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History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Author: Andy Blackadar (page 2 of 4)

Russia: News Engagement Series #2

October 6 is National News Engagement Day, a day when “everyone is encouraged to read, watch, like, tweet, post, text, email, listen to, or comment on news.”

News and the media is a vital part of social studies education today, which is why The Choices Program does our best to get current affairs content available for teachers to use in their classrooms. Our Current Issues Series deals with some of the most important challenges facing the world today, encouraging students to consider the decisions made by policy makers and citizens in facing a changing future. We also produce Teaching With The News lessons to address situations as we see them come into the focus of the media.

For the week of National News Engagement Day, some of the Choices staff are sharing the news-related resources they use to inform and inspire their work.


 

Andy Blackadar, Director of Curriculum Development

My recommendation for a news-related resource:

Johnson’s Russia List

What it is:

Johnson’s Russia List or JRL is a daily email of English language news sources on Russia. The website provides a table of contents of the daily email and selected articles, but the email provides the full text of between 10 and 50 articles daily on all aspects of Russia: including foreign and domestic policy, daily life, politics, public opinion, and culture. (Information about obtaining an email subscription is available from David Johnson <David Johnson through davidjohnson[AT]starpower.net>.

Johnson has been putting the list together since 1996 and is based  at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University. During the recent crisis in Ukraine, the list has attracted criticism for including Russian news sources as well as others sympathetic to the Russian point of view. Johnson includes those sources (as he has since starting this service) to provide a voice to opinions often not found in the U.S. news media. I think that the scope of the list would be very daunting for the great majority of high school students and requires the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. On the other hand, teachers could find great content there and choose a small selection to present to students.

Why I like it and think you might find it interesting:

  1. If you follow Russia, it would take hours to discover all of the resources the David Johnson puts in his emails. The daily email comes with a table of contents or forty or so articles. It’s easy to scan and decide what you are interested in reading.
  2. In addition to many different takes on the hottest political issues of the day, there are frequently interesting articles on Russian culture, history, and society. There’s a handy dropdown menu that allows you to search the massive archives by category.
  3. Russian sources often have a very different take on events in Ukraine or Syria, for example. These disparate viewpoints are extremely interesting and important to consider when thinking about some these pressing foreign policy problems.

RussiaCoverChoices Program Resource

Russia’s Transformation: Challenges for U.S. Policy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Breaking the Mold On Cuba

 

cubapolicy6.5This classic cartoon on U.S.-Cuba relations from 2004 pretty neatly illustrates 50 years of a relationship frozen in place. That’s done. A chapter from the Cold War has come to a close, but what comes next? There are many questions that are getting attention in the news right now. These questions also offer opportunities for high school classrooms to explore and follow in the coming months as history unfolds.  Will the embargo continue? How will this affect the 2016 presidential race in the United States? Will there be an economic transition in Cuba? Will it be more like the ones in the Soviet bloc or more like China? What will Cuba’s political future be?

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.

Contesting Cuba’s Past and Future contains lessons (listed below) and Scholars Online Videos that complement the readings and lessons. The curriculum is also available as an IBook for the  Ipad.
Lessons

José Martí and His Legacy
Using a variety of primary sources as well as a timeline and map, students assess the contested legacy of José Martí among Cubans.

The Dance of the Millions
Students analyze economic data from Cuba’s “dance of the millions” in 1920 and compare Cuban sugar to commodities in Germany that same year.

Operation Carlota
Using a variety of Cuban, U.S., Russian, South African, Angolan, and European sources, students assess competing perspectives of Cuba’s foreign policy in Angola.

The Special Period
Using numerous sources from the 1990s, including literature, hip-hop lyrics, jokes, and art, students explore the relationship between politics and popular culture.

Role-Playing the Three Options
Working collaboratively to present different options to a group of fictional Cuban citizens, students clarify and evaluate various political and economic options.

Cuban Government
Students create their own working definitions of “democracy” and explore a variety of media sources to assess claims that Cuba is a democracy.

Cuban American Experiences
Using excerpts of Cuban American memoirs, students create characters representing a wide array of Cuban American experiences and points of view.

 

One of the interesting things about the protests of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York is how they are understood and interpreted.  TV news or the headlines tend to focus and report on them as responses to the grand jury decisions themselves, which they certainly are. But a long history is also at play here that can get missed or overlooked. Reading the signs or listening to protesters, one can hear calls for the end to systemic injustice and impunity—impunity that has affected African American victims of white violence for centuries. Underlying the protests is the belief that the justice system has never worked the same way for all of us.

December 3, 2014.
Photo by Charlie Magovern/Neon Tommy
(CC BY-SA 2.0).

This short clip of Dave Dennis giving the eulogy at the funeral of the murdered civil rights worker James Chaney in the summer of 1964 is a painfully apt illustration of this doubt about the justice system.

The clip omits his conclusion to “You see, I know what is going to happen. I feel it deep in my heart – when they find the people who killed those guys in Neshoba County….” What didn’t make into the clip was what Dave Dennis said next… “they [will] come back to the state of Mississippi and have a jury of all their cousins and aunts and uncles. And I know what they are going to say: Not guilty.”

As protests continue, there is an opportunity to add historical perspective to the debates that are playing out around all of us.  Race and the history of relations between white and black people in the United States remains a charged and challenging topic. Tackling this challenge can bring the reward of new understanding of the past as well the present for students. The Choices Program has curriculum resources that engage students with this historical context and provide a foundation to consider what’s happening right now.

Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi can be used as a springboard for explorations of current race relations in the United States. It gives students a good understanding of the historical underpinnings of racial inequality, drawing clear connections between inequalities of the past and inequalities that exist today.

There are free videos of scholars answering fundamental questions about this history as well as free activities and resources.

 A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England seeks to inform students of the economic and social impact of slavery and the slave trade in the North. Historians comment that New England has “forgotten” its slave-owning past, and that such a narrative—one that remembers abolition but not enslavement—has had far-reaching consequences for black-white relations and the nature of race in the United States.

There are free videos of scholars answering questions as well as activities and resources.

ISIS, Iran, and the Nuclear Negotiations: A Teaching with the News Extension

The Choices Program has just published two new Teaching with the News lessons. The first is on the Iranian nuclear negotiations. The deadline for coming to a final agreement is November 24, 2014, conveniently coming after U.S. elections and during a lame duck session of Congress.

The second lesson is on the threat of ISIS in the Middle East.

There is an important connection between these two issues. The United States and Iran share an interest in rolling back the threat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It is fascinating to watch the video below of the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator,  Abbas Araghchi, as he chooses his words carefully about whether U.S. and Iranian military forces are already coordinating their efforts against ISIS. In the months after September 11, 2001, there was also substantive cooperation between the United States and Iran against the Taliban—cooperation whose end could be marked with President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech a few months later.

In both the United States and Iran, domestic political opposition to any kind of accord between these two countries remains significant. Whether cooperation against ISIS is merely tactical or  is part of  a recognition of shared security interests remains to be seen.

There is an opportunity for teachers using one or the other of these Teaching with the News lessons to explore with students the relationship between the nuclear negotiation and the international response to ISIS. These two issues are critical to both the United States and Iran. It’s a terrific way to explore how complex policy making can be. Here are a few questions to spark discussion:

  • How does being aware of both of the issues effect students’ perceptions of how to respond these two policy issues?
  • How does the relationship between these issues affect Iran? …the United States?
  • Do students see the connection between the issues as an opportunity or a complication?
  • Henry Kissinger said, “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only  interests.” How does this statement relate to this situation? Do students agree with Kissinger?

 

 

Rethinking History: A Look at the Writing Process at the Choices Program

Late last month, three members of the Choices curriculum team received the 2014 Franklin Buchanan Prize from the Association for Asian Studies for the outstanding curriculum resource on Asia. Leah Elliott and Maya Lindberg were recognized for their work as writers and Tanya Waldburger for her videography in Indian Independence and the Question of Partition. Congratulations to the three of them for this well-deserved recognition.

After publication last fall, Choices received an email from Mr. Ted Lockery, a ninth-grade teacher in Seattle with some really interesting questions from his class. With his permission, I am able to share them with you along with our responses. I think they provide insight into the issues and process we go through when writing curriculum. I hope you find it interesting.

Dear Choices,

My name is Ted Lockery.  I teach ninth-grade world history at Nathan Hale High School, in Seattle.

My students and I are examining how historians make decisions about how & what to emphasize in their publications.  We have been entertaining the question, “Where is the truth in history?”

This morning we compared the latest edition of “Indian Independence and the Question of Partition” to the previous edition, noticing the change from “the Mutiny of 1857” to the “Great Revolt of 1857.”  (This examination was inspired by the Teacher Resource Book’s “The Great Revolt of 1857: Source Analysis.”)

We would greatly  appreciate knowing how CHOICES came to the decision to revise the title and that section of the text.  What issues were discussed in the decision-making process?  Was there debate?  What were some of the motivations and/or justifications for the change? 

Thank you SO much for your time regarding this.

It is very exciting for us to take up this question with actual historians!

Sincerely,

Ted Lockery

 

Dear Mr. Lockery,

Thank you for your email.

It is great to hear that your class is discussing and trying to locate the “truth” in history. It is a challenge that Choices curriculum writers continually face. Your class poses great questions regarding Choices’ decision to use the “Great Revolt of 1857” over the “Mutiny of 1857.” Please find our responses to their questions below.

What issues were discussed in the decision-making process?
The decision to use the “Great Revolt of 1857” over the “Mutiny of 1857” was guided by a number considerations. The Choices Program decided that the new edition should deviate from a history of the Indian subcontinent that privileges the perspective of the colonizing power, i.e. the British, over other “voices,” such as everyday people. British historical accounts written shortly after 1857 and well into the twentieth century used the term “mutiny” to downplay the widespread participation of Indians. These accounts and more contemporary ones perpetuated the long-mistaken view that the events of 1857 were isolated to a mere mutiny of Indian sepoys in the Bengal Army. Contemporary scholars have challenged this perspective, pointing to other groups that participated in the rebellion. We decided to follow these scholars’ example and break with the tradition of using the “Mutiny of 1857.”

What were some of the motivations and/or justifications for the change?
We first heard the events of 1857 referred to as the “Great Revolt” from a historian we worked with at Brown University—Vazira Zamindar. Following her lead, we opted to go with “Great Revolt of 1857” because it is a broader term that encompasses much more than “Mutiny of 1857.” As the updated unit describes under the question “Who joined the revolt?” on page twelve of the student text, sepoys were not the only participants in the uprisings against the British in 1857. Civilians, landlords, peasants, merchants, and policemen, to name just a few, participated alongside sepoys in revolts and initiated demonstrations of their own. Using “mutiny” in this instance would have been misleading because the term itself means “an open rebellion against the proper authorities, esp. by soldiers or sailors against their officers.” Since the historical record shows that soldiers were not the only participants, we opted to go with a broader term—revolt.
Now, you might be wondering, what makes the revolt of 1857 a GREAT revolt. This an important consideration as well. The Great Revolt of 1857 was an important moment marked by unparalleled, widespread participation against British rule in the Indian subcontinent. It also led to the end of the rule of the British East India Company over the subcontinent and the establishment of Crown rule.

Was there debate?
The Choices writing team had several conversations about the naming of the Great Revolt. For reasons explained above, we decided to eliminate the “Mutiny of 1857” as an option. We also considered using the name, the “First War of Independence,” which has been used by some people from the Indian subcontinent. However, others, including contemporary historians from the region, disagree with this portrayal of the events because the rebellions were not unified in their goals. While resistance spread across the Indian subcontinent, there were varying social, political, economic, and cultural reasons for why people rebelled. These reasons were not limited to grievances with British rule; and therefore, it would be incorrect to categorize the events of 1857 as a united attempt to overthrow colonial rule.

Although we all agreed, given the available research on the topic, to changing the name from “mutiny” to “revolt,” we did debate whether or not to include an explanation of all the historical names (Great Revolt, the War of Independence, the Mutiny of 1857) in the student text. Ultimately, we decided for clarity and ease of reading to not include this explanation in the student text and reserve the conversation for a lesson. And we are so happy to hear you all worked on the lesson and are talking about truth, history, and naming!

Kind regards,
Leah Elliott and Maya Lindberg
Co-writers of Indian Independence and the Question of Partition

Teaching a Long View of Russia and the United States

The Choices Program was founded in the 1980s during a period of high tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. Thomas J. Watson Jr., U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1979-1981, and a former president of IBM, proposed that Brown University create a foreign policy center where scholars and practitioners could work on U.S.-Soviet relations and U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Thus, the Watson Institute was born. We at Choices are one of its offspring and have retained a focus on U.S.-Russia relations. Over the years, a fantastic group of scholars has helped Choices present this important topic for high school classrooms.

The situation in Ukraine tops the news right now accompanied by many pronouncements and speculation about what it means for the United States, Europe, Russia, Ukraine, etc. The situation is serious, but often the analysis in the media seems incomplete, unhelpful, and contradictory.

The challenge is to make sense of the events for ourselves and our students. Russia’s Transformation: Challenges for U.S. Policy provides a rich historical overview of U.S.-Russia relations from the Russian Empire through the present day. The materials cover the social and economic upheaval that followed the end of the Soviet Union, and then helps students assess the most recent challenges for U.S.-Russia relations. It’s a great way to come to an informed judgement about these important events and the U.S. relationship with Russia.

Russia’s Transformation is also available as an Ibook. It is visually really attractive, contains informative videos like the one above, as well as text that helps put current events in a historical context. It is a great resource for anyone looking for a rich, but concise overview of this important issue.

Finally, we also have a new Teaching with News activity: Unrest in Ukraine. This free lesson provides a background to the ongoing crisis, has students analyze political cartoons, and helps them to monitor the Ukrainian crisis in the news.

 

Jean Shepherd and the March on Washington

Jean Shepherd (1921-1999) was a fantastic story-teller who spun finely woven tales on the radio from the late 1940s into the 1990s. The stories were seemingly off-the-cuff improvisations about life as a kid in a steel town in Indiana, his time in the army, etc. The stories were often funny, but they were also filled with rich detail, quirky and vivid characters, and philosophical insight. He was an accomplished writer as well. In later years, one of his stories was made into the movie A Christmas Story that is replayed over and over during the holidays. The movie sells him short, I think. His material is better with him delivering it as a monologue over the airwaves and leaving our imagination to color in the details.

On a few occasions he would talk about significant events—he did following the death of President Kennedy. He was also a participant in the March on Washington, which he talked about on the air the next day. I have included audio clips here in three parts of this radio show. It’s a perspective that is interesting and a little different than what we are used to hearing. His excitement about the events is clear. His comments about understanding history really ring true to me too. In any case, if you can forgive my rough audio editing, and you have half an hour, I think you’ll find it worthwhile to listen all three parts.

Audio: Part 1-1963 08 29 March On Washington

Audio: Part 2-1963 08 29 March On Washington

Audio: Part 3-1963 08 29 March On Washington

The Choices Program is marking the 50th anniversary of the March by releasing a Teaching with the News lesson that explores the role of young people in the civil rights movement, including Representative John Lewis (D-GA). We had the good fortune to film him recently and have included him in the lesson.

The Drone Wars

President Obama spoke today on an aspect of U.S. foreign policy that arose in the years after 9/11: the use of drones to attack suspected terrorists.

Choices has a Teaching with the News lesson that helps students analyze the issues and controversies surrounding the U.S. use of drones. The lesson draws on three videos of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Rohde explaining some of the issues.

Until now, the United States has not acknowledged that they conduct these drone attacks. But it has been an open secret that the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) runs the drone program, which officials claim is one of the most successful programs against al Qaeda. Supporters argue that the attacks have forced al Qaeda to operate more cautiously.

There were many areas where we once had freedom, but now they have been lost…. We are the ones that are losing people, we are the ones facing shortages of resources. Our land is shrinking and drones are flying in the sky.” 

—Ustadh Ahmad Farooq, al Qaeda’s media chief in Pakistan, January 23, 2011

Because the program is secret, the method for determining who or what is a legitimate target is unknown. Critics argue that any U.S. government program designed to kill people should receive more public scrutiny.

 

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