The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Nukes Over North Carolina—Were We Lucky?

A road marker in Eureka, NC.

A road marker in Eureka, NC.

On January 24, 1961, two hydrogen bombs crashed to the ground outside Goldsboro, North Carolina. One hit a field at 700 miles per hour and shattered without detonating. The other remained intact after its parachute was snared by the branches of a tree.

The plane carrying the bombs was a U.S. B-52 bomber. After taking off from a nearby air force base, the plane malfunctioned and broke to pieces as it plummeted from the sky. One of the bombs had completed much of its arming sequence, which led to the deployment of its parachute. All of the levers of the ignition device tripped, except for a single one. In 2013, declassified government documents revealed that the single switch prevented the bomb from exploding, averting what would likely have been millions of deaths and the formation of a crater on the eastern seaboard to be swallowed up by the Atlantic.

Our friends at the Armageddon Letters produced this short video to engage viewers in the complex discussion of nuclear weapons. The video uses the almost-unbelievable Goldsboro B-52 crash as an entry point into a debate about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the Cuban missile crisis. Professor Jim Blight asks, were we lucky? Or, considering that the bomb didn’t detonate, are we sufficiently safe in a world with nuclear weapons? The video could serve as a great hook for high school classes.

The following video of Joseph Cirincione also explores the Goldsboro scare and other nuclear close-calls, including the Cuban missile crisis:Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 4.01.05 PM

Explore more from Choices on these topics:

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Considering its Place in Cold War History

The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons

Photo by Arthunter (CC BY-SA 3.0).

 

Scholars at the 2015 Leadership Institute

One of the highlights of our Leadership Institute is hearing from Brown University scholars.  This year’s scholar presentations will investigate both the recent history of the Middle East and multiple perspectives on current U.S. policy towards the region. Read on to see who will be joining us this summer.

Institute applications are due Monday, March 16th. 


Faiz Ahmed is an Assistant Professor of History at Brown University. He is currently working on a book about the drafting of the 1923 Afghan constitution and the role of Turkish and Indian jurists in establishing a modern legal regime in Afghanistan.  He holds a J.D. from the University of California’s Hastings College of Law and a Ph.D. in the history of the Middle East with a focus on the “socio-legal” history of the Ottoman Empire, Iran, and Afghanistan, from the University of California, Berkeley.  Ahmed is proficient in Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Urdu.


Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent and a Visiting Fellow in International Studies at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Kinzer spent more than twenty years working for The New York Times, primarily as a foreign correspondent. He was the Times bureau chief in Nicaragua during the 1980s and reported from Germany during the early 1990s. In 1996, he was named chief of the Times bureau in Istanbul.


Peter Krause is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Boston College. His research and writing focus on international security, Middle East politics, non-state violence, and national movements. He has published articles on the causes and effectiveness of political violence, U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war, the politics of division within the Palestinian national movement, the war of ideas in the Middle East, and a reassessment of U.S. operations at Tora Bora in 2001.


linda-miller-lgLinda Miller is an Adjunct Professor of International Studies at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University and Professor of Political Science Emerita at Wellesley College. Miller has published widely on U.S. foreign policy, the Middle East, world politics, and European affairs in British, American, and Israeli scholarly journals.


petzenBarbara Petzen is the founder of Middle East Connections, which offers innovative, multimedia workshops to help teachers, students and community organizations undermine stereotypes, introduce multiple perspectives, and focus on complex understandings of the Middle East and Muslims.  Middle East Connections has a limited amount of grant funding to subsidize professional development workshops for educators.  Middle East Connections also creates and facilitates custom study tours to the Middle East, having led groups to Morocco, Turkey, Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and are happy to work with educators to create a meaningful tour that meets specific goals.


 

Read more about the 2015 Leadership Institute.

Choices Leadership Institute leads to a 15-hour course for my District

snyder-125By guest blogger Lori Snyder, Choices Teaching Fellow and high school teacher from Longmeadow, MA.

I teach Asian Studies and Honors World History at Longmeadow High School in Longmeadow, MA, and I attended the Choices Program’s 2014 summer leadership institute, China on the World Stage: Weighing the U.S Response. As a follow up to the institute, this winter I developed and led a 15-hour course for teachers in my district. In this blog I’m sharing the course outline I developed. I cannot say enough about the positive experience I had both as an institute participant and leading the course when I returned. To anyone who is thinking about applying to this year’s 2015 leadership institute on the Middle East I say “Go for it!”

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The scholarship at the institute was top-notch and very relevant to what I teach. In addition, Choices curriculum, and especially the options role play, offered a fresh approach to the topic in my classroom. The opportunity to methodically go through a specific unit, prepare and perform the option role play, and collaborate with fellow teachers from across the country had a significant impact on my understanding of the benefits that the Choices curriculum has to offer, and its value to me as a classroom teacher. Finally, I found the session “Behind the Scenes at Choices” absolutely fascinating. We had a chance to have a panel discussion with the Choices writers and videographer who develop the curriculum. They are truly a bridge between the scholars and the classroom.

The course I developed for my Longmeadow colleagues was called Critical Thinking in the Social Studies: The Choices Program.

The class met for 6 sessions, for 2.5 hours each. The entire history department and several other teachers signed up for a total of 11 teachers. For completing the course, teachers received 15 hours of Professional Development Points and one in-district salary advancement credit (SAC). As the instructor, I had the option of doubling the PDPs and SACs or being paid a stipend of $750.

Session 1

photo 1

I introduced the Choices Program and approach to my colleagues. They participated in a values lesson, which introduces them to the concept of values and the role they play in formulating public policy. I also introduced them to the free Teaching With the News lessons and Scholars Online videos, both of which are free on the Choices website. I ended the session with a quick overview of how a Choices unit is organized. Teachers were given the opportunity to download the free Human Rights unit that is available as an iBook through iTunes. Finally, I assigned each teacher one of four specific Choices units including the French Revolution, Middle East, Afghanistan and Immigration, based on courses they teach, in order to do a close case study. All teachers agreed to do the background readings and study guides as preparation for session 3.

Session 2

This was primarily a working session in preparation for session 3. Each group gave a 30-minute overview and critique of their assigned unit, conducted part of a lesson from the unit, explained the unit’s options role play, and discussed how they envisioned using it in their classroom with their own students.

Session 3

Small groups of teachers presented their assigned units. Teachers enjoyed taking on identities and being interviewed for the French Revolution Newscast, analyzing the different causes for the Iranian Revolution, and reading different first hand accounts of various recent immigrants in America. During this session, we discussed at length how we would use the curriculum and how we might make changes based on the ability of our students. This session gave the teachers a good taste of the variety that Choices has to offer. Finally, the teachers voted and decided to do the Options Role Plays from The French Revolution and U.S. Immigration Policy in an Unsettled World.

Session 4

Participants prepped for the Immigration Options Role Play and the French Revolution Options Role Play. Teachers were expected to make Google presentations and to include relevant historical images and direct quotes from the provided materials.

Session 5

This session was dedicated to running the French Revolution role play and debriefing it. To start, I showed them the brief video on the role play that can be found in the Teachers Tools page on the Choices The teachers had a lot of fun being creative and critically selecting from the materials provided in their options briefings. We had presentations, props, music, drama and much enthusiasm. As a result, all of the ninth grade world history teachers have committed to using the French Revolution unit in June.

Session 6

In this final class we conducted the Immigration Options Role Play and we discussed the importance of an “Option 5” or a personal option.  This being our second role-play, we were all more comfortable with the process and felt that we did a better job allowing for cross-examination and impromptu questioning by the Senate Committee. We ended by discussing how we would evaluate our students and how we would deal with larger class sizes. Teachers then filled out an evaluation form for the class as required.

In addition to teaching this course, I also submitted a local grant proposal to see if we can secure additional funding to purchase more Choices units. I invited our new principal to observe the French Revolution role play session so he could see first hand the quality of the Choices Program and the professional, collaborative and collegial learning that was going on as an entire department. We will know by June if we received the grant.

I am so thrilled that I was able to participate in the 2014 Choices leadership institute and conduct this course for my colleagues. Everyone in my department is enthusiastic about this new source of outstanding quality curricula. Having the entire history department go through the process of learning the Choices approach together was a unique and professionally satisfying experience. Teacher feedback regarding the course was overwhelmingly positive. I anticipate that the department will be consistently using Choices curriculum for years to come.

Editor’s note: Applications for the 2015 summer leadership institute, which will focus on the Middle East, are due by Monday, March 16.

How Do We Know the Climate is Changing?

“You will never see a headline that says ‘Climate change broke out today.’”

—Andrew Revkin, New York Times reporter, 2007

Scientists around the world are confident that human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, are drastically changing the climate. They draw this conclusion from a broad collection of evidence, including that:

  • over the past decade, sea levels have risen at almost double the rate that they have over the last century.
  • records starting in 1880 (when scientists started recording global average surface temperature) have shown that the earth is warming and that most of this warming has occurred since 1970. The ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1997, with 2014 being the warmest year of all.
  • glaciers around the world are rapidly retreating and ice sheets are shrinking. Glaciers have lost a total of roughly 400 billion tons of mass each year since 1994.
  • surface ocean waters have become about 30 percent more acidic since the start of the Industrial Revolution (oceans absorb much of the carbon dioxide humans emit into the atmosphere, and as a result, become more acidic).
NASA

NASA

Despite the overwhelming evidence (and the findings listed above represent only the tip of the iceberg—no pun intended), it can be hard to understand and visualize the impacts of climate change. It is easy to see and feel the weather on a given day—if it’s sunny, rainy, snowy, hot, humid, etc.—but changes in the climate involve significant shifts in temperature, rainfall, wind, and other environmental factors that occur over decades or more. We can’t say whether the climate is changing based on our own observations over the course of days, months, or even years. So while scientists can study temperature records that have been collected over decades or more, how can the broader public get a clear picture of what “climate change” actually means?

Many artists have started to play an important role in helping to increase public awareness and understanding of climate change’s impacts. Some have turned to film—like Greenpeace’s Postcards from Climate Change, Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Ice, and Ben Kalina’s Shored Up. Others, like David Arnold at Double Exposure, have used photography to show climate change’s dramatic but often unseen effects. Arnold returns to the sites of historic photographs of coral reefs and glaciers, some from as early as the 1930s, and replicates the original photos. Double Exposure then pairs the new and old photos together so viewers can see how each environment has changed over time.

Coral Reefs

Corals and the huge diversity of organisms they support are important in the fishing and tourism industries, and coral reefs also provide natural barriers that protect coastal communities from storms and floods. Yet, climate change poses a significant threat to corals—both through coral bleaching (a serious coral disease caused by increasing ocean temperatures) and ocean acidification, which reduces coral’s ability to grow and recover from damage and disease.

South Carysfort Reef, Florida Keys

Before photo: Bill Harrigan, 1980. Used with permission. After photo: David Arnold, 2011. Used with permission.

Discovery Bay, Jamaica

Before photo: Jim Porter, 1970. Used with permission. After photo: David Arnold, 2011. Used with permission.

Glaciers

Glaciers are a major provider of freshwater, both for drinking and for electricity generation, and also play a role in global climate regulation. But increases in temperature associated with climate change are causing them to melt rapidly. This raises ocean levels, threatening coastal communities around the world.

Valdez, Alaska

Before photo: © Bradford Washburn, 1938 Courtesy of Archives, University of Alaska. Used with permission. After photo: © David Arnold, 2007. Used with permission.

Heney, Alaska

Before photo: © Bradford Washburn, 1937. Taken on June 18, 1932 at noon. Used with permission. After photo: © David Arnold, 2007. Taken on September 13, 2006 at noon. Used with permission.

There are many barriers to responding to climate change. It can be expensive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially since fossil fuels are currently the cheapest form of energy to produce and use. Historical tensions and vast inequality in power, wealth, and greenhouse gas emissions between countries of the global North and the global South complicate international climate change negotiations. Local political disputes, including the denial of broadly accepted climate change science along partisan lines in the U.S. Congress, make reaching significant mitigation and adaptation agreements challenging. But despite these barriers, artistic efforts like Arnold’s can help to inspire individuals to take action in their own lives, facilitate a more widespread understanding of the importance of climate change, and build enough political will for governments to take strong action to curb the effects of climate change.

 

Climate Change and Questions of JusticeFor more on the causes and effects of climate change, as well as how to respond, check out our new full-length unit Climate Change and Questions of Justice. Lessons include opportunities for students to analyze countries’ greenhouse gas emissions data, the ways climate change impacts individual species, and how climate change policies are depicted in the media.

A lesson from the unit was also featured in the Jan/Feb issue of Social Education.

 

More photographs, as well as an extensive collection of additional resources on climate change’s effects on glaciers and coral reefs, can be found at Double Exposure’s website.

Black History Month Series #2: Women in the Civil Rights Movement

 

“You had these women who were just amazingly strong… that didn’t mean there wasn’t sexism,” recalled Judy Richardson in an interview with the Choices Program about her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement. Richardson was explaining the involvement of women in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), one of the most important Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s. SNCC’s most valuable work was in grassroots, community-led initiatives like voter registration drives, where the members and activists worked directly with the most downtrodden of disenfranchised people of color. Richardson, in remembering the work, makes reference to how important this hands-on interaction was and how it was often forgotten by larger Civil Rights organizations that took a more elite, patriarchal approach to racial justice.

The Civil Rights era is one of the most important moments in African-American history and in women’s history. It is a moment when African-American women played a vital part in defining U.S. history. Women of color were instrumental in leading the Movement, in engaging in powerful acts of protest, and in dynamically shaping action against discrimination. Judy Richardson remembers one of these women, her mentor and leader, Ella Baker, in the following video.

 

The powerful leadership and bravery Richardson celebrates in remembering Baker’s contribution can be attributed to many women of color who played defining roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks, for example, became a role model for courage and commitment in the face of racial injustice when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus. Women like this are a vital part of the memory of the Civil Rights Movement.

But so many women of color have been excluded from how this history is often told. While other women had already been arrested for refusing to give up their bus seats, they did not gain the fame that Parks achieved. Many scholars suggest that this was because Parks fit a very specific model of how black women should act and appear. Women of color who did not project this precise image of quiet respectability were not held up as heroes. In fact, the very issues that Judy Richardson recalls seeing in 1960s American society and that she remembers as limiting certain parts of the Civil Rights Movement have also limited our own perceptions of the history. Women of color have far too often been forgotten as unimportant and insignificant, and many have been ignored because of their class, sexuality, or gender-expression as well as their race. Some of the incredible acts of heroism by LGBT women of color have been written about, but they are not part of the broader, more widely known history of the Movement, which prefers traditional, male figures for its heroes. These women are the tragically excluded heroes of the American past.

 

For more on forgotten figures in black history and “politics of respectability” see this HuffPostLive discussion.

For more on women civil rights activists, see this collection of biographies.

 

Interviews with Judy Richardson are an accompaniment to the full-length Choices unit,

Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

View more video interviews on Civil Rights and other topics at our Scholars Online page.

 

Black History Month Series #1: Celebrating the Strength of an Oppressed People

February is Black History Month, carefully scheduled to coincide with the anniversaries of the births of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14). In fact, the legacies of these two people show us that Black History Month is not only a time to celebrate African American culture and success, but also to recall a history of oppression and violence.

Lincoln’s role as the president that led the country through the Civil War, preserving the Union and abolishing slavery, is well preserved in the annals of American heroic history. Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave who became a leader in the abolitionist movement. The celebration of these men is a celebration of the first break from systemic violence wrought on black bodies and is therefore steeped in a remembrance of this violence.

In July 1852, Douglass delivered what many consider to be the greatest anti-slavery oration in history— “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?

 

Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

 

The speech not only demanded an acknowledgement that Independence in itself was an incomplete moment of liberty while slaves remained shackled, but also highlighted how the country had been built on a foundation of slavery. From references to Washington’s slaves to the economic dominance of the triangular trade, Douglass made clear a truth that remains—American history is, in many ways, a black history. Or, perhaps more accurately, American history is a history of violence against black people.

Of course, colonization itself is by its very nature racist. The settling of North America and its subsequent growth in prosperity relied on slavery. First Native Americans were captured and then Africans were imported to increase the labor supply. The extraction of vast resources from the colonies was enacted through the hands of slaves and enabled more trade as rum was exchanged for bodies across the Atlantic. This video by James Campbell shows how the mechanisms of international trade were based in the commodification of African bodies.

 

Video.TriTrade

 

Abolition was an historic moment when the explicit conception of black bodies being commodities was dissolved. But even after abolition, black people felt far from free. They continued to suffer violence and social injustice on an astounding scale. Joanne Pope Melish argues, in the following video, that racism was often even embedded in white Americans’ promotion of abolition. She points out that “whites imagined that the abolition of slavery was going to, in some magic way, mean the abolition of black people.”

 

VideoNorth

 

Slavery was the first part of a long history of oppression and injustice for people of color. Black History Month recalls the pain of this past, as well as its heroes. It challenges nations like the United States to rethink their pasts, and their presents.

 

For more on slavery in the Americas, look at our full length units:

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A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England

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Brazil: From Colony to Democracy

Why Does Climate Change Matter?

That the climate is changing, and that human activity is playing a substantial role in accelerating that change, is not a new discovery. About one hundred years ago, a Swedish chemist first calculated how human emissions of greenhouse gases might influence global average temperatures. At the Earth Summit in 1992—the largest gathering of international leaders in history—government officials from around the world agreed that climate change was a shared and dangerous problem. Why, then, has it taken so long for widespread public concern about this important issue to grow?

Historically, climate change has often been framed as an environmental issue—an issue that would drastically affect the lives of polar bears, migration routes of birds, habitat ranges of trees, melting of ice caps, and more. But why all of these changes matter to people hasn’t always been emphasized. In reality, humans rely on a multitude of services that plants, animals, and nature provide for our homes, health, and livelihoods. In the following video, Brown Professor Dov Sax discusses some of the reasons why climate change matters to people.

In addition, many of the countries that are historically most responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change are least vulnerable to its effects. Poorer countries, which generally have less capacity to take action and respond, are experiencing the effects of climate change first and worst. These dynamics make it harder to motivate wealthier countries to take significant action on climate change. The following cartograms (maps distorted to reflect a dataset) and captions from carbonmap.org help illustrate this gap between responsibility for and vulnerability to climate change.

Countries by Land Area

Countries by Land Area

Country sizes in this map show actual land area. Most world maps don’t show this accurately as it isn’t possible to represent the globe as a flat map without compromising on either shape or area.

Countries by Wealth

Countries by Wealth

Country sizes in this map show total GDP (2013), the sum of all the economic activity in each nation. The map is dominated by North America and Western Europe, which account for more than half the world’s GDP, despite being home to less than a fifth of the global population.

Countries by Historical Emissions

Countries by Historical Emissions

Country sizes in this map show CO₂ emissions from energy use 1850-2011. These historical (or “cumulative”) emissions remain relevant because CO₂ can remain in the air for centuries. Europe and the US dominate, having released around half the CO₂ ever emitted.

Countries by the Number of People at Risk

Countries by the Number of People at Risk

Country sizes show the number of people injured, left homeless, displaced or requiring emergency assistance due to floods, droughts or extreme temperatures in a typical year. Climate change is expected to exacerbate many of these threats.

These maps show that broadly, the countries that have contributed least to the problem of climate change are home to the most people at risk and have the least financial capacity to respond. As a result of these global disparities in responsibility and vulnerability, some environmental activists are now approaching climate change as an issue of justice. In this video, Brown Professor J. Timmons Roberts explains what this idea of “climate justice” means.

This new approach to how we think about climate change may help increase the urgency with which we view this issue. Indeed, attention to climate change has surged in recent years. This past September, the People’s Climate March drew over 400,000 people into the streets of New York City for the largest climate march in history. Over 2,600 additional events in 162 countries took place on the same day, all intended to send a message to international leaders that they must take significant action to slow and reduce the effects of climate change.

Since then, the United States and China announced a joint emissions reduction agreement—China’s first ever commitment to cap its carbon dioxide emissions. At the December Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in Lima, Peru, governments from all countries—rich and poor alike—agreed for the first time to voluntarily create plans to reduce their domestic greenhouse gas emissions. In U.S. President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, climate change got quite a bit of air time. Obama appears committed to making action on climate change a key part of his presidential legacy.

All of this attention is leading up to the Paris, France COP in December 2015—the deadline for international leaders to settle a new, binding international agreement on emissions reductions to prevent the most dangerous effects of climate change.

How should the international community respond to climate change in a way that is both fair and effective? What roles can local governments, organizations, and individuals play in responding to this global problem? Should responses focus on preventing future greenhouse gas emissions or on adapting to the effects climate change is already having? What is the relationship between economic development and combating climate change?

 

Climate Change and Questions of JusticeChallenge students to grapple with these questions with our new full-length unit Climate Change and Questions of Justice. Students will explore the causes and effects of global warming and delve into questions of who is most responsible for and vulnerable to the changing climate.

Free Speech: From Skokie to Paris

FreeSpeech

On January 7, 2015, two gunmen attacked the Paris headquarters of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and killed twelve people. The attacks are presumed to be in response to several controversial cartoons that the magazine published depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The events have ignited a global debate on the topic of freedom of speech, explored in Choices’ free online lesson, The Struggle to Define Free Speech: From Skokie to Paris.

Days after the attack, millions of people marched in rallies across France. Many carried posters and banners inscribed with the phrase “Je suis Charlie” (French for “I am Charlie”) to show solidarity with the magazine. Sales of Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance have skyrocketed in recent weeks in France, and much of the nation’s population has rallied around his, and their own, staunch belief in freedom of thought and condemnation of censorship.flag copy

Yet the magazine has also drawn criticism from individuals and leaders around the world who contend that the cartoons went too far. Critics point to the magazine’s long history of publishing content that, in their opinion, stokes Islamophobia and racism. They question why cartoonists have used their pens to further fracture a country and world already fraught with tension and intolerance.

Turkey, Morocco, and other countries have banned the distribution of Charlie Hebdo. Violent demonstrations have broken out in several places, including Pakistan, where parliament has even passed resolutions condemning the publication, stating that, “This is an attempt to divide peoples and civilisations. There is a need to promote harmony among people and communities instead of reinforcing stereotypes and making people alienated in their own countries.” Pope Francis has chimed in, declaring that insults against the faith of others are beyond the limits of acceptable free speech.

Still others, including many who disapprove of the content of the cartoons, caution against government interference in the free flow of ideas. They stand by the belief that the irreverence of cartoonists, journalists, and artists is a transformative and essential force in a healthy society. Teju Cole writes, “[I]t is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal. Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of the responsibility of making distinctions.”

“But drawing the line between speech that is disgusting and speech that is dangerous is inherently difficult and risky,” states a recent New York Times editorial. France has been quick to arrest and prosecute those who have uttered words of support for the attacks, even when defendants have not threatened violence. Some have criticized French authorities for having a double standard when it comes to expression.

Despite many important distinctions, much of the current discourse on France echoes a debate that shook the United States almost forty years ago—In 1977, a Neo-Nazi group proposed marching through the streets of Skokie, Illinois, a small city that was home to many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. The ACLU defended the Nazi’s right to march, the Anti-Defamation League sued in an attempt to prevent it, and people throughout the United States wrestled with the question of how to interpret the First Amendment.

Are there limits to freedom of expression? What should they be? And what can we gather from the cases of Skokie and Paris to help us decide? Challenge your students to explore these questions with the Teaching with the News lesson, The Struggle to Define Free Speech: From Skokie to Paris.

Photos by photograpix (CC BY 2.0) and Tim (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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