The death of Fidel Castro marks a milestone. Castro was a key figure in U.S. foreign policy over the past fifty years, a villain straight out of central casting in the imaginations of many Americans. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he actually wrote a letter to Khrushchev encouraging him to use nuclear weapons against the United States if it invaded Cuba. Khrushchev thought he was crazy. The short animation from our friends at the Armageddon Letters, gives some more insight and complexity to Cuba’s “maximum leader” Fidel Castro.
But Fidel has been playing less and less of a role for some time, and the new relationship between the United States and Cuba has most likely put the two countries on a very different path as this video from Choices with Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo suggests.
Cuba has been undergoing a transformation for a while. The death of Fidel marks an opportunity for high school classrooms to explore what comes next in Cuba. A dimension worth considering is what kind of future the people of Cuba want for themselves. Change is coming, but Cubans have very different opinions about their country and its history—this affects how they think about the future. A curriculum unit from Choices, Contesting Cuba’s Past and Future, helps students step into the shoes of ordinary Cubans and consider what comes next.
This curriculum helps students gain a broader understanding of the country that has often occupied the attention of the world since 1959. Besides offering an overview of Cuban history, the unit focuses on the legacies of Cuba’s relationships with Spain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Although most recognize Cuba’s role in the Cold War, recent research suggests that Cuba often marched to its own drum, and not that of the Soviet Union. The readings trace Cuba’s history from the country’s precolonial past to its recent economic, social, and political changes. A central activity helps students recreate the discussions Cubans on the island are having about their future.
We have just been through a contentious national election. Some people are pleased with the outcome; others are not. Most, regardless of their views, are surprised and need to recalibrate. Our students are no different.
Since the election, we have heard from teachers around the country who decided to use the lesson Values and Public Policyto help their students consider their own values and engage in constructive civic dialogue. We’ve shared some of their stories below
Mashpee High School, MA
Celeste Reynolds from Mashpee High School used the lesson to help her students deal with their fears and confusion in the aftermath of the election.
“I am writing you to tell you and your staff thank you for your curriculum! Yesterday I had students walking into my classroom scared and confused. I was not sure what to say or do, so I got on your website, printed out the value cards, and started class. It was one of the most moving classes I have experienced. All of my students left class that day feeling safe and relieved for having a safe place to discuss the political environment. Both sides were represented, but each side listened to each other in a civil manner. I was so proud of each student for his or her honesty and courage. Thank you for creating curriculum that helps create a safe learning environment and helping students learn to have civil, productive dialogue.”
Modern Global Issues in Chicago, IL
A teacher from a Chicago high school is using the activity with her 9th/10th grade Modern Global Issues class leading up to the election.
“After doing the values activity and the role play in the U.S. Role in the World, each student created his/her own option using the top three values he/she selected from the Values and Public Policy activity. They shared their Options in creative visuals and written responses. Students created collages, 3-D representations of their values, etc.”
We invite others to share their experiences helping their students to discuss the results of the election and express their views. Send your stories to email@example.com with “election” in the heading. We can’t promise to publish all of the reports, but will try to post a sampling of different approaches.
The results of this election will be historic and consequential. For teachers, it’s a great moment to help students develop the skills to consider the substance of the election, as well as identify their own beliefs and values. In a highly-charged partisan atmosphere, there is an opportunity for teachers to encourage respectful civic discourse and participation.
One set of great resources is from Growing Voters.org. There are a fantastic range of skill building lessons for elementary, middle, and high school, as well for college classrooms. They provide engaging hands-on classroom activities to support teachers as they help students develop into informed and motivated participants in their own democracy. They are free.
The Choices Program also offers a free lesson that helps students identify their own values and analyze how candidates’ platforms relate to values and key policy issues.
Both Growing Voters and Choices give students the chance to be critical consumers of information, to engage in a substantive way in the political process, and, with the help of their teachers, to engage in civil, thoughtful discourse about the future of the United States.
Choices participated in a Twitter chat (#globaledchat) last night organized by the Longview Foundation. The focus was on incorporating current events into classroom. There were many interesting issues and good exchanges of ideas. One participant had a great question about rationales for teaching current events.
There are many good responses to that question, but Choices had a fun answer that highlights the utility of our new video site. Over the past several years, we have asked scholars and other experts nearly the same thing: Why should we learn about current events, history, and other countries? Click on the image below for forty different and often fascinating perspectives on that question.
Choices new video site has more than thirteen hundred short videos of Brown professors and other experts answering questions about current and historical events.
A lot can happen in a summer. With the new school year already off to a start for some and soon to begin for others, all of us at Choices want to take a moment to recognize the many tragic events that have taken place in the past few months throughout the world. International terror attacks, ongoing wars and conflicts, violence perpetrated against U.S. citizens of color, U.S. law enforcement personnel, and LGBTQ people in the United States, and other acts of violence and hatred have defined this summer, for many, as one of tragedy.
At Choices, knowing how to respond to acts such as these challenges all of us, and certainly there is not a perfect way to do so. But we also believe that these are issues that are on the minds of many students and teachers. Some teachers may find that the classroom can serve as a space in which students and teachers alike may begin to process and heal from these events by thinking critically and engaging one another in discussion. But at the same time, locating resources for facilitating these conversations is not always easy.
In our recently updated lesson on the Black Lives Matter Movement, students work in groups to review an interactive timeline of black activism in the United States from the 1950s to today and identify core themes of the civil rights and Black Lives Matter Movement. In our resource guide on the Orlando Nightclub Shootings, we have compiled an annotated list of sources that offer suggestions for various classroom approaches to the many dimensions of the nightclub attack in June 2016. Finally, in our blog post on approaching race in the classroom, we provide a wide array of information on relevant resources for teachers looking to discuss race in their classrooms.
We hope that these resources prove useful as you navigate these difficult—but important—events and topics in the classroom throughout the upcoming school year.
UNHCR Rwanda Mahama Camp – taken on on May 13, 2015
Login to a talk on the global refugee crisis with the Choices Program Leadership Institute, Friday, July 15, 1-2:30. Expert Madeline Campbell will discuss her work with refugees from Iraq and Syria at camps and communities throughout the Middle East, the confounding global circumstances, and strategies for addressing this growing crisis.
The UN reports that a tragic record of 65 million people have been displaced by global conflicts. It is urgent and increasingly important that we understand the issues surrounding global refugees as leaders worldwide search for solutions to the worsening Syrian crisis.
Professor Madeline Campbell
Madeline Campbell is Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Worcester State University. She holds a BA and MA from Brown University and PhD from University of California, Davis.
This week’s Brexit vote was a shock to many and has been cast as the result of many forces. Here are some short commentaries put together by faculty at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. They cover a range of subjects: NATO, oil markets, identity, the future of the UK, to name a few. These can be read quickly, but provide a range of interesting academic and personal viewpoints.
Although the United Kingdom was not part of the currency union, the underlying economic tension of a single European currency is one of several significant forces pulling at the threads of the European Union. Covering this complicated topic might seem daunting for high school classrooms, but Choices covers this topic concisely and clearly in its curriculum Dilemmas of Foreign Aid: Debating U.S. Policy. A case study examines the ongoing economic crisis in Greece, a crisis exacerbated by the Greek government’s desire to remain part of the European Union and the currency union.
This brief commentary by Professor Mark Blyth in Athens on the Brexit covers the currency tensions, but focuses in detail on the backlash against the EU, elites, and globalization from the bottom third of the income distribution.
For the past year, the Choices Program has been working on a complete revision of its curriculum resources on Brazil. The project is a collaboration with the Brazil Initiative at the Watson Institute at Brown University and incorporates fantastic scholarship, new lessons, and videos. We hope to publish the new materials in the coming weeks.
The t-shirt says “Golpe, Nunca Mais” [Coup, Never Again] in Portuguese. It is an allusion to the 1964 coup by the military, which led to 21 years of dictatorship. April 17, 2016. Photo by Paulo Carrano via Flickr.
The new (and as you’ll see, aptly named) curriculum, Brazil: A History of Change, gives students an overview of Brazil’s history and traces its legacies through the present. Considerable attention is giving to the era of the military dictatorship, which came to power in a coup in 1964. A role play activity recreates the massive social movement in late 1984 against the dictatorship known as “Diretas Já!” [direct elections now!] The movement called for restoration of direct elections for the presidency of Brazil, which ultimately resumed in 1989.
A final section of readings and lessons in the new curriculum explores the ongoing process of how Brazilians have reclaimed their democracy since the end of the dictatorship. We finished writing this final chapter a few weeks ago and began the final editing and review process. But Brazilians are writing another chapter in their own history right now.
The lower house’s decision vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff means that Choices will need to make changes to the content we just thought we finished.
There’s a lot at stake for Brazilians, as the video from the BBC shows.
The picture shows a poster with the phrase “Impeachment Já!” [Impeachment Now!] on it in Portuguese. The phrase recalls the name of the “Diretas Já!” movement and turning point against the military dictatorship in 1984. April 17, 2016. Photo by Alexssandro Loyola via Flickr.
Today, political groups are also invoking the history of the dictatorship. Some of those opposed to impeachment see efforts to get rid of President Rousseff as an echo of the military coup of 1964. Proponents of impeachment have many motives, but some have evoked the language of opposition to the dictatorship, calling for “Impeachment Já!” [Impeachment Now!].
How these events unfold over the coming days will be important for Brazilians. As we revisit the conclusion in the curriculum, one of the challenges for the Choices Program will be to decide the relevance and what weight to give these invocations of history by various groups. Is President’s Rousseff’s likely impeachment some kind of coup, or is it a popular blow for democracy?
I have included below the concluding paragraphs from the still unpublished Brazil: A History of Change as they stand on April 18, 2016. They remain relevant, but I wonder how much they will need to change as Brazil works through its current political crisis.
Excerpt from the conclusion of Brazil: A History of Change
What Kind of a Democracy?
The end of the military dictatorship in Brazil came about because of widespread opposition from all of Brazilian society. People with different concerns and ideas came together to demand a more representative and responsive government. Brazilians challenged how their country was organized politically, but also began to question other aspects of their society. Brazilians have had a continuous vibrant conversation about what kind of democracy and society they want.
For example, Afro-Brazilians have continued to challenge the belief that Brazil is a racial democracy and argue that policies, practices, and ideas create racial inequalities. Women have challenged the widespread expectations about their roles and pushed for equal treatment and opportunity. LGBTQ groups emerged at the end of dictatorship calling for equal rights and contesting social discrimination. In 2013 Brazil’s Supreme Court acknowledged their concerns and legalized same-sex marriage.
With the end of military rule, Brazil’s democratic government began to respond to more of its citizens. Today, it is clear that the government serves more than the powerful or connected. Through the Bolsa Familia and other social programs, the government has brought forty million Brazilians out of extreme poverty. Cases of patronage and corruption persist, but the media and other watchdog groups have kept these in the public eye.
While Brazil is changing, the legacies of the past linger: racial, social, and economic inequalities persist. However, the people remain just as consistent in their calls for change and shaping the future of their country. In the coming years, they will continue to debate political questions by actively participating in the democracy that they reclaimed in the 1980s.
What should be the priorities of the government?
How much of its resources should Brazil devote to continuing to make progress in reducing poverty?
How important is it to continue to reduce racial and social inequalities?
How can Brazil’s government become more responsive and accountable?
Should Brazil play an increasing role in international relations?
How can Brazil protect the Amazon and combat climate change while taking into account the economic needs of people in the region?
Inequalities embedded in the history of the United States—the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism—and the resilience of communities of color striving for liberty and equity, may gain more of a spotlight in the classroom during Black History Month.
These discussions may raise new questions for some students and a stronger desire to see more diversity represented in history. Many educators recognize the importance for all students to see themselves (and their ancestries) reflected in roles and events that have shaped our world. Educators might encourage students to discuss experiences of race on a more personal level, sharing lived experiences and their understandings of identity. As campuses and classrooms become increasingly diverse, it is often up to teachers to create opportunities for equitable inclusion. This can be unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or intimidating territory for teachers and students alike. Fortunately, many experienced researchers and educators have shared tips and tools for success.
Here we have compiled an annotated list of online sources that we hope will equip teachers to constructively engage students on topics of race, diversity, and identity, as well as create and sustain inclusive classrooms, and expand conversations about civil rights and contemporary inequalities beyond Black History Month. This list is certainly not complete, and we invite educators to share other useful resources.
Racism: The Elephant in the Room (or Park). Photo by John Duffy. Seattle, WA, August 17, 2015.
Talking About Race:
What is race? What is racism? Should teachers talk about race in the classroom? Why can it be difficult to discuss? How can we productively approach complex, sensitive or controversial topics with students? The following resources, lesson plans, and activities offer suggestions for guiding thoughtful classroom conversations and helping students work towards a conceptual understanding of race and racism.
The lesson plan Talking About Race and Racism from Teaching Tolerance asks students to rate their personal comfort level when it comes to talking about these complex topics, consider differences inthe intention and the impact of words, and review inherent bias and stereotypes.
Race and Violence Should Be a School-Wide Subject, a blog post from Edutopia, analyzes school and classroom responses to racism. The post offers a series of suggestions for how to talk about race and racism, providing numerous examples for why this is particularly relevant today.
Helping Students Deal with Uncertainty in the Classroom, a blog post from Edutopia, discusses the difficulties, but also the benefits of encouraging students to grapple with uncertainty in the classroom. While this post does not specifically address how to talk about race, it does provide a number of arguments for pushing students to confront the uncomfortable, as race and racism often are for many students.
Edutopia offers eightfive-minute videos that explain concepts such as race, diversity, and inequality. The videos may serve as a helpful introduction into conversations about these complex ideas and others.
My Multicultural Self, a lesson on identity as it shapes our world views, also from Teaching Tolerance,encourages students to map out the various layers of their own identities. In doing so, students reflect on how identities influence the way that people experience the world, and they discuss ways to communicate more effectively with one another.
Deconstructing Narratives of Race:
What are the origins of race and racism? What do we mean when we say that race is a social construction? Why is it important to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about race? The resources outlined below focus on contesting untrue narratives of race that some students may not have thought about critically in the past.
What White Children Need to Know, ane-newsletter from the research and community-building cohort Be’chol Lashon, offers tactics and conversation starters for talking about race and inequality in the classroom. This resource provides insight into processes of passive racial socialization and tips for combatting it in the classroom.
The Zinn Education Project’s lesson plan “The Color Line,” challenges students to understand race and racism as historically and socially constructed. In this lesson, students study the origins of racism in the United States. Students examine the creation of racial divisions as a strategy used by the powerful to maintain the status quo. Note: to use lessons from the Zinn Education Project, you must register to create a free account (or login via social media).
Facing History spotlights one teacher’s effective lesson plan analyzing and discussing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story.”Adichie’s talk demonstrates that stories, while powerful, can also be dangerous, discussing the damage that interpreting one story as a representative of an entire group of people can do. Thelesson plan engages students in important conversations about identity and stereotypes.
The Unequal Opportunity Race, a video by the African American Policy Forum is useful for visualizing the ways in which systemic racism and privilege operate and disadvantage many. The video may help students understand how racism operates in society in ways that often go undiscussed. However, there has been controversy regarding whether it belongs in the classroom and whether it induces “white guilt.” Some teachers who have chosen to use the video as a tool with their students have faced backlash.
Creating Inclusive Classrooms:
What does it mean to create and sustain a racially inclusive classroom environment?How do teachers design racially inclusive curricula? How do teachers teach to students of different racial backgrounds, or to racially homogenous classrooms? The following resources provide some guidance for teachers looking for ways to tackle these complex and important questions in their classrooms.
For teachers looking to choose texts that represent people of many backgrounds, Reading Diversity from Teaching Tolerance provides suggestions. For detailed, step-by-step guidance, the extended version of their guide may prove especially useful.
Learn to Listen/Listen to Learn: Developing Deeper Conversations, a Facing History guide for facilitating classroom discussions maps out how teachers may wish toincorporate journaling, small group discussions, and class presentations to help students improve their ability to communicate and listen effectively. This approach may be particularly useful in creating a classroom culture that is both safe and productive for all students when discussing complex or sensitive topics.
Opening up dialogues in which students are free to discuss their personal experiences and hear many perspectives, Serial Testimonyis a method of facilitation that seeks to empower students by emphasizing that their personal insights are important. In addition to the facilitation method itself, this post from Teaching Tolerance discusses how approaches like Serial Testimony, created by Peggy McIntosh—author of “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” a personal essay on facing privilege—came to be and what they can offer in the classroom.
This educator’s book review endorses Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education (2012)—the first in a series on multicultural education by Columbia Teachers’ College—as a “necessary book.” The book’s authors approach complextheoretical concepts (socialization, discrimination, oppression, privilege, etc.) in short, intuitive chapters, and aims to answer specific questions that students often ask when confronting issues of inequality. For example, two of the book’s chapter titles include, “What is oppression?” and “‘Yeah, but…’ Common Rebuttals.” Sample a free chapter for download at Teachers’ College Press.
Applying the Skills, in and out of the Classroom:
How can students apply their knowledge of concepts such as race, racism, and identity, to the world that they encounter, both in and out of the classroom, everyday? The following curriculum resources, lesson plans, and activities provide opportunities for students to apply the analytical skills that they have developed for thinking critically about race to their coursework and beyond.
Allyship is yet another important concept for students to discuss. Teaching Tolerance’s lessonA Time to Speak: A Speech by Charles Morgan,explores the idea and role of allyship through an analysis of a speech by Charles Morgan following the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Students complete a K-W-L chart, actively listen to the speech, and engage in a discussion about their analyses.
The Death of Michael Brown: Teaching About Ferguson, from the New York Times Learning Network, offers a collection of ideas from teachers about how to approach race, particularly in the context of the events in Ferguson, in the classroom. The article includes links to lesson plans, activities, and tools for the classroom that teachers have found useful in their classrooms. In the wake of Ferguson, educators lead by Dr. Marcia Chatelain also united to create #FergusonSyllabus on Twitter and share resources and classroom experiences in this collective Google document. In addition, Mapping Police Violence, an infographic, may spark discussion in the classroom about the relationship between race and police violence in particular with its visual representation of statistics.
Introducing ‘The New Jim Crow’, a lesson plan with discussion-leading tips for teachers and student reading strategies from Teaching Tolerance, invites students to analyze excerpts from The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration During the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (2010). Bringing scholarship from an expert in the field into the secondary classroom in an accessible way, the lesson challenges students to draw connections between the criminal justice system and racial inequalities.
Some students may be interested in becoming involved in the ongoing activist efforts that they have heard about in school and on social media. The Black Lives Matter website offers background on the movement as well as opportunities to engage in activism, online or in person. Exploring the website will allow students to become more informed about the ongoing activism. Other students may wish to get involved by coordinating their own event at school or in the community that calls for racial equality. Black Futures Month, a new, annual initiative by BLM (in conjunction withHuffington Post), is an online repository of the latest news, blogs, and community conversations to keep interested students and teachers up to date about continuing the conversation on racial inequalities and injustices beyond a designated month.
The Choices Approach:
A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England, a curriculum unit from The Choices Program, uses readings, activities, and a simulation to help students explore the institution of slavery in New England. Students also think critically about how history, and the telling of history, affects people today. Teachers may also wish to consider constructing a short listening exercise with the 4 minute radio segment “All Americans Share a Complex Racial Past” from NPR, which also engages issues relating at the history of slavery in New England.
Another curriculum unit from The Choices Program, Colonization and Independence in Africa, invites students to think critically about colonial and decolonial efforts in Africa. The readings, activities, and simulation challenge students to consider the perspectives of Africans–particularly Algerians, Congolese, Ghanaians and Kenyans – and the ways in which they responded to European colonialism.
Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, a curriculum unit from The Choices Program, explores the history of the civil rights movement at the local level as well as the national level. Students complete readings, activities, and a simulation that equip them to think more complexly about how people from different backgrounds experienced and understood the civil rights movement.
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the words that established an independent United States. It is these values that many continue to point to as essential to the nature of the country—the promise of existence as human, the assurance of freedom from tyranny, the right to pursue wellness. They are supreme ideals, a foundation of justice and equality upon which to build a society. But, the idea that these rights should extend to all humans is relatively new to U.S. history—the founding fathers did not intend for the full extension of the Declaration of Independence to colonial women, native peoples, or enslaved or free people of African descent.
In fact, in July 1852, Frederick Douglass, an African American abolitionist and orator, called attention to the fact that people of African descent continued to be denied the rights inscribed in the Declaration of Independence. By continuing slavery, the U.S. government did not merely fail to deliver the basic rights to enslaved people, it actively prevented these people from being able to obtain life, liberty, or wellness. “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us,” said Douglass. “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.”
Truly, independence did not belong to all people. It certainly did not belong to all people in the former colonies in 1783. The peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War and acknowledged the autonomy of the colonists also ignored land rights of native peoples (allowing them to be seen as “foreign nations” by the new U.S. government) and characterized black people as property. The new nation did not affirm the liberty of women of any race or ethnicity.
In fact, the Revolution itself, which we often view as an inevitable and logical response to the tyranny of British government, did not belong to all people in North America either. The common focus on the words of Jefferson and Paine, the idealistic commitment in action of Paul Revere and George Washington, and the engagement of crowds to fight British taxation often belies that “pursuit of happiness” in the colonies did not always take the form of allegiance to the patriots.
Notable members of the “Sons of Liberty,” a name given to some groups of colonial patriots leading the fight for independence. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons).
For many white colonists, objection to taxation without representation did not necessitate a desire for independence. Many, attached to their British identity and the safety of being part of a larger British empire in the face of competition from the French for land, fought as loyalists. Even some of those who fought with the patriots in Quebec, Bunker Hill, Lexington, and Concord did so hoping to gain better representation in Parliament or autonomy over colonial finance rather than a complete break from Britain.
For enslaved people, forms of government or taxation were largely irrelevant. Freedom from tyranny meant freedom from the bonds of slavery. Enslaved people selected their alliances based on who they believed would deliver this liberty. Some fought for the patriots, hoping that this would earn them the loyalty of a new government if independence were to occur. Others fought for the British, expecting that their service would be exchanged for freedom by a British government whose politics seemed to be drifting towards the prospect of abolition.
For native peoples, alliance-building was also a gamble. For native nations that aligned themselves with the patriots, promises of fuller autonomy after independence were key. For those aligned with the British, there was a reliance on a stronger hand from the metropole, which had typically restricted colonists’ expansion and the movement of the frontier.
Thinking beyond the patriotic language of the Sons of Liberty, we are forced to ask many more questions about American Independence. Whose Revolution was this? What was rebellion really about? What did “liberty” mean to different people in the colonies? How do we explain those who were “patriotic” to something other than the ideals of the patriots? How does this diversity of identity, political opinion, and economic interest help us understand the United States today?
These questions have profound importance for understanding the past and the future of the United States. Acknowledging that independence in the eighteenth century was incomplete helps show the reality of the United States being a continued work in progress. Freeing the country from the illusion that the pinnacle of justice and liberty was situated hundreds of years ago empowers learners to consider what the national goal should be, which of the principles of independence and revolution still need to be attained, and what we can learn from both the successes and limitations of the past. Examining how people in the revolutionary era made choices helps learners grapple with the options they face today.
Keep a look out for the new Choices curriculum unit, The American Revolution: Experiences of Rebellion, coming in 2016!
The unit considers how the varied populations of seventeenth and eighteenth century North America experienced and viewed colonization and revolution, encouraging students to step into the shoes of people in 1776 to debate the future of the thirteen colonies. Watch our home page for the release of this unit.