The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Author: lmelliot@brown.edu

Choices International Education Internship

It will have been two years this summer since I joined the team at the Choices Program. I intentionally use the word team to introduce this job posting because my time at Choices has been constantly characterized by collaboration. The first day I started, I remember being asked to share my opinion on a unit that was already close to publication—Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. I read, made edits, and discussed my viewpoint with the other writers. Like that, I was welcomed on board.

Since my first month, I have had the opportunity to research and write on topics ranging from civil rights in Mississippi, to the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent, to immigration reform, and the civil war in Syria. And the list goes on. When my friends or people I meet ask me what my day-to-day is like, they find it hard to believe I spend my hours reading history or keeping up with the news, and then finding creative ways to make these topics accessible to high school students. While some are confused by the concept of curriculum development, a common reaction is to comment on how fascinating it must be. I couldn’t agree more!

Coming straight from college, reading, research, and writing are all-too-familiar skills. But it did not take long after beginning my job to recognize the immense opportunities and welcome challenges inherent to working for Choices. Whether it was learning how to frame a complex event in history for fourteen to eighteen year-olds, or pushing myself to interview scholars on topics with which I was previously unfamiliar, my experiences at Choices mark a clear shift from anything I have worked on in the past. More importantly, contributing to the Choices Program has meant working to show students that their opinions on history and current public policies matter. That is truly the best part!

As the International Education Intern, you are involved in almost every part of Choices’ operations. Developing and updating curricula is the main gig, but then there are online Teaching with the News lessons to create, video interviews to help with, marketing materials to edit, and summer institutes to attend (and enjoy). You take away not only expanded skills in research and writing, but also an understanding of how to work with scholars across multiple fields and a familiarity with nonprofit operations in an academic setting. Which leads me to discuss the honor of being part of the Brown University community at large…

If I didn’t have the time in college to see every speaker or attend art openings, I feel that I have had the best of both worlds at Choices; I end the workday at five and have access to all the events of a university campus (and those of RISD as well). Plus, Brown is great to their employees. Free yoga classes, staff days where you get to learn about the history of Brown or sit in on classes, and incredible holiday parties. Needless to say, Brown and Providence have been wonderful and unpredictable places to explore.

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View across the river from the Choices offices.

You should apply for the International Education Internship if you are passionate about international issues, history, policy, and/or education. If you have any questions regarding the position, Choices, Brown University, or living in Providence, I am more than happy to answer them. You can reach me at leahmarieelliott@gmail.com .

In keeping with the BuzzFeed trend of making lists for everything, I’ve compiled two for your viewing pleasure:

Top 6 Memorable Moments as an International Education Intern

  1. Discussing politics with civil rights activist Judy Richardson at the Choices Summer Institute
  2. Searching the Brown archives for the original All-India Census documents from 1931 in order to make a data lesson for our India/Pakistan curriculum
  3. Writing a Teaching with the News lesson on the 2012 Presidential Election
  4. Auditing a class at Brown on modern Indian history
  5. Dropping everything to work with the writing team on a lesson regarding the civil war in Syria when President Obama threatened the U.S. use of force
  6. Meeting all the people who work in my building at the Continuing Education staff development day

5 Things I Didn’t Expect to Take Away from the International Education Internship

  1. A deep interest in the events going on in Egypt
  2. Knowing how to make a digital textbook with iBooks software
  3. The inability to read an article without finding typos or grammatical errors
  4. Understanding (well, sort of) the complex copyright system for photographs and video resources
  5. Knowledge about the quirks and hidden wonders of Rhode Island (our Administrative Manager, Kathie, helped with this one!)

Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and the State of the Union

“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won.”

-Lyndon B. Johnson, State of the Union Address, 1964

Coming on the heels of the fiftieth anniversary of LBJ’s War on Poverty speech, there is a lot of speculation regarding whether President Obama will capitalize on this timing to address U.S. poverty in his 2014 State of the Union Address on January 28th.

A recent article in The New Yorker, “The ‘P’ Word: Why Presidents Stopped Talking About Poverty,” provides an overview of the number of times poverty has appeared in State of the Union addresses since Lyndon Johnson’s last term in office.

The author of the piece, Jeff Shesol, points out that it took five presidents and twenty-three years for the term poverty, or “the poor,” to be said in State of the Union addresses the same number of times as during the Johnson administration. (President Johnson used those words forty times; so far, for President Obama, the tally stands at eight.)

As your students watch and discuss the State of the Union Address on January 28, have them take note of those topics, including poverty, that do and do not make the cut in the president’s formal statement. Will Obama overcome presidential fears of the “P” word(s), or will he avoid the rhetoric that had powerful (and controversial) implications for 1964?

Be sure to check out our “Surveying State of the Union Addresses” Teaching with the News Lesson, which we first released last January. This lesson features an interactive video timeline (including LBJ’s 1964 speech) and updated graphic organizers for your students to fill out before and after the address.

In the lesson, students will:

  • Understand the constitutional basis and history of the State of the Union Address
  • Explore significant moments in twentieth century State of the Union Addresses and identify important historic themes
  • Collaborate with classmates to identify likely topics for the State of the Union Address
  • Assess President Obama’s State of the Union Address

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Update: Debating the U.S. Response to Syria

“When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it.”       —President Obama

Last night, President Obama addressed the American public on the topic of the crisis in Syria. After earlier calling for a vote in Congress on the use of targeted military strikes, he has now asked that Congress postpone their decision. With Russia pushing for Syria to hand over its stockpile of chemical weapons, new diplomatic alternatives have come to the fore. The president made clear, however, that the future of these talks is uncertain. Other options remain on the table.

In Choices’ Teaching with the News lesson, Debating the U.S. Response in Syria, students explore different foreign policy options for addressing the conflict in Syria, and have a chance to articulate their personal views on what role the United States should play. What is the United States’ ultimate goal in Syria? Should we pursue military intervention, diplomatic measures, or let other countries take the lead on seeking a resolution? Students are encouraged to share their views not only with their classmates, but with their elected representatives and the president. Referencing individual letters he received in his speech, President Obama made clear that the American public is engaged and grappling with the issues in Syria. We hope students will join in the discussion.

 

50 Years after the March on Washington: Student Activist Stories

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. This day gives us an exceptional reason to reflect on that event, the civil rights struggle, and the challenges that remain. It is important that students not only focus on the philosophy and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also on the experiences of women, students, local organizers, and others who fought for equal rights. In this Teaching with the News lesson, 50 Years after the March on Washington: Student Activist Stories, you will hear the voices of activists who worked in local communities to bring about change. The lesson features short films with three veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC): John Lewis, Judy Richardson, and Charlie Cobb. They share their motivations for joining the movement as young people and describe their daily life in the fight for equal rights. We hope your class (or friends, or whoever you may share this with) will consider what they would have done if they had been students in 1963. What lessons can we learn from these activists? What causes or movements do we feel connected to today?

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This lesson builds off some of the core themes covered in the Choices curriculum, Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, an entire unit dedicated to understanding the local work in Mississippi, from sit-ins to voter registration drives. As your class discusses the March on Washington, consider using these resources and others to incorporate a wide array of perspectives on the movement. Below are a few additional links.

50 Years Forward

PBS: Freedom Riders

Time Magazine: One Dream

Resources in the Public Domain

The Public Domain Review is a project of the Open Knowledge Foundation and features resources that are free and available to the public. Known for highlighting “the most interesting and unusual out-of-copyright works,” the Review may provide a set of images or old texts that will intrigue your students and get their creative juices flowing as they think about history. You can explore the site by topic (literature, science, history, etc.) or by medium (text, images, video, and audio). Within a few minutes of clicking around, I was able to find images from the first expedition to the South Pole, illustrations of The Odyssey, a collection of rare world  maps, and excerpts from Phillis Wheatley’s writings. The other great thing about this resource is that it constantly changes–contributors add to the site as other pieces of history outlive their copyright date.

Review the site before using with students as some resources may not be appropriate for class!

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