many people in Mexico feel that this symbolizes the failure of the government to ensure the safety of its citizens and to take responsibility for the violence. For some, this seems to be proof that the federal government is deeply implicated in the violence.

 

Protests in November 2014 in Guadalajara, Jalisco. The sign reads, “Not only 43. We are more than 120 million Mexicans calling for justice.” Miriana Moro (CC BY 2.0)

Protests in November 2014 in Guadalajara, Jalisco. The sign reads, “Not only 43. We are more than 120 million Mexicans calling for justice.” Miriana Moro (CC BY 2.0)

 

Unsurprisingly, protests have broken out across Mexico. The cries of the protesters reflect various types of pain, anger at multiple injustices. There have been links made to the government’s violent suppression of student demonstrations in 1968, known as the Tlatelolco Massacre. Proponents of greater autonomy for Mexico’s indigenous populations, such as the famous EZLN or Zapatista Army who led armed rebellions against the central government in the 1990s, have added cries for economic equality, land reform, and more local power. These people have joined together in common frustration at a government that has earned their deep mistrust. For most, the abductions signify yet another instance of state-sponsored violence, widespread impunity, and the failure of the government to perform the most basic terms of the social contract—to protect its people. In light of this, many have begun to question the legitimacy of the national government, and there have been calls for revolution.

 

A march in solidarity with Ayotzinapa. The EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) fights for greater rights for indigenous communities and increased economic equality across Mexico. They have established thirty-two autonomous communities in Chiapas, where there have been documented improvements to gender equality and public health. Somos El Medio (CC BY 2.0)

 

Ultimately, the Ayotzinapa kidnapping has brought a history of tensions to a head. The Mexican people are asking what the future of their country can be. How can they secure their families and themselves from vast, unpunished violence? How will crime, corruption, and poverty be addressed? Can the central government, a body whose public support and citizen trust is corroding, play a part in creating this future? While international bodies like the UN have condemned how the Mexican government has handled the case, the U.S. government has been largely silent. Human rights organizations were outraged when U.S. President Obama did not mention the case during a meeting with Mexican President Peña Nieto in January 2015. This begs even more questions—what should Mexico’s relationship with the United States look like as the country moves forward? Can the U.S. government be trusted to partner in protecting the lives and interests of the Mexican people? What effects might this have on trade, foreign investment, and the lives of Mexican immigrants living across the U.S.-Mexico border?

These are the questions we ask students to grapple with in the latest edition of Between Two Worlds: Mexico at the Crossroads. Students learn about Mexican history from the Olmecs through Spanish colonization and the fight for independence, investigate the economic and political changes the country encountered after independence, and consider some of the challenges Mexico faces today. Students then examine three options for Mexico’s future in a role play. They use their knowledge of Mexico’s history and current challenges to present arguments about who is responsible for Mexico’s problems; how crime, violence, corruption, and inequality should be addressed; how the United States should be perceived; and what the role of the central government should be in building Mexico’s future. Finally, students design their own options for Mexico’s future, sharing their opinions on what Mexico’s policies and priorities should be. Learn more about the unit here.

Young People Take Action on Climate Change

“Coming here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future. Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market. I am here to speak for all generations to come. I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go. We cannot afford to be not heard.”

—Severn Suzuki, 1992

In 1992, thirteen-year-old Severn Suzuki spoke at the largest gathering of international leaders in history—the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—and she quickly became known as “the girl who silenced the world in five minutes.”  Her words helped put the issue of global climate change on the UN agenda.

The Earth Summit set in motion a series of international climate change conferences that continue to this day, with a major conference coming up this year. December 2015 is the deadline for international leaders to settle a new, binding international agreement on emissions reductions to prevent the most dangerous effects of climate change.

Now, more than twenty years after Severn Suzuki urged leaders from around the world to consider the importance of environmental issues, a new generation of young people is demanding that policy makers take action on climate change. In this video, fourteen-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and his younger brother Itzcuauhtli share their perspectives on their work to build a global network of teens fighting for greener policies and why climate change matters. The two indigenous activists are youth leaders of the organization Earth Guardians.

[vimeo 125505125 w=500 h=281]

Note: Teachers should preview this video in advance before showing it to their students. Some language may not be appropriate for the classroom.

Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli’s work is inspiring—they are models for the power that young people can have in creating change both at a local and global scale. Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli are not alone—young people around the world are pushing for their societies to make positive changes that will help protect the environment. In this new video from the Choices Program, climate change experts discuss some of the many ways young people can take action on climate change.

For more videos on climate change from the Choices Program, click here.

Each of these videos would provide a great jumping off point for discussing climate change in the classroom. Because climate change is often talked about as having potentially catastrophic effects, thinking about it can feel overwhelming and hopeless. But these videos, without downplaying the seriousness of climate change, focus on how much we can do to combat climate change and emphasize tangible steps that individuals and societies can take. This approach is crucial to keeping students engaged with the issue.

 

Climate Change and Questions of JusticeChoices has a suite of new resources on climate change. We have recently released our unit Climate Change and Questions of Justice, which is available in both print and digital formats. One of the lessons in the unit asks students to work in groups to design their own NGO to address their top concerns about climate change. The students then create a visual or multimedia publicity tool for their organization.

In addition, we have a fresh collection of videos to complement the readings and lessons included in the unit. These videos feature leading climate change experts discussing why climate change matters; who is most responsible for and vulnerable to climate change; how individuals, local governments, NGOs, and international leaders are responding to climate change; and much more.

Using Digital Tools to Teach Human Rights

by Choices Teaching Fellow Rita Jordan-Keller

As an enthusiastic supporter of Choices curriculum, it has been my passion to introduce the many units of Choices to my students with new and innovative approaches. As a Choices Teaching Fellow, it has been exciting to include and expand the uses of technology in various ways to optimize the experience that my students have with the many different units provided by Choices.

My School

I teach at Ridley High School which is a suburban school about fives miles outside of Philadelphia. We have approximately 2,100 students who come from various socio-economic backgrounds, mostly lower middle class families. Currently, I teach Human Geography to 9th grade students, Sociology and International Relations to juniors and seniors. As a Social Studies teacher for over 25 years, I have experienced and witnessed the many changes and challenges of engaging students with different courses involved in such a wide and diverse department. I have also seen that technology, in particular with *Canvas can be a vital tool in the classroom and enrich a student’s understanding about the world. Two years ago, our administration mandated that every student would have an iPad so I feel fortunate that our students have daily and quick access to global events.

International Relations

I would like to share some of the teaching strategies that I have used in our International Relations class. With global events and human crisis impacting our world every day, I have found Competing Vision of Human Rights  to be one of our fundamental units in the International Relations class. Whether it is the suffering of Syrian and Yemen refugees, the brutality of ISIS, or the despair of kidnapped young women and girls in Nigeria, the policies of the United States with regard to human rights are complicated and should be examined and evaluated.

*Note: At Ridley High School, we use Canvas Instructure with our students and teachers. For those of you unfamiliar with Canvas, it is a relatively new learning management system. It is known for its user-friendly online environment. It includes basic functions such as sharing documents, submitting assignments, and assigning grades, as well as personalized features for individual students.

Ideas for Integrating Technology

What I would like to share with you in this blog are some ideas and suggestions that might be helpful if you would like to integrate technology using Competing Vision of Human Rights. Let me be clear though, it is not necessary that teachers have the resources of Canvas or iPads in the classroom. However, if you have access to laptops or occasionally iPads, you may wish to add these ideas and suggestions.

Philosophical Chairs

These suggestions apply to my International Relations course where students are from 10th to 12th grade. First, a non-tech opener for the Human Rights unit is the worksheet that I call Philosophical Chairs. I use this assignment successfully for all the Choices units for different courses. On page 56 of the Teacher Resource Book, there is a student handout entitled, “Focusing Your Thoughts.” I use this assignment twice. Initially, I instruct the students to respond to the beliefs in this handout. Students then stand and take a position in the classroom on either side of the room either supporting or opposing the particular belief. Those students who are unsure stand in the middle of the classroom listening to both sides that are given turns to speak. Students who are unsure must move at some point when they are swayed to one side or another. Students seem to enjoy this fiery exchange of thoughts and ideas while discussing controversial approaches involving the United States. In this way, I can gauge and learn the pre-knowledge of my students. It is after the Choices role play that we revisit “Focusing Your Thoughts” and see if students have changed their attitudes about U.S. policies and human rights.

Pre-Reading Strategies

With the use of Canvas, I have the ability to set up discussion assignments using the questions in the text for students to consider such as, “How do national governments ensure human rights”? Having a student post his or her response and then responding to another student’s post expands the conversations and insures that everyone is involved. I then display students’ responses on a screen for all to see and discuss or inquire further what a particular response may mean. Throughout the entire unit, the use of discussion assignments from time to time adds substance and clarity to complex questions involving Human Rights.

Expressing Human Rights and Social Movements

A particular activity in the Competing Vision of Human Rights unit that I focus on is “Expressing Human Rights and Social Movements.” My instruction begins with an overview of basic Human Rights agreements including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. After further discussion regarding the role of national governments, the United Nations and other promoters of human rights, I use various YouTube videos such as Amnesty International’s Price of Silence and other musical videos to create a “hook” to engage students. Playing for Change is a wonderful web site that introduces worldwide musicians who advocate for peaceful change and human rights.

https://youtu.be/zmkc7JxCc5w

As a homework or class assignment, I have students research a particular social movement throughout history such as the civil rights movement, women’s movement, the GLBT movement, the Arab Spring, the Iranian Green Revolution or other global social movements. Students create a brief overview using Google Slides or another free presentation apps.  I use Flowvella for brief presentations and have found this format to be easy and quick. It also utilizes multimedia such as images and videos. Students can present their mini-presentations from their laptops or by using Canvas. Another possibility is having students take a “museum tour” of social movements. Students can walk through the room examining each other’s presentations on laptops or iPads and answer some brief questions about each one.

There is much more that a teacher can do with digital tools with this particular part unit. See additional ideas and suggestions.

Extension and Enrichment

Finally, since I teach the Human Rights as my last unit for the semester in International Relations, I extend the unit and add an enrichment that serves as our Final Exam for the course. Personally, I take exceptional joy at what my students have created in the past few years with the Human Rights Project. Briefly, students research different human rights organizations throughout the world and create a presentation to the class. As part of their final exam, students are also required to contact the organization, request more information, and create a flier informing others about the good work going on and how they can help. Their Human Rights fliers are then set up in our school cafeteria to inform others on how they can help. Much of their research and ideas have been inspired from what they have learned from Competing Vision of Human Rights.

It is my hope that you find these ideas and suggestions helpful in your classroom. Over the years working with the different Choices curriculum units, I have found my students to be more engaged in learning, developing and deepening their critical thinking skills and become more informed about the many challenges facing us all in this world. For me, the best part of my teaching is working with such promising young people and a curriculum that is current, thought provoking and enriches the lives of my students! The Choices curriculum fulfills all that and more!

If you have questions or comments about this blog post, I invite you to email me at rjordan-k@ridleysd.org.

The Armenian Genocide: 100 Years Later

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide—a tragedy that took place against the backdrop of World War I, the effects of which are still being felt today. Choices provides a range of resources that offer students historical context to understand the circumstances in which the Armenian Genocide, and other genocides, were carried out. These resources help students wrestle with the very difficult and confusing question of how such horrific events could ever take place, and consider how past genocides have long lasting effects that exist to this day.

What was the Armenian Genocide?

The following video could serve as an excellent introduction for high school students to learn about the Armenian Genocide.  Barbara Petzen answers the question, “What was the Armenian Genocide?”

ArmenianGenocideWeb

A Contested History

“The great trouble with the Armenians is that they are separatists.… Because they have relied upon the friendship of the Russians, they have helped them in this war.… We have therefore deliberately adopted the plan of scattering them so that they can do us no harm.”  

—Ottoman leader Ismail Enver Pasha, as recounted by Henry Morgenthau, U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire

To this day, the Turkish government denies that these deaths were a genocide and claims that the Armenians were among the many people displaced and killed in the violent chaos of World War I. In 2014, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—who was prime minister at the time and is currently president—opened a new chapter for the two countries by acknowledging the widespread suffering of Armenians during World War I. Although he did not call the events of 1915 genocide, it marked an important acknowledgement of the past.

“The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain. It is our hope and belief that the peoples of an ancient and unique geography, who share similar customs and manners will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity and to remember together their losses in a decent manner. … And it is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early twentieth century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren.”  

—Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, April 23, 2014

Despite the slight softening of Erdoğan’s position last year, Turkey’s leader has taken a sharper stance recently in the weeks leading up to this year’s anniversary, explicitly refuting the designation of the events as a genocide. After Pope Francis referred to the events as “the first genocide of the 20th century” this month, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican. When the European Parliament adopted a resolution to commemorate the centennial of the genocide, Erdoğan responded,

“Whatever decision the European Parliament takes on Armenian genocide claims, it will go in one ear and out the other…. It is out of the question for there to be a stain or a shadow called genocide on Turkey.”

—Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, April 2015

Teaching Resources

Choices’ curriculum unit Confronting Genocide: Never Again? explores the Armenian Genocide, as well as four other case studies (the Holocaust, the Cambodian Genocide, the Bosnian Genocide, and the Rwandan Genocide). It includes a lesson that challenges students to assess The New York Times coverage of the Armenian genocide and to consider the impact of media reporting on policy decisions and international opinion. The curriculum also includes a lesson that has students build a genocide memorial and consider the complex decision making that goes into this process.

Choices’ curriculum unit Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey explores the social and political environment within the Ottoman Empire in the years leading up to and during World War I and the Armenian Genocide. It briefly explores modern relations between Turkey and Armenia and the tension between the two countries over the designation of the events as a genocide.

 

 

Our Man in Tehran: The Relationship between Perception and Policy

The Iran nuclear issue is dominating the news at the moment, and rightfully so. International politics, diplomacy, the threat of the proliferation of nuclear weapons are both fascinating and critical elements of security. As the merits of the plan undergo public scrutiny, I’m struck by how little many of those trumpeting their thoughts actually know about Iran, relying too often on recycled tropes about Iranian intentions and what the Iranian people are like.

This matters in an important way: perceptions affect policy.

The proposed timeframe of the deal extends out over decades. Iran is a dynamic society, and although digging for a deeper understanding complicates the picture (and I know it’s already very complicated), it can help us assess both the viability and desirability of an agreement that begins to move Iran in a new direction. The New York Times has launched a series of video reports on Iran that are fascinating. This week’s, “Big City Life,” explores tensions about the role of women,  the modern and traditional, and the cosmopolitan forces of the city.

OurmaninTehran

The video would be a perfect launching point for a discussion in a classroom and could also easily be incorporated into the free Choices lesson “Women in Iran.” The lesson helps students to:

  • Explore their perceptions of women in Iran.
  • Gather information from Choices videos about women living in Iran.
  • Practice note-taking skills.
  • Consider the possible effects of perceptions on international relations.

The lesson concludes with a discussion that asks to students to consider these questions:

  • Is veiling exclusively a religious issue in Iran or does it have any political and social significance as well?
  • What do you know about the historical relationship between Iran and the United States? What were key episodes in that history? How might history affect the United States’ view of Iranian society?
  • Tell students that policymakers may similarly be swayed by their personal perceptions of other societies. How might this affect relations among countries? Why is this significant?
  • How do women’s issues in Iran relate to women’s issues in your country or community? Are there any shared struggles or similar triumphs? Alternatively, students may compare what they have recently learned about women in Iran to women’s issues in other countries or regions of the world that they have studied.

Can We Trust Iran?

“If the nuclear crisis is ever to get resolved, now is the time for it to get resolved.”

—Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project, Harvard University

With the deadline for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program drawing near, The New York Times put out a video today outlining what is at stake in the Iran negotiations.

 

What's at Stake in the Iran Negotiations

 

As the video makes clear, reaching a deal on Iran’s nuclear program is a challenge, and violence is a real possibility if the negotiations fail. Domestic politics in both the United States and Iran presents huge obstacles, as do conflicts and instability in numerous other parts of the Middle East. But the video seems to claim that the core issue facing U.S. negotiators is whether the United States can trust Iran (and vice versa—whether Iran can trust the United States).

Lesley University Professor Jo-Anne Hart, an expert in U.S. and Iranian security issues, takes issue with this claim. In this video interview with the Choices Program, she argues that international agreements are never based on trust.

 

[vimeo 104646589 w=500 h=281]

 

So which is it? Is trust the key ingredient to international relations or is it just an easy framework to latch onto when trying to understand exceedingly complex issues? What are the implications if we understand negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program as based on legally enforceable agreements instead of just on trust?

Choices has multiple curriculum resources to help students grapple with these questions. Our free online lesson Good Atoms or Bad Atoms? Iran and the Nuclear Issue pushes students to explore, debate, and evaluate multiple perspectives on U.S. policy toward Iran and its nuclear program. In addition, we have just released a new edition of our full-length curriculum unit The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy, in which students analyze the history of Iran’s nuclear program as well as other pressing issues in the region, including the significance of oil, the rise of ISIS, the U.S. relationship with Israel, and instability in Yemen.

 

Yemen

The New York Times video reporting from the Middle East over the past few days has been terrific. This piece on the Houthi forces in Yemen is interesting and vivid, focusing on the experience of ordinary people as the country changes. The reporter includes two video “sidebars.” (You can access them simply by clicking in the video when they appear. One is on the role of women during the protests, the other is on the use of khat, a commonly used stimulant. ) For me the strength of reporting is how effectively it moves between laying out the big picture and connecting it to what is playing out amongst the people on the ground. I recommend watching it.

https://youtu.be/VnmLQse4-PQ

Our new edition of The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy covers what is happening in Yemen now and helps students to consider what role, if any, the United States should play there. Without question, the political situation in the region is incredibly dynamic and multifaceted; it will certainly pose new challenges for U.S. policy. The value of this kind of reporting is that it allows us to visualize what is often understood only in the abstract, for example, Yemen, Sunni, Shi’i, Houthi, and violence.  To my mind, the other value is that we see people in Yemen acting in and responding to the larger political forces at play. It helps to see things! I hope the Times keeps producing these kinds of smart, sophisticated pieces.

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