The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Author: Andy Blackadar (page 1 of 4)

The Kurdish Referendum

About thirty million Kurds live in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Armenia. These thirty million Kurds are the largest national group in the world without its own country.

At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, British Prime Minister Lloyd George was supposed to include Kurdistan on a list of proposed mandates. When someone pointed out to him that he had forgotten to include it, he quickly added it to the list and blithely noted that geography had not been his strongest suit.  Mandate status for Kurdistan might have led eventually to statehood as it did for Iraq and Syria, for example. But neither the French nor the Americans supported a mandate for Kurdistan. One American delegate who had little knowledge of the region characterized Kurds by using a racist comparison to the native peoples of his own country. “In some respects the Kurds remind one of the North American Indians….. Their temper is passionate, resentful, revengeful, intriguing and treacherous. The make good soldiers , but poor leaders. They are avaricious, utterly selfish, shameless beggars, and a great propensity to steal.” (Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Random House, 2002, 444)

Ultimately, the British favored including a part of the region where Kurds lived to be in the new mandate of Iraq. The status of Kurdistan was left up in the air. When Kemal Ataturk came to power in Turkey and began pushing back against efforts to shrink Turkish territory, the allied powers lost all interest creating a Kurdish state.

Fast forward to today.

Since the Paris Peace Conference, many Kurds have demanded greater rights and autonomy, and in some places, independence. But the experiences of Kurds vary from country to country. For example, in Turkey, Kurdish efforts to form an independent state met a harsh crackdown from the Turkish government, sparking a civil war that has claimed over forty thousand lives since the 1980s. Today, many Kurds in Turkey no longer seek independence, but want greater rights and political control within the borders of Turkey.

Kurds in Iraq, after suffering a genocide, ethnic cleansing, and repression at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s government, gained a greater role in the new Iraqi government that formed after the 2003 U.S. invasion. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) controls a region of northern Iraq commonly known as Iraqi Kurdistan. It has its own military and largely governs itself separate from the federal government in Baghdad. In recent years, Iraqi Kurds have expanded oil production and built a pipeline to Turkey to export oil without the approval of the federal Iraqi government. This has increased tension between Kurdish officials and the Iraqi government.

Kurds have also gained international attention for their involvement in the fight against ISIS. The United States has supported Iraqi Kurdish military forces, called the peshmerga, in the conflict. As ISIS swept through regions of Iraq, federal Iraqi officials left their posts in some places. This presented Kurds with an opportunity to expand their control over new territory.

On Monday, September 25, 2017, 92 percent of the Kurds in Iraq voted for independence in a vote that has been condemned by Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Each of these countries, with their significant populations of Kurds, is reluctant to allow Kurds to establish an independent state. All are exerting economic and diplomatic pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government. The idea of self-determination, touted by Woodrow Wilson one hundred years ago, faces a test in 2017.  Like then, the idea of a Kurdish state faces scrutiny and skepticism.

The video features Steven Kinzer answering the question, “How did Kurds respond to Atatürk’s vision for Turkish identity?”  and is associated with our curriculum Empire, Republic, Democracy: 
Turkey’s Past and Future.

The Death of Liu Xiaobo

Human right activist and Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo died on July 13, 2017. I’ve reposted something I wrote in 2010 for the Watson Institute’s Global Conversation blog.


 

Dr. Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize: China, Democracy, and Human Rights

April 24, 1995 - Dr. Liu Xiaobo and Xu Wenli at Xu's home in Beijing

The photo shows Dr. Liu Xiaobo (left) and Xu Wenli at Xu’s home in Beijing (April 24, 1995).

In January 2010, Brown University’s Xu Wenli wrote to the Nobel Committee, nominating Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the video, Xu Wenli speaks of his belief in universal values of equality, freedom, and democracy. The video is one of a series designed for use in high school classrooms with an activity produced by the Choices Education Program called Xu Wenli and the China Democracy Party.

Xu Wenli came to Brown’s Watson Institute in the spring of 2003. His story before he arrived at Brown is both harrowing and inspiring. One of China’s most recognized pro-democracy advocates, Mr. Xu spent 16 years in prison in China for his activities as a dissident. He was a leader in the Democracy Wall movement from 1979 to 1981, edited the samizdat-style journal April Fifth Forum, and played a major role in establishing the Beijing-Tianjin branch of the China Democracy Party. Mr. Xu’s health suffered while in prison. In reaction to his declining condition, international human rights groups, the U.S. ambassador to China, and Western officials called for his release. The Chinese government relented and released him on medical grounds in December 2002.

Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo has focused attention once again on China’s human rights record.

But how long is our attention span? Will the prize make a difference on the ground in China? What are the prospects for the advancement of human rights in China?

Xu Wenli’s videos complement additional curriculum work that Choices has done on China.

Podcast: Histories that Inspire

In this “Inside the Writers’ Room” podcast, Lindsay Turchan and I talk with James N. Green, the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Professor of Latin American History at Brown University and the director of Brown’s Brazil Initiative. In this episode, we discuss the use of individual stories to illuminate the teaching of history. Green says:

“Individual stories help people understand larger social processes…it humanizes them.”

The podcast examines the value of using these stories to deepen student engagement while strengthening  the skills necessary for good historical inquiry. Green also talks about how this approach inspired one of his students, Marga Kempner, to make a movie about the experiences of Marcos Arruda and his family during the Brazilian military dictatorship. The movie is featured in  “Repression and Resistance During Military Rule,” a lesson in the Choices curriculum, Brazil: A History of Change.  This powerful film is available online and can be viewed here as well.

Green is also one of the featured presenters at a Choices professional development conference, “Brazil, Cuba, Mexico: Bringing Latin America Into the Classroom” from June 29-20 at Brown.

Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Death of Fidel Castro

The death of Fidel Castro marks a milestone. Castro was a key figure in U.S. foreign policy over the past fifty years, a villain straight out of central casting in the imaginations of many Americans. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he actually wrote a letter to Khrushchev encouraging him to use nuclear weapons against the United States if it invaded Cuba. Khrushchev thought he was crazy. The short animation from our friends at the Armageddon Letters, gives some more insight and complexity to Cuba’s “maximum leader” Fidel Castro.

But Fidel has been playing less and less of a role for some time, and the new relationship between the United States and Cuba has most likely put the two countries on a very different path as this video from Choices with Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo suggests.

Cuba has been undergoing a transformation for a while. The death of Fidel marks an opportunity for high school classrooms to explore what comes next in Cuba. A dimension worth considering is what kind of future the people of Cuba want for themselves. Change is coming, but Cubans have very different opinions about their country and its history—this affects how they think about the future. A curriculum unit from Choices, Contesting Cuba’s Past and Future, helps students step into the shoes of ordinary Cubans and consider what comes next.

This curriculum helps students gain a broader understanding of the country that has often occupied the attention of the world since 1959. Besides offering an overview of Cuban history, the unit focuses on the legacies of Cuba’s relationships with Spain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Although most recognize Cuba’s role in the Cold War, recent research suggests that Cuba often marched to its own drum, and not that of the Soviet Union. The readings trace Cuba’s history from the country’s precolonial past to its  recent economic, social, and political changes. A central activity helps students recreate the discussions Cubans on the island are having about their future.

Contesting Cuba’s Past and Future contains lessons  and Videos that complement the readings and lessons.

Podcast: Teaching the Presidential Election

The results of this election will be historic and consequential. For teachers, it’s a great moment to help students develop the skills to consider the substance of the election, as well as identify their own beliefs and values. In a highly-charged partisan atmosphere, there is an opportunity for teachers to encourage respectful civic discourse and participation.

One set of great resources is from Growing Voters.org. There are a fantastic range of skill building lessons for elementary, middle, and high school, as well for college classrooms. They provide engaging hands-on classroom activities to support teachers as they help students develop into informed and motivated participants in their own democracy. They are free.

The Choices Program also offers a free lesson that helps students identify their own values and analyze how candidates’ platforms relate to values and key policy issues.

Both Growing Voters and Choices give students the chance to be critical consumers of information, to engage in a substantive way in the political process, and, with the help of their teachers, to engage in civil, thoughtful discourse about the future of the United States.

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.

 

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

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

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

Login to a talk on the global refugee crisis with the Choices Program Leadership Institute, Friday, July 15, 1-2:30. Expert Madeline Campbell will discuss her work with refugees from Iraq and Syria at camps and communities throughout the Middle East, the confounding global circumstances, and strategies for addressing this growing crisis.

The UN reports that a tragic record of 65 million people have been displaced by global conflicts. It is urgent and increasingly important that we understand the issues surrounding global refugees as leaders worldwide search for solutions to the worsening Syrian crisis.

Campbell-madeline_100

Professor Madeline Campbell

Madeline Campbell is Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Worcester State University. She holds a BA and MA from Brown University and PhD from University of California, Davis.

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

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

Brexit: Connecting it to Classrooms

This week’s Brexit vote was a shock to many and has been cast as the result of many forces. Here are some short commentaries put together by faculty at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. They cover a range of subjects: NATO, oil markets, identity, the future of the UK, to name a few. These can be read quickly, but provide a range of interesting academic and personal viewpoints.

Although the United Kingdom was not part of the currency union, the underlying economic tension of a single European currency is one of several significant forces pulling at the threads of the European Union. Covering this complicated topic might seem daunting for high school classrooms, but Choices covers this topic concisely and clearly in its curriculum Dilemmas of Foreign Aid: Debating U.S. Policy. A case study examines the ongoing economic crisis in Greece, a crisis exacerbated by the Greek government’s desire to remain part of the European Union and the currency union.

This brief commentary by Professor Mark Blyth in Athens on the Brexit covers the currency tensions, but focuses in detail on the backlash against the EU, elites, and globalization from the bottom third of the income distribution.

Brazil: Curriculum Development, or Sometimes History Happens While You Write

For the past year, the Choices Program has been working on a complete revision of its curriculum resources on Brazil. The project is a collaboration with the Brazil Initiative at the Watson Institute at Brown University and incorporates fantastic scholarship, new lessons, and videos. We hope to publish the new materials in the coming weeks.

The t-shirt says "Coup, Never Again" in Portuguese. It is an allusion to the 1964 coup by military, which to 21years of dictatorship.

The t-shirt says “Golpe, Nunca Mais” [Coup, Never Again] in Portuguese. It is an allusion to the 1964 coup by the military, which led to 21 years of dictatorship. April 17, 2016. Photo by Paulo Carrano via Flickr.

The new (and as you’ll see, aptly named) curriculum, Brazil: A History of Change, gives students an overview of Brazil’s history and traces its legacies through the present. Considerable attention is giving to the era of the military dictatorship, which came to power in a coup in 1964.  A role play activity recreates the massive social movement in late 1984 against the dictatorship known as “Diretas Já!” [direct elections now!] The movement called for restoration of direct elections for the presidency of Brazil, which ultimately resumed in 1989.

A final section of readings and lessons in the new curriculum explores the ongoing process of how Brazilians have reclaimed their democracy since the end of the dictatorship. We finished writing this final chapter a few weeks ago and began the final editing and review process. But Brazilians are writing another chapter in their own history right now.

The lower house’s decision vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff means that Choices will need to make changes to the content we just thought we finished.

There’s a lot at stake for Brazilians, as the video from the BBC shows.

The picture show a poster with the phrase "Impeachment Now!" on it in Portuguese. The phrase recalls the name of the significant movement and turning point against the military government in 1984.

The picture shows a poster with the phrase “Impeachment Já!” [Impeachment Now!] on it in Portuguese. The phrase recalls the name of the “Diretas Já!” movement and turning point against the military dictatorship in 1984. April 17, 2016. Photo by Alexssandro Loyola via Flickr.

Today, political groups are also invoking the history of the dictatorship. Some of those opposed to impeachment see efforts to get rid of President Rousseff as an echo of the military coup of 1964. Proponents of impeachment have many motives, but some have evoked the language of opposition to the dictatorship, calling for “Impeachment Já!” [Impeachment Now!].

How these events unfold over the coming days will be important for Brazilians. As we revisit the conclusion in the curriculum, one of the challenges for the Choices Program will be to decide the relevance and what weight to give these invocations of history by various groups. Is President’s Rousseff’s likely impeachment some kind of coup, or is it a popular blow for democracy?

I have included below the concluding paragraphs from the still unpublished Brazil: A History of Change as they stand on April 18, 2016. They remain relevant, but I wonder how much they will need to change as Brazil works through its current political crisis.

Excerpt from the conclusion of Brazil: A History of Change

What Kind of a Democracy?

The end of the military dictatorship in Brazil came about because of widespread opposition from all of Brazilian society. People with different concerns and ideas came together to demand a more representative and responsive government. Brazilians challenged how their country was organized politically, but also began to question other aspects of their society. Brazilians have had a continuous vibrant conversation about what kind of democracy and society they want.

For example, Afro-Brazilians have continued to challenge the belief that Brazil is a racial democracy and argue that policies, practices, and ideas create racial inequalities. Women have challenged the widespread expectations about their roles and pushed for equal treatment and opportunity. LGBTQ groups emerged at the end of dictatorship calling for equal rights and contesting social discrimination. In 2013 Brazil’s Supreme Court acknowledged their concerns and legalized same-sex marriage.

With the end of military rule, Brazil’s democratic government began to respond to more of its citizens. Today, it is clear that the government serves more than the powerful or connected. Through the Bolsa Familia and other social programs, the government has brought forty million Brazilians out of extreme poverty. Cases of patronage and corruption persist, but the media and other watchdog groups have kept these in the public eye.

While Brazil is changing, the legacies of the past linger: racial, social, and economic inequalities persist. However, the people remain just as consistent in their calls for change and shaping the future of their country. In the coming years, they will continue to debate political questions by actively participating in the democracy that they reclaimed in the 1980s.

  • What should be the priorities of the government?
  • How much of its resources should Brazil devote to continuing to make progress in reducing poverty?
  • How important is it to continue to reduce racial and social inequalities?
  • How can Brazil’s government become more responsive and accountable?
  • Should Brazil play an increasing role in international relations?
  • How can Brazil protect the Amazon and combat climate change while taking into account the economic needs of people in the region?

What the future holds remains to be seen.

 

 

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