The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Month: March 2015

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

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South Carysfort, Florida Keys—Before

South Carysfort, Florida Keys—After

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

Discovery Bay, Jamaica

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Discovery Bay, Jamaica—Before

Discovery Bay, Jamaica—After

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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

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Valdez, Alaska—Before

Valdez, Alaska—After

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

Heney, Alaska

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Heney, Alaska—Before

Heney, Alaska—After

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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.

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