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The United States, Iran, and Flipping the Coin on Nuclear Non-Proliferation

For many this November, anticipating the outcomes of soon-concluding nuclear negotiations with Iran seems impossible. The idea that we could only predict the resolution (or lack thereof) with a “coin toss” is complicated by this video by Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares fund.

This concept of the interdependence of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament brings new questions about the role of nuclear countries in ensuring that Iran does not gain nuclear weapons. The questions we have been asking so far of the U.S. government and other countries at the table have been about how to deal with the talks themselves (how to create a mutually beneficial and binding agreement, how to ensure that Iran keeps its commitments as a signatory of the NPT, what to insist upon or where to compromise). What has perhaps been lacking from the conversation are questions about how the United States and other countries with nuclear weapons can create a global atmosphere where nuclear non-proliferation makes nuke-less countries feel more (rather than less) safe. According to Cirincione’s portrayal of nuclear politics, this safety comes from the other side of the coin—disarmament.

Despite President Obama’s rhetorical commitment to nuclear reduction (his Nobel Prize award was marked for his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons”), the White House has not effectively signaled to the rest of the world that the United States is taking any serious steps towards reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. In fact, the Pentagon recently announced it intentions of vast increases in nuclear spending. Most of this spending will be on improving the safety of nuclear equipment and training the security forces in charge of them, but the failure to attach reductions in nuclear arms to the expensive nuclear development plan means the measures signal something very different to the rest of the world.

In an article in People’s Daily (the official daily newspaper of the Chinese government), Wen Xian Wang Hongjie calls the program a “new policy on revitalizing the U.S. nuclear deterrent” and implies that it is linked to disappointments in the outcomes of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article ends cynically– “It is ironic that on the one hand the American government is taking vigorous action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, while on the other hand it is preparing for a complete overhaul of its own nuclear arsenal.”

The implications of these type of viewpoints are considerable. If the United States is not showing adequate commitments to nuclear reductions but is rather (in the eyes of many other countries) increasing its own nuclear armament, the prospects for wider disarmament and non-proliferation may be severely reduced. Regardless of the true intentions of the nuclear re-vamp, the fact that it was not linked to reductions in nuclear arsenals has led to many parts of the world perceiving the actions as projected increases in U.S. nuclear power. Cirincione’s coin flip, from non-proliferation to disarmament to non-proliferation and so on, can work in reverse. As nuclear powers like the United States are seen to be increasing their arsenals, their nuclear neighbors may do the same to maintain the balance of power, and non-nuclear countries in an increasingly nuclear world may face greater security pressure to develop nuclear weaponry.

As well as asking how the United States and other nuclear countries are using negotiations to keep Iran committed to non-proliferation, should we be asking what they have done outside of the negotiation room to make an agreement possible? Is it time to flip the coin?

 

Bring some of these questions into your classroom with Choices’ FREE Teaching with the News lesson, Good Atoms or Bad Atoms? Iran and the Nuclear Issue . The lesson features videos from outstanding scholars, Jo-Ann Hart, Trita Parsi, and Joe Cirincione and includes one of Choices’ hallmark Options Role Plays. View this and other Teaching with the News lesson plans here.

 

The TWTN lesson is a great supplement to these full-length units:

The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons

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Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution

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The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy  (new edition coming soon!)

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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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Virtual Exhibits

Teachers from all disciplines should check out the Google Cultural Institute. The institute partners with museums across the world to create virtual exhibits on topics including the Holocaust, Apartheid in South Africa, the Cold War, and the civil rights movement. Each exhibit paints a visually compelling story with the use of primary sources: photographs, posters, pamphlets, documents, etc. Exhibits also include short paragraphs that provide useful (and interesting) information, but the historical artifacts take center stage. The Civil Rights Movement in the Bay Area is one of my favorites. The Nelson Mandela Digital Archive Project is also fantastic. All in all, the Google Cultural Institute offers a dynamic lens into history. Watch the institute’s video below for further information on how to best navigate the website. Enjoy!

 

TED-Ed: Lessons Worth Sharing

Use engaging videos to create customized lessons. You can use, tweak, or completely redo any lesson featured on TED-Ed, or create lessons from scratch based on any video from YouTube. Get started at TED-Ed!

YouTube for Schools

Google has just launched YouTube for Schools, a network setting that school administrators can turn on to grant access only to the educational content from YouTube EDU. Teachers can choose from the hundreds of thousands of videos on YouTube EDU created by more than 600 partners like the Smithsonian, TED, Steve Spangler Science, Khan Academy and Numberphile.

They’ve also worked with teachers to put together more than 300 playlists broken out by subject and by grade level. You can find them listed out at youtube.com/teachers.

Economic Literacy


Since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008, The Choices Program has received numerous requests to develop curriculum materials for high school classrooms about international economics, the global financial system, competing economic theories, etc. Creating curriculum is a challenging process regardless of the topic, but the general lack of coverage of economics information in high school makes it a steeper slope to climb. Introducing students to what, for many, is a completely new academic discipline is a daunting task.

What did we do?

Step 1: Ask an Expert

Choices started with an expert on the international political economy. We sat down at the Watson Institute to do an interview with Professor Mark Blyth about some of the economic principles behind the globalized economy.

Step 2: Use New Media to Clarify Information

Choices used new media and animations to help emphasize and illustrate the points Blyth makes during his interview.

Step 3: Connect the Expert with High School Classrooms

Choices has a long-standing mission to bring high quality content on international issues to high school classrooms.

Blyth’s videos on the global economy accompany International Trade: Competition and Cooperation in a Globalized World. Blyth also took the leading role in Austerity, an editorial video produced by The Watson Institute—worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet.

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