The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Category: Online Resources (page 1 of 2)

Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement

On August 28, 1963, before a crowd of over 200,000 people in Washington D.C., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the most famous speech of the U.S. civil rights movement. “I have a dream,” he declared, “that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

The March on Washington has become one of the most celebrated moments of the civil rights movement, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the movement’s most famous leader. But the story of the fight for civil rights has more to it than large marches and speeches on national television.

Often out of sight of the national media, most civil rights activity occurred in local communities, in states like Mississippi, where thousands of everyday people organized themselves to fight against racial injustice. Instead of one national civil rights movement led by a few, we can think of the struggle of the 1950s and 1960s as a series of local movements for racial justice with many participants and leaders.

Judy Richardson was an 18-year-old when she join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and went to Mississippi to struggle for racial justice. You can get a sense of her experience in the video below.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was just one chapter in the black freedom struggle. As many historians have noted, African Americans have been fighting for their freedom since the first slave ships arrived in the Americas. The Civil War ended slavery in the United States, but emancipation did not bring equal rights or economic opportunities to black people. While the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s spurred the federal government into action and won many legal rights for African Americans, challenges remain today.

The Choices Program has a free online lesson “Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement” that includes videos and stories of students who went to Mississippi, including those of Judy Richardson, John Lewis, Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, and Charlie Cobb. The lesson offers insight into the broad-based nature of the civil rights movement and its role in local communities.

The activists in the videos were not much older than high school students when they joined SNCC. The videos and lessons challenge students to consider important questions:

Did they relate to the SNCC veterans’ stories about joining the movement. Can students imagine themselves participating in the civil rights movement if they had been alive?  Do any students consider themselves activists now? What current civil rights issues or other political issues inspire students in the class? Is there a cause that students can imagine themselves dedicating their lives to? What lessons can students learn from these student civil rights activists?

Login to Learn—The Global Refugee Crisis: Where Do We Go from Here?

UNHCR Rwanda Mahama Camp - taken on on May 13, 2015

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.

Campbell-madeline_100

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.

Join Dr. Campbell for her talk at 1pm EDT, July 15.

Can’t make the live broadcast?  View it later on YouTube.

Brexit: Connecting it to Classrooms

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.

Approaching Race in the Classroom, Actively

Authors: Mackenize Abernethy, Camisia Glasgow, and LIndsay Turchan

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.

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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 in the 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 eight five-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, an e-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 planThe 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. The lesson 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 to incorporate 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 Testimony is  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 complex theoretical 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 lesson A 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 with Huffington 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.
  • In the online lesson Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement from The Choices Program, students hear and analyze stories from former civil rights activists about what motivated them to join the movement.
  • In this free lesson from The Choices Program’s Teaching with the News series, Fifty Years after the March on Washington: Students in the Civil Rights Movement, students read and analyze stories and letters written by activists who partook in the events of the Freedom Summer.

 

This post is part of a series that will address different aspects of teaching Black History as American History in secondary-level classrooms.

Refugee Stories—Mapping a Crisis

“I was just a mother taking care of her children and living in Homs…. I enjoyed life. One day I’d spend an evening with my friends, another day I’d go to a birthday party. That was our life…. Now it’s all gone.”
—Umm Ala’a, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

What does a ten-year-old boy, working alongside his father in a busy restaurant kitchen, think of the friends he left behind in Syria? How does a young man, who took up arms against the Assad regime at age seventeen, adjust to life with his injuries? How does a medical resident, facing repeated arrests for protesting, finally decide to flee? How does a mother and widow, caring for her children, volunteer to help others in her new community in Lebanon?

Choices’ free online lesson, Refugee Stories—Mapping a Crisis, gives students the opportunity to explore the human face of the global refugee crisis. Why do refugees leave their homes? What do they leave behind? What obstacles do they confront on their journey abroad? What is it like to build a life in a new country?

“I can’t describe what I felt. No one can…. We are people, not numbers. These 5,000 people waiting at the border wanting to cross, they didn’t come of their own free will. No one chooses to leave their home. Everyone has a reason.”
—Haifa, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

There are more displaced people today than at any time since World War II. As of 2014, nearly sixty million people had been forcibly displaced from their homes, about twenty million of them refugees. To introduce students to this topic, the lesson begins with foundational information—defining key terms and exploring data on the global crisis.

RefugeeDatasheet

Excerpt from the lesson handout, “Refugee and IDP Data Sheet.” See lesson for full data sheet.

The main activity allows students to read or watch individuals’ stories and creatively map their experiences. We’ve recently updated the lesson and incorporated a collection of video interviews by Al Jazeera—Life on Hold—featuring Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Syrians now make up a quarter of the population in Lebanon. These interviews are a powerful way to introduce students to the human dimension of the refugee crisis. We hope the lesson plan will help you address this topic in your classroom and help prepare your students to participate in the global discussion about responses to the crisis.

“I want my children to get an education…. I imagine Mashael and Mariam will achieve great things. Of course I have dreams. If you don’t have hope then life isn’t worth living.”
—Umm Ala’a, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

A sample of the student mapping activity.

A sample of the student mapping activity.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Africa: News Engagement Series #1

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 will be sharing the news-related resources they use to inform and inspire their work.

Danielle Johnstone, Program Associate, Writing Team

My recommendation for a news-related resource:
The Mail & Guardian Online


What it is:
The Mail & Guardian is a South African newspaper. The website reports on National (South African), African and World news. M&G also runs various blogs and a center for investigative journalism.


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

  1. M&G should definitely be bookmarked if you are teaching about South Africa. The journalists reporting on national issues often make strong historical connections, particularly to the apartheid era and the challenges it has caused for contemporary South Africa.
  2. I like to visit the M&G world news section to be aware of how news outlets outside of the United States are covering U.S. and international issues. Often M&G will be covering issues or situations that have been ignored by the U.S. media. Sometimes they cover issues that have dominated U.S. and European news with a different (perhaps more nuanced) perspective. M&G’s coverage of African issues, in particular, tends to be remarkably different to what you will see on the BBC or New York Times.
  3. The M&G Thought Leader blog by Mandela-Rhodes scholars is a gem. The contributing writers are young South Africans who are/were recipients of the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship, and they express their opinions about things happening in South Africa and beyond. Not only are the posts engaging and well-written, they also show how young people in South Africa are grappling with many of the same issues facing their counterparts in the U.S. and beyond—race, violence, injustice, an intimidating economy. Reading the blog is an excellent way to challenge stereotypes; it encourages readers to recognize that young people in the developing world are not just victims but are also educated, thoughtful, and facing complex questions about their world and their futures.

Bonus:
For a sample of M&G’s arts and culture reporting, check out this article on musician and composer  “Mac” McKenzie and his innovative impact on South African music.


Choices Program resource:
Freedom in Our Lifetime: South Africa’s Struggle

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.

 

[vimeo 104646589 w=500 h=281]

 

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.

 

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WN4VRqEo0r4

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).

 

The Umbrella Movement and Trends of Modern Protest

Over the past five years, we have seen a surge of public uprisings around the world. From Tunis, Cairo, and Madrid to Istanbul, Kiev, and Caracas, people have turned to public protest and civil disobedience to express frustration with their countries’ distinct social, economic, and political states.

The Choices Program has just published a new Teaching with the News lesson on the recent prodemocracy protests in Hong Kong. The protests have emerged in response to the Chinese government’s announcement that although it will allow universal suffrage in the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s chief executive, voters will only be able to choose among two or three candidates selected by a nominating committee. Protesters fear that the Chinese government will use this nominating committee to ensure that only pro-Beijing candidates enter the election process.

Protesters gathered in downtown Hong Kong earlier this month. (Pasu Au Yeung, CC BY-SA 2.0.)

In what ways is Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement” similar to and different from other civil disobedience demonstrations that have emerged in recent years? In a video interview for our Scholars Online collection, Brown Professor Melani Cammett discusses some of the broad issues that contributed to the wave of popular uprisings in the Arab world in 2010-2011.

[vimeo 109928638 w=500 h=281]

As has been the case with the revolutions in the Arab world, protesters in Hong Kong are demanding more democratic freedoms from their government—specifically, in this case, the right to democratically nominate and elect their government leader. Economic inequality within Hong Kongese society and frustrations among highly educated young people about challenges finding work and housing are also contributing to public discontent. In addition, like in the Arab revolutions, the Hong Kong protests are comprised of large numbers of young people—many of whom are still too young to vote.

But despite these similarities, there are stark differences between the protest movements. Many of the Arab countries that experienced mass revolutions beginning in 2010 and 2011 suffer from widespread poverty and government corruption. In contrast, Hong Kong is China’s economic hub and has become known for its “clean and corruption-free” government. Furthermore, many of the Arab revolutions demanded and ultimately resulted in the overthrow of authoritarian leaders from countries including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. The Hong Kong protests, on the other hand, are centered primarily around one aspect of election policy in Hong Kong. While protesters have expressed a desire for Hong Kong’s chief executive, CY Leung, to step down, they are not attempting any sort of revolution to change the government structure of China as a whole. In fact, the Hong Kongese prodemocracy group Occupy Central has been vocal about its desire to be called a “movement” as opposed to a “revolution.” They are decidedly nonviolent and the scope of their demands is limited.

Moreover, many of the initially peaceful protests in the Arab world have resulted in tragically violent conflicts and harsh government repression—most strikingly in the case of Syria and its descent into a brutal civil war. While the Chinese government has not expressed any willingness to meet protesters’ demands for open public nomination of Hong Kong’s chief executive, a peaceful dialogue has already begun between government officials and student protest leaders.

Comparing the current protests in Hong Kong with one specific protest movement, like the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey, can also help to illuminate common tools and tactics of modern protests. In another Scholars Online video interview, Barbara Petzen, an education consultant specializing in how to teach about the Middle East, discusses creative ways Turkish protesters responded to media censorship during the Gezi Park protests.

[vimeo 105386719 w=500 h=281]

While what triggered the Gezi Park protests and Hong Kong’s protests are different, there are similarities in how the government responded to each as well as in the strategies protesters used to get their messages across. Like in the case of Turkey, the Chinese government has censored many news and media outlets in response to the recent protests. In China, the press has depicted Hong Kong protesters as extremists who threaten the unity of China, and the government has shut down social media sites like Instagram. This government censorship has impacted how mainland Chinese view the protests in Hong Kong. In addition, censoring posts on Weibo (a site similar to Twitter) has affected the ability of protesters to communicate with each other. This has prompted creative solutions—for instance, many protesters in Hong Kong have been using alternative social media apps, like FireChat, that do not rely on the internet.

In addition, both the Gezi Park protesters and Hong Kong’s prodemocracy protesters have used strong symbolism in getting their messages across. Whether a spray-painted penguin with a gas mask in the case of Gezi Park or a trash collection bin emblazoned with the number 689 (the number of votes current Hong Kong chief executive received from China’s electoral committee) in Hong Kong, protesters have demonstrated ingenuity and creativity.

KeithPictures (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Hong Kong protesters have received international attention for regularly cleaning protest sites and setting up recycling centers. Many trash bags and cans have signs attached with messages such as “Throw out your 689 here” and “689! General waste.” (KeithPictures, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

Learning about the Hong Kong democracy protests can help students think about the role of mass public action in politics and grapple with the question of how protests in varied places and times can be both similar and different. How and why do public protests arise? What tactics do protesters use? Are there clear leaders of civil disobedience movements? What relationship do protesters have with government officials and police? What role do technology and social media play—both for the protesters and for the governments they are demonstrating against? What does it mean for a protest to be “successful”?

 

Check out Choices’ new free lesson on the Hong Kong protests, and for more on the history of China’s political development, see the unit China on the World Stage: Weighing the U.S. Response.

 

Some Choices units that deal with the theme of public protest and enfranchisement:

More FREE Teaching with the News lessons on uprisings:

And look out for our new unit on experiencing and responding to climate change, coming soon!

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