The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Tag: Media (page 1 of 2)

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

Money in Politics

“Elections should be determined by who has the best ideas, not who can hustle the most money from the rich and powerful.” There are the words of Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democrat nomination for the 2016 presidential election, famous for being a self-described democratic socialist and the longest serving independent in Congress. While Sanders is known for pushing political boundaries, his views on money in politics are not exactly radical. A recent CBS-New York Times poll has shown that a whopping 84 percent of people (90 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans) think that money has too much influence on political campaigns today. 46 percent of respondents believed that the system for funding political campaigns is so flawed it must be completely rebuilt.

Although campaign financing did not rank high on the list of most important problems facing the United States (the economy and jobs, predictably, dominated the poll), campaign funding is becoming an important talking point in the long run up to next year’s election. For example, Hillary Clinton, the predicted front-runner for the Democratic nomination, has made campaign financing a key element of her campaign. “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all—even if it takes a constitutional amendment,” Clinton said at an event in April 2015.

The controversy around money in politics revolves largely around recent developments in laws about campaign funding. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that there cannot be limits on third-party spending on political campaigns. This ruling was based on the First Amendment. But why is third-party political spending important? What is the public’s concern?

The New York Times released the following video, explaining “the murky process of campaign contributions and the impact of anonymous donations on the political system.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 11.25.31 AM

In many ways, the question of campaign finance is similar to many other questions we ask about the government, the United States, and the world we live in. Decisions about issues like how money in politics should (or should not) be regulated revolve around values. Values play a key role when defining the broad parameters of public policy. What do we believe about ourselves? What matters most to us? When strongly held values come into conflict, which are most important? Equality or free speech? The democracy of changing a system that most people believe to be in need of an overhaul, or the stability of maintaining a system that is not ideal but works? Some values fit together well. Others are in conflict. Governments and their citizens are constantly being forced to choose among competing values in their ongoing debates about public policy.

The Options Roles Play in Choices curriculum units not only invites students to identify and express the key values present in different policy perspectives or options, it also creates a framework where students can identify and prioritize their own values.  As the United States enters this long campaign period, recognizing values and how they relate to policy will be a vital part of being an engaged citizen and choosing a government that will help create the kind of future you want to see.

 

Related resources from the Choices Program:

Considering the Role of Values in Public Policy is an activity that uses “value cards” to analyze how political values play a part in civic life.

U.S.RoleStudentThe U.S. Role in a Changing World is a full-length curriculum unit where students reflect on global changes, assess national priorities, and decide for themselves the role the United States should play in the world today. It places U.S. policy in global perspective, inviting students to decide how the United States should frame its future.

A Changing Cuba

Since December 17, 2014, when Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced that the U.S. and Cuba would normalize relations after over fifty years without any diplomatic ties, Cuba has dominated U.S. headlines. Some people see this historic shift as the latest in a series of short, dramatic periods of change that characterize Cuban history—starting with Cuba’s struggles for independence from Spain and U.S. occupation at the turn of the twentieth century to the Cuban Revolution of 1959 that continues to this day. These people view Cuba as a “place frozen in time,” characterized by vintage cars and crumbling buildings. But in reality, Cuba is constantly changing.

Life in the Cuba of Tomorrow

“Life in the Cuba of Tomorrow.” Bruce McCall, The New Yorker.

For instance, Netflix received a lot of attention earlier this year for announcing that it would make its TV and movie streaming service available in Cuba. The announcement was one of the first from many U.S. companies lining up to do business in Cuba as U.S. restrictions are lifted. As many critics noted, the Netflix announcement was primarily symbolic, for only about 5 percent of Cubans currently have full access to the global internet. Furthermore, Netflix would cost users $7.99 per month, which is almost half of the average Cuban’s monthly salary.

But less well-known is that Cubans have been watching shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black for years, albeit illegally. Despite limited access to internet and outside media (both due to government censorship and the U.S. embargo), Cuban citizens have developed various strategies for accessing the news and entertainment they want. Many Cubans pay a small fee to receive what is called El Paquete Semanal (The Weekly Packet), an external hard drive containing downloaded newspapers, movies, TV shows, music, sports, magazines, and other content produced in countries around the world. A new paquete is produced at the end of every week. Some have called this creative way of accessing media Cuba’s “offline internet.”

In addition to initiatives like el paquete that come from the Cuban people, the government has been making changes that originated well before negotiations to restore relations with the United States began. Since becoming Cuba’s president in 2008 after his brother Fidel stepped down from a nearly 50-year hold on power, Raúl Castro has passed a number of significant reforms, gradually but fundamentally transforming the Cuban economy and society. In this video interview with Choices, former research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations Michael Bustamante discusses some of these many reforms.

 

[mediacore height=”225″ public_url=”https://brown.mediacore.tv/media/what-economic-changes-did-raul-castro-make-when-he-became-president-of-cuba” thumb_url=”https://mediacorefiles-a.akamaihd.net/sites/11066/images/media/3622825l-AnZZfq0Z.jpg” title=”What economic changes did Raúl Castro make when he became president of Cuba in 2008?” width=”400″]

 

While the recent shift in U.S.-Cuba relations is indeed a major turning-point for Cuba, the country—both its people and its government—has not been idly waiting for the United States to change its policies before making changes of its own. Yet many questions remain about what Cuba’s future holds. How will the economic changes in Cuba affect ordinary Cubans across the island? Will these economic reforms be paired with greater political freedoms? Will Cubans still have access to free health care and education? How will Cuba relate to other countries, particularly the United States?

 

History, Revolution, and Reform: New Directions for CubaChoices new curriculum History, Revolution, and Reform: New Directions for Cuba helps students understand Cuba’s most recent economic, social, and political changes with a historical framework stretching back to the country’s precolonial past. The curriculum puts special emphasis on the many perspectives Cubans on the island have about their country’s history and its future.

Young People Take Action on Climate Change

“Coming here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future. Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market. I am here to speak for all generations to come. I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go. We cannot afford to be not heard.”

—Severn Suzuki, 1992

In 1992, thirteen-year-old Severn Suzuki spoke at the largest gathering of international leaders in history—the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—and she quickly became known as “the girl who silenced the world in five minutes.”  Her words helped put the issue of global climate change on the UN agenda.

The Earth Summit set in motion a series of international climate change conferences that continue to this day, with a major conference coming up this year. December 2015 is the deadline for international leaders to settle a new, binding international agreement on emissions reductions to prevent the most dangerous effects of climate change.

Now, more than twenty years after Severn Suzuki urged leaders from around the world to consider the importance of environmental issues, a new generation of young people is demanding that policy makers take action on climate change. In this video, fourteen-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and his younger brother Itzcuauhtli share their perspectives on their work to build a global network of teens fighting for greener policies and why climate change matters. The two indigenous activists are youth leaders of the organization Earth Guardians.

[vimeo 125505125 w=500 h=281]

Note: Teachers should preview this video in advance before showing it to their students. Some language may not be appropriate for the classroom.

Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli’s work is inspiring—they are models for the power that young people can have in creating change both at a local and global scale. Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli are not alone—young people around the world are pushing for their societies to make positive changes that will help protect the environment. In this new video from the Choices Program, climate change experts discuss some of the many ways young people can take action on climate change.

[mediacore height=”225″ public_url=”https://brown.mediacore.tv/media/what-can-young-people-do-to-take-action-on-climate” thumb_url=”https://mediacorefiles-a.akamaihd.net/sites/11066/images/media/3533930l-8KS-cpf6.jpg” title=”What can young people do to take action on climate change?” width=”400″]

For more videos on climate change from the Choices Program, click here.

Each of these videos would provide a great jumping off point for discussing climate change in the classroom. Because climate change is often talked about as having potentially catastrophic effects, thinking about it can feel overwhelming and hopeless. But these videos, without downplaying the seriousness of climate change, focus on how much we can do to combat climate change and emphasize tangible steps that individuals and societies can take. This approach is crucial to keeping students engaged with the issue.

 

Climate Change and Questions of JusticeChoices has a suite of new resources on climate change. We have recently released our unit Climate Change and Questions of Justice, which is available in both print and digital formats. One of the lessons in the unit asks students to work in groups to design their own NGO to address their top concerns about climate change. The students then create a visual or multimedia publicity tool for their organization.

In addition, we have a fresh collection of videos to complement the readings and lessons included in the unit. These videos feature leading climate change experts discussing why climate change matters; who is most responsible for and vulnerable to climate change; how individuals, local governments, NGOs, and international leaders are responding to climate change; and much more.

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.

https://youtu.be/VnmLQse4-PQ

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.

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.

Why Does Climate Change Matter?

That the climate is changing, and that human activity is playing a substantial role in accelerating that change, is not a new discovery. About one hundred years ago, a Swedish chemist first calculated how human emissions of greenhouse gases might influence global average temperatures. At the Earth Summit in 1992—the largest gathering of international leaders in history—government officials from around the world agreed that climate change was a shared and dangerous problem. Why, then, has it taken so long for widespread public concern about this important issue to grow?

Historically, climate change has often been framed as an environmental issue—an issue that would drastically affect the lives of polar bears, migration routes of birds, habitat ranges of trees, melting of ice caps, and more. But why all of these changes matter to people hasn’t always been emphasized. In reality, humans rely on a multitude of services that plants, animals, and nature provide for our homes, health, and livelihoods. In the following video, Brown Professor Dov Sax discusses some of the reasons why climate change matters to people.

[vimeo 110939682 w=500 h=281]

In addition, many of the countries that are historically most responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change are least vulnerable to its effects. Poorer countries, which generally have less capacity to take action and respond, are experiencing the effects of climate change first and worst. These dynamics make it harder to motivate wealthier countries to take significant action on climate change. The following cartograms (maps distorted to reflect a dataset) and captions from carbonmap.org help illustrate this gap between responsibility for and vulnerability to climate change.

Countries by Land Area

Countries by Land Area

Country sizes in this map show actual land area. Most world maps don’t show this accurately as it isn’t possible to represent the globe as a flat map without compromising on either shape or area.

Countries by Wealth

Countries by Wealth

Country sizes in this map show total GDP (2013), the sum of all the economic activity in each nation. The map is dominated by North America and Western Europe, which account for more than half the world’s GDP, despite being home to less than a fifth of the global population.

Countries by Historical Emissions

Countries by Historical Emissions

Country sizes in this map show CO₂ emissions from energy use 1850-2011. These historical (or “cumulative”) emissions remain relevant because CO₂ can remain in the air for centuries. Europe and the US dominate, having released around half the CO₂ ever emitted.

Countries by the Number of People at Risk

Countries by the Number of People at Risk

Country sizes show the number of people injured, left homeless, displaced or requiring emergency assistance due to floods, droughts or extreme temperatures in a typical year. Climate change is expected to exacerbate many of these threats.

These maps show that broadly, the countries that have contributed least to the problem of climate change are home to the most people at risk and have the least financial capacity to respond. As a result of these global disparities in responsibility and vulnerability, some environmental activists are now approaching climate change as an issue of justice. In this video, Brown Professor J. Timmons Roberts explains what this idea of “climate justice” means.

[vimeo 118850606 w=500 h=281]

This new approach to how we think about climate change may help increase the urgency with which we view this issue. Indeed, attention to climate change has surged in recent years. This past September, the People’s Climate March drew over 400,000 people into the streets of New York City for the largest climate march in history. Over 2,600 additional events in 162 countries took place on the same day, all intended to send a message to international leaders that they must take significant action to slow and reduce the effects of climate change.

Since then, the United States and China announced a joint emissions reduction agreement—China’s first ever commitment to cap its carbon dioxide emissions. At the December Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in Lima, Peru, governments from all countries—rich and poor alike—agreed for the first time to voluntarily create plans to reduce their domestic greenhouse gas emissions. In U.S. President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, climate change got quite a bit of air time. Obama appears committed to making action on climate change a key part of his presidential legacy.

All of this attention is leading up to the Paris, France COP in December 2015—the deadline for international leaders to settle a new, binding international agreement on emissions reductions to prevent the most dangerous effects of climate change.

How should the international community respond to climate change in a way that is both fair and effective? What roles can local governments, organizations, and individuals play in responding to this global problem? Should responses focus on preventing future greenhouse gas emissions or on adapting to the effects climate change is already having? What is the relationship between economic development and combating climate change?

 

Climate Change and Questions of JusticeChallenge students to grapple with these questions with our new full-length unit Climate Change and Questions of Justice. Students will explore the causes and effects of global warming and delve into questions of who is most responsible for and vulnerable to the changing climate.

Scotland votes on independence

On Thursday, the population of Scotland will be voting in a referendum to decide on whether the nation will secede from the United Kingdom. “Should Scotland be an independent country?” says the ballot paper, and until recently it has seemed that the answer would be an inevitable “no”. However, the pro-independence “Yes” campaign has led an impressive grassroots effort to incite the optimism of the Scottish people, leading to a recent poll placing them ahead of the “No” or “Better Together” campaign.

Campaign posters battle for space in Scotland. Image by The Justified Sinner (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via flickr

Campaign posters battle for space in Scotland. Image by The Justified Sinner (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via flickr

Indeed Scotland’s is a unique independence movement, relying not on traditional nationalist ideology or the heroism of overcoming an oppressor, but rather claiming that an independent Scottish government can do more for it’s people than the elected Scottish representatives in a British government. The “Yes” campaign is about not having to share oil revenue from the North Sea with the rest of Britain, being able to define policy without the involvement of those south of the Scottish border, and not having to put up with a government that is seen as not representing the interests of the Scottish people (Scotland tends to disproportionately vote for the Labour party, while the more populous England tends to vote in preference of the Conservative government in place in Westminster now).

The “No” campaign, on the other hand, hails pragmatic caution. It points to the problems with currency (while an independent Scotland may keep using the British pound, it seems that they would not have a seat at the table that decides on monetary policy and determines the value of the currency). Furthermore, should Scotland gain independence it would have to re-apply for its membership in the European Union—a membership that is very important for trade and economic development. It is not clear whether Scotland would regain this membership easily, or what agreements it would have to make to achieve this. Even the North Sea oil (what will be the pivot of an independent Scottish economy) has turned out to be less appealing, with technical experts pointing out that reserves are quickly diminishing and that the oil cannot be relied upon to prop up an entire country. With this economic insecurity, banks and businesses have threatened to move south should the referendum end in a “Yes.”

English, Scottish and Irish flags combine to form the Union Jack. Image by guilherme Paula (public domain) via wikimedia

English, Scottish and Irish flags combine to form the Union Jack. Image by Guilherme Paula (public domain) via wikimedia

One of the reasons that the “Yes” campaign and the Scottish National Party (SNP) are such a unique independence movement is because Scotland is not a colony. The Scottish people are not oppressed or overpowered by an imperialist power. They have a democratic stake in the British government, and they are treated as equal citizens. We can contrast this with the colonies in Africa, who were not fighting only for independence and the right to govern themselves but also for the overthrowing of a racialized system that established Africans as lesser beings. In the Choices unit Colonization and Independence in Africa, case studies on colonies and how they gained independence highlight this racism. In one of the primary sources used in the unit, a Ghanaian journalist points out that an aim of British colonial policy was “to suppress the educated African who is too articulate to be convenient to British repression.”

Even the independence movement in the United States, which did not have the same racial elements, compares unsatisfactorily to the Scottish issue. A More Perfect Union: American Independence and the Constitution considers how the American revolution grew out of discontent over the influence of the British Parliament in the colonies. As they became increasingly frustrated by the distance between them and Parliament, “colonists began to ask if they were obligated to obey laws passed without their consent.” When the Britain tightened its control over expansion in the colonies, imposed taxes, and enforced a staunch anti-smuggling regime, this anger turned into vast resistance of British controls. It is a fun oversimplification to say that the American Revolution was caused by taxes, but it is more realistic to argue that these taxes represented an oppressive British regime that was in no way accountable to the colonists and was out of touch with the situation in the colonies. This was the source of rebellion.

Realizing the differences between the Scottish “Yes” campaign and other independence movements makes the question of Scottish secession from the Union all the more complicated. It brings up new questions about how we define a country, how we consider the rights to self-determination, how we think about the problems of proportional or representative democracy. Should we keep drawing new borders until people feel appropriately represented by their governments? Where do we stop if we start doing this? How do we understand the roles of international organizations who seem to be a form of global government, if we believe that political decisions can only be made by a tightly localized government? Is there a case for other independence movements that have (like Scotland’s) up until now been dismissed as impractical or unlikely, such as in Texas or Quebec? Do the concerns raised by the Scottish independence movement help us to understand some U.S. modes of governance, such as state government and how the union works?

Rally for Scottish Independence. Image by Martainn MacDhomhnaill (CC BY-NC 2.0) via flickr

Rally for Scottish Independence. Image by Martainn MacDhomhnaill (CC BY-NC 2.0) via flickr

For up-to-date happenings surrounding the Scottish independence referendum as well as in-depth analysis, visit the BBC’s Scotland Decides page or Al Jazeera’s Scotland page.

Other interesting articles include Something extraordinary is happening in Scotland (from the Washington Post’s “Monkey Cage” blog) and Fate of United Kingdom hangs in balance after new Scotland polls (from South African paper, The Mail & Guardian).

 

More Choices units that deal with the theme of self-determination:

 

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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