The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Month: March 2017

A Vote on Turkey’s Future

On April 16, Turkish citizens will go to the polls to vote on a package of constitutional amendments. The package proposes fundamental changes to Turkey’s parliamentary system of government—it would expand the powers of the presidency and dissolve the position of prime minister, among other changes. Public opinion is split on the referendum, and many pollsters hesitate to predict the outcome. Much of the debate surrounding the referendum draws on the country’s divisive leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Many see the referendum as not simply a vote on Turkey’s system of government, but on the future of Erdoğan’s position as Turkey’s leader.

Erdoğan has been a central figure in Turkish politics for the past two decades. He was the mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998 and a founder of the current ruling party, the AKP.  Erdoğan served three terms as prime minister, from 2003 to 2014. After reaching his term limit, he won the presidency in 2014. Many believe that he is the most influential Turkish politician in since Atatürk.

While Erdoğan is currently eligible for one more term as president, a “yes” vote at the polls on the April 19 referendum could pave the way for Erdogan to remain the country’s president for an additional term, through 2029.

The vote comes during a period of great change and uncertainty in Turkey. A recent string of terrorist attacks has claimed the lives of hundreds of Turkish citizens. The Syrian Civil War continues to unfold on Turkey’s doorstep. In the midst of the global refugee crisis, Turkey has accepted roughly half of the five million Syrians who have fled their home country. The decades-long conflict between government officials and Turkey’s Kurdish population continues.

Though Erdoğan has a loyal base of supporters, in recent years many Turkish citizens have challenged his government in a range of ways, from political organizing to widespread protests. Concerns about government corruption and growing authoritarianism sparked massive protests in Gezi Park in 2013. Last summer, an attempted military coup failed to oust Erdoğan. In its wake, while some citizens have rallied around the government and rejected the military’s attempt to intervene in politics, others have expressed concern that Erdoğan and his ruling party are seizing the opportunity to crush dissent and further consolidate their power. Individual’s views on these recent development may shape decisions at the ballot box on the 16th. In the video below, Brown University professor Stephen Kinzer describes how the Turkish government responded to the 2016 coup attempt.


Turkish Students Weigh In

In a recent interview in Taksim Square, Istanbul, New York Times correspondent Patrick Kingsley discussed the upcoming referendum with two students at Bagazici University—Mert Nacakgedigi and Dilara Arslan. Though they are good friends, the two students have starkly different interpretations about what the proposed constitutional changes would mean for their country’s future. While Dilara plans to vote in favor of the amendments, Mert will vote against them.

Interview by Patrick Kingsley of the New York Times.


Dilara is double major in political science and sociology. She believes that the current parliamentary system has failed Turkey and hopes that a shift to a presidential system will bring stability to a country that has experienced political upheaval and tenuous parliamentary coalitions for decades. Dilara reminds viewers that, since the country’s founding less that one hundred years ago, Turkey has had more than sixty governments. She’s confident that the constitutional amendments will not only bring stability, but will also facilitate the consolidation of democracy in Turkey.

“I see it as a step towards democracy. Considering what the current government has done in favor of democracy in my opinion from the 2004 package of women’s rights to the economic liberalism over the past ten, fifteen years, I see this as just another step towards democracy.”

Dilara Arslan, Bagazici University student, March 24, 2017

Dilara applauds the ruling party’s efforts to expand freedoms for women that wear headscarves by lifting restrictions that had long kept kept veiled women out of public institutions like universities and government offices. She believes the constitutional changes will bring Turkey’s government more in line with many Western governments. She is concerned that foreign governments and international media sources have been encouraging people in Turkey to vote “no.”


Mert Nacakgedigi is a double major in political science and history. He expresses concern about the future of Turkey’s democracy and he warns that the amendments will demolish Turkey’s system of checks and balances. Mert says that people don’t feel free to openly oppose the proposed constitutional change, particularly those who work for or interact closely with the government. He’s unconvinced that the proposed changes will help address the challenges facing his country or offer any improvements to Turkey’s government.

“When I see the referendum…I only have one question. Do we need this referendum? Do we have a constitutional problem? [Is] our first problem a constitutional problem? I don’t think so.”

—Mert Nacakgedigi, Bagazici University student, March 24, 2017

Dilara and Mert emphasize that despite a climate of political polarization in their country, they’re able to respectfully disagree and remain friends. In many ways, they share a similar vision for their country—a desire for expanded rights and opportunities, a commitment to strengthening their democracy, and a hope that that Turkey will successfully address security concerns and the problem of terrorism. How a “yes” or ”no” vote on the referendum will shape the country’s future remains to be seen.

Interested in Teaching about Turkey?

Empire, Republic, Democracy: Turkey’s Past and Future traces the final years of the Ottoman Empire, the struggle for independence, and Turkish resistance against European imperialism. Students explore recent developments, such as the Syrian Civil War, the emergence of ISIS, the global refugee crisis, and the attempted military coup of 2016. In a culminating simulation, students grapple with the questions and challenges facing people in Turkey today.

  • What should Turkey’s democracy look like?
  • What role should religion play in Turkey’s government and society?
  • Should Turkey expand human rights and freedoms?
  • What role should Turkey play in the region and the world?

Banner image: Kristine Riskaer (CC BY 2.0).

Fake News? Teaching Media Literacy through Choices Curriculum

By Ryan Sprott, International School of the Americas

More students are arriving to our classroom with uncertainties about what constitutes “fake” and “real” news. To address these questions, my co-teacher Laurie Smith and I used a recent Choices Teaching with the News lesson to strengthen students’ media evaluation skills. The following passages outline specific pedagogical strategies we implemented during this unit.

Syrian Refugees and the Executive Order

We began with an overview of the Syrian Civil War. Our hook was a virtual reality video titled For My Son. The short film follows one man’s story as he travels from Aleppo to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Students reported that the virtual reality experience made the refugee crisis more personal to them and increased their curiosity on the topic.

Next, students annotated the executive order introduction with a partner in preparation for a collaborative timeline. This timeline drew on students’ collective knowledge of history to investigate the range of historical factors that may have led to Trump’s executive order. This helped students connect the executive order to recent news as well as to content we have studied this year in world history.

Media Literacy

Once students increased their background knowledge on the Syrian refugee crisis and the executive order, we moved into a whole class brainstorm and discussion on how to evaluate media for credibility. This prepared students for the Choices’ Evaluating Media Sources document. Since we had a limited amount of time, students, with a partner, analyzed two media sources supportive of the executive order and two opposed to it. They then added their findings to our collaborative media evaluation chart. For this, we transferred the questions on the Evaluating Media Sources activity onto a large board in our classroom as shown in the video below. Students used this as an opportunity to reflect upon one another’s contributions.

Afterwards, students engaged in a discussion protocol where they shared their learnings with their peers in order to brainstorm ideas for their projects. They then presented their finished projects via a gallery walk where they explained how their work reflected their stances on the executive order. As evidenced in the following student reflections, this project encouraged students to be more intentional about consuming news, and they gained specific skills to determine credibility within news sources.

Student Reflections


The Task

In the 21st Century, information can be passed across the globe in an instant. Factors such as the internet and mass media outlets make this possible. But what happens when they begin to spread false information? In the aftermath of an event such as a controversial executive order, it may be challenging for consumers to separate facts from opinions, that is why the ISA Sophomores engaged in a study of fake news, and how it should be interpreted.

After sifting through a handful of articles, we expressed our personal stance on the situation in a creative work of our choosing.

The Work

The Reflection

Before this unit of study, I didn’t know enough about the situation to formulate a valid enough opinion on the matter. Being raised with liberal values, my initial response to the executive order was “That’s not good.”, with nothing more complex to complement that thought. I was well familiar with the term ‘fake news’ and had heard it flying about the media, but never before had I troubled to dig beyond the topic’s surface level. I suppose I had placed more trust in news sources before, as I mostly assumed ‘fake news’ to be another cheap excuse to be used by politicians. Now, I realize that the media is just as vulnerable to lies, bias and misconception as anything else.

During the span of this unit, I discovered to what extent news sources can get away with spreading false or synthetic information. More so, I realized how much this is made possible due to consumers’ lack of skepticism when being fed information. Consumers have allowed this problem to grow out of control by persisting in gullibility and carelessness for verifying facts. Not only this, but factors such as the internet have allowed the issue to even exist on such a large and dangerous scale.

Now, I am of the belief that measures should and must be taken in order to repair and redefine a corrupted system. This phenomena of bending truth has not only highlighted the power of information, but also its fragile nature. Should the responsibility of maintaining an honest society fall into the wrong hands, we may very well end up like a dystopia.

My final product, ‘One Bad Apple…’ , acts as a reflection of my current stance on the immigration dilemma and the ‘fake news’ issue by summarizing my opinion into an idiom that is simple and easy to understand. President Trump’s Administration claims that the travel ban will protect the United States from radical Islamic terrorists, however, this targeted demographic only makes up a small minority of a much larger range of people who are also being affected by the executive order. Refugees who seek safety in the US are being denied access because of the ban, along with individuals simply attempting to have a better life. The executive office is associating all Muslims with the few who are extremists, hence the “one bad apple” idiom being used. By discriminating against an entire ethnic group, we are departing from the very virtues that founded this nation.


The Task

We learned how to evaluate media sources critically that way we could make educated and informed decisions, especially regarding complex issues. We learned this skill in relation to Trump’s immigration executive order which happens to be a current event that has been heavily debated and discussed with “fake news.” We looked at 14 media sources with both pro and con stances on the executive order, and at the end of the unit we had to create a final, creative model that showed our opinion and what we had learned from this unit.

The Work

The Reflection

Before this unit of study, I used to think that there could only be one side to this executive order. I hadn’t actually read through the executive order nor had I really thought about all the events that led up to this executive order. I wasn’t really taking in all the information and evaluating it critically and thinking of the complexity of things. Then I learned these things about fake news and real news, and all of the bias in media. I read through analysis of the executive order and really immersed myself in lots of information. Now I think that you can have many different opinions because it is such a complex issue that doesn’t have a real black and white answer. The catch to that is your opinion should be supported by accurate and relevant information that way you have an educated opinion. This is such an important global issue that requires a lot of thought and information before you can just set on one side. My final product reflects my current thinking about this topic because this zine tells the story of fear taking over the globe that is now preventing people to take in credible, accurate information. This coincides with the recent executive order and my opinion on being informed in order to make a decision. I am hoping that people will look at this zine and try to make an educated, informed decision.


The Task

We’ve been bombarded with notions of “fake news” thanks to the manipulative rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election. Most of American youth choose to swallow whatever media is within hands reach, giving journalists an unimaginable power over the perception of the world. Students at ISA, however, do not buy into it. A unit over evaluating media taught students how to identify credible sources. We did this by researching President Trump’s executive order on Middle Eastern immigration and creating a final product to reflect our educated position.

The Work

Poem on the executive order

The Reflection

Fear of the other has transcended the ages and managed to poison even the most intelligent. In the United States, fear of Islam penetrates politics. President Trump issued an immigration ban on seven predominantly Islamic countries. Before this unit of study, I was fiercely against the ban; I thought nothing could defend the violation of human rights, but then I learned about the justified fear citizens experience. Despite my newfound understanding, I still believe that the executive order is a violation of human rights and further distances the US from philanthropic goals.

I learned that the basis for the ban was mostly religious. If the president truly wanted to shield the US from “terrorists,” he would’ve banned Saudi Arabia, a country that has high amounts of terrorist activity. He didn’t because of our economic ties– greed over protection, racism over unity. I also learned that the United States has issued a lot of immigration bans in the past. The Chinese Exclusion Act, the Immigration Act of 1924 (anti-Japanese), and the cancellation of Iranian visas in 1980 are just a few of many examples.

After learning all of this, I realized that immigration bans are based on genuine concerns. The concerns, nevertheless, are rooted in irrational fear that can be resolved through education. My biggest take on the unit was on the demonization of Muslims. Willingness to learn can resolve much of the stigma. My final product, a poem, is a touching attempt to encourage the humanization of Islam.

English Language Arts Performance Outcomes: Investigate the World

  • Develops a clear position based on evidence from sources that considers multiple perspectives, and draws well-supported conclusions on a globally significant issue/topic.

When researching the executive order, I had to develop a concise position that reflected upon credible evidence. The executive order is a complex topic that requires careful consideration. By looking two sources, I drew upon multiple perspectives to gain broader insight on the global issue. I looked at the authors of both articles and dove into the rhetoric the publisher tended to use. I absorbed information with a grain of salt in order to create a final product that reflected accurate understanding of the topic.

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