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History and Current Issues for the Classroom

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Why should we teach current events?

Choices participated in a Twitter chat (#globaledchat) last night organized by the Longview Foundation. The focus was on incorporating current events into classroom. There were many interesting issues and good exchanges of ideas. One participant had a great question about rationales for teaching current events.

There are many good responses to that question, but Choices had a fun answer that highlights the utility of our new video site. Over the past several years, we have asked scholars and other experts nearly the same thing: Why should we learn about current events, history, and other countries? Click on the image below for forty different and often fascinating perspectives on that question.

Choices new video site has more than thirteen hundred short videos of Brown professors and other experts answering questions about current and historical events.

 

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.

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.

Using Digital Tools to Teach Human Rights

by Choices Teaching Fellow Rita Jordan-Keller

As an enthusiastic supporter of Choices curriculum, it has been my passion to introduce the many units of Choices to my students with new and innovative approaches. As a Choices Teaching Fellow, it has been exciting to include and expand the uses of technology in various ways to optimize the experience that my students have with the many different units provided by Choices.

My School

I teach at Ridley High School which is a suburban school about fives miles outside of Philadelphia. We have approximately 2,100 students who come from various socio-economic backgrounds, mostly lower middle class families. Currently, I teach Human Geography to 9th grade students, Sociology and International Relations to juniors and seniors. As a Social Studies teacher for over 25 years, I have experienced and witnessed the many changes and challenges of engaging students with different courses involved in such a wide and diverse department. I have also seen that technology, in particular with *Canvas can be a vital tool in the classroom and enrich a student’s understanding about the world. Two years ago, our administration mandated that every student would have an iPad so I feel fortunate that our students have daily and quick access to global events.

International Relations

I would like to share some of the teaching strategies that I have used in our International Relations class. With global events and human crisis impacting our world every day, I have found Competing Vision of Human Rights  to be one of our fundamental units in the International Relations class. Whether it is the suffering of Syrian and Yemen refugees, the brutality of ISIS, or the despair of kidnapped young women and girls in Nigeria, the policies of the United States with regard to human rights are complicated and should be examined and evaluated.

*Note: At Ridley High School, we use Canvas Instructure with our students and teachers. For those of you unfamiliar with Canvas, it is a relatively new learning management system. It is known for its user-friendly online environment. It includes basic functions such as sharing documents, submitting assignments, and assigning grades, as well as personalized features for individual students.

Ideas for Integrating Technology

What I would like to share with you in this blog are some ideas and suggestions that might be helpful if you would like to integrate technology using Competing Vision of Human Rights. Let me be clear though, it is not necessary that teachers have the resources of Canvas or iPads in the classroom. However, if you have access to laptops or occasionally iPads, you may wish to add these ideas and suggestions.

Philosophical Chairs

These suggestions apply to my International Relations course where students are from 10th to 12th grade. First, a non-tech opener for the Human Rights unit is the worksheet that I call Philosophical Chairs. I use this assignment successfully for all the Choices units for different courses. On page 56 of the Teacher Resource Book, there is a student handout entitled, “Focusing Your Thoughts.” I use this assignment twice. Initially, I instruct the students to respond to the beliefs in this handout. Students then stand and take a position in the classroom on either side of the room either supporting or opposing the particular belief. Those students who are unsure stand in the middle of the classroom listening to both sides that are given turns to speak. Students who are unsure must move at some point when they are swayed to one side or another. Students seem to enjoy this fiery exchange of thoughts and ideas while discussing controversial approaches involving the United States. In this way, I can gauge and learn the pre-knowledge of my students. It is after the Choices role play that we revisit “Focusing Your Thoughts” and see if students have changed their attitudes about U.S. policies and human rights.

Pre-Reading Strategies

With the use of Canvas, I have the ability to set up discussion assignments using the questions in the text for students to consider such as, “How do national governments ensure human rights”? Having a student post his or her response and then responding to another student’s post expands the conversations and insures that everyone is involved. I then display students’ responses on a screen for all to see and discuss or inquire further what a particular response may mean. Throughout the entire unit, the use of discussion assignments from time to time adds substance and clarity to complex questions involving Human Rights.

Expressing Human Rights and Social Movements

A particular activity in the Competing Vision of Human Rights unit that I focus on is “Expressing Human Rights and Social Movements.” My instruction begins with an overview of basic Human Rights agreements including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. After further discussion regarding the role of national governments, the United Nations and other promoters of human rights, I use various YouTube videos such as Amnesty International’s Price of Silence and other musical videos to create a “hook” to engage students. Playing for Change is a wonderful web site that introduces worldwide musicians who advocate for peaceful change and human rights.

As a homework or class assignment, I have students research a particular social movement throughout history such as the civil rights movement, women’s movement, the GLBT movement, the Arab Spring, the Iranian Green Revolution or other global social movements. Students create a brief overview using Google Slides or another free presentation apps.  I use Flowvella for brief presentations and have found this format to be easy and quick. It also utilizes multimedia such as images and videos. Students can present their mini-presentations from their laptops or by using Canvas. Another possibility is having students take a “museum tour” of social movements. Students can walk through the room examining each other’s presentations on laptops or iPads and answer some brief questions about each one.

There is much more that a teacher can do with digital tools with this particular part unit. See additional ideas and suggestions.

Extension and Enrichment

Finally, since I teach the Human Rights as my last unit for the semester in International Relations, I extend the unit and add an enrichment that serves as our Final Exam for the course. Personally, I take exceptional joy at what my students have created in the past few years with the Human Rights Project. Briefly, students research different human rights organizations throughout the world and create a presentation to the class. As part of their final exam, students are also required to contact the organization, request more information, and create a flier informing others about the good work going on and how they can help. Their Human Rights fliers are then set up in our school cafeteria to inform others on how they can help. Much of their research and ideas have been inspired from what they have learned from Competing Vision of Human Rights.

It is my hope that you find these ideas and suggestions helpful in your classroom. Over the years working with the different Choices curriculum units, I have found my students to be more engaged in learning, developing and deepening their critical thinking skills and become more informed about the many challenges facing us all in this world. For me, the best part of my teaching is working with such promising young people and a curriculum that is current, thought provoking and enriches the lives of my students! The Choices curriculum fulfills all that and more!

If you have questions or comments about this blog post, I invite you to email me at rjordan-k@ridleysd.org.

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.

 

 

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.

 

Yemen

The New York Times video reporting from the Middle East over the past few days has been terrific. This piece on the Houthi forces in Yemen is interesting and vivid, focusing on the experience of ordinary people as the country changes. The reporter includes two video “sidebars.” (You can access them simply by clicking in the video when they appear. One is on the role of women during the protests, the other is on the use of khat, a commonly used stimulant. ) For me the strength of reporting is how effectively it moves between laying out the big picture and connecting it to what is playing out amongst the people on the ground. I recommend watching it.

Our new edition of The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy covers what is happening in Yemen now and helps students to consider what role, if any, the United States should play there. Without question, the political situation in the region is incredibly dynamic and multifaceted; it will certainly pose new challenges for U.S. policy. The value of this kind of reporting is that it allows us to visualize what is often understood only in the abstract, for example, Yemen, Sunni, Shi’i, Houthi, and violence.  To my mind, the other value is that we see people in Yemen acting in and responding to the larger political forces at play. It helps to see things! I hope the Times keeps producing these kinds of smart, sophisticated pieces.

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.

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 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

nw

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

ir

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

me 

Afghanistan: Cost of War infographic

Here’s a beautifully executed motion infographic about the true cost (from the British perspective) of the war in Afghanistan. (Commissioned by Stop the War UK.)

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!

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