History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Author: Lindsay E Turchan

Syria: Starting (and Continuing) the Conversation in the Classroom


The other night, my younger brother, who is a sophomore in college, texted me. Normally, at this point in the semester, all the kid wants is help brainstorming ideas for his papers or someone to complain to about the absurdity and injustice of final exams. But this time, he said something different. He said that he had “just seen this thing about the White Helmets” and “they seem cool.”

The “White Helmets” to whom he was referring are the volunteer Syrian rescue workers who aid civilians caught in the destruction left in the wake of frequent bombings. We continued to text about it, which prompted him to mention that he wanted to “read some more stuff.”

Being the annoying, nerdy, older sister that I am, I proceeded to ask him what else he knew about the Syrian Civil War. His response—that he didn’t know anything else except for what he had gleaned from some photos on social media and a few articles online—didn’t surprise me.

Don’t get me wrong. My brother is, in my opinion, a smart, kind person. He is well-rounded, curious, and excelling at a competitive four-year university. But at the same time, he is also a busy, American student who lives far away from Syria’s everyday violence. In these ways and others, he is highly privileged. He, like many people throughout the world, has the ability to choose ignorance. But, in addition to his geographical and intellectual distance from the conflict, what was ultimately blocking his engagement with Syria’s war was simply not knowing where to begin. He was overwhelmed. He wanted to learn, but he felt like he was years behind—and he was right. The topic had not come up in any of his courses in college, nor had the earlier years of the war been covered in his high school social studies classes. His friends are not particularly interested in international affairs, so it only came up occasionally in conversation. He was unfamiliar with the long, complex history leading up to what is taking place in Syria today, and that made really digging into the conflict daunting for him. But, he finally realized that that was not a good enough excuse.

I suspect that, in this way, my brother is not unlike many of the high school students with whom educators work: students who are well-meaning and want to learn, but who just do not know where to begin. All students are different and have different experiences, but what they do have in common is the need for an entry point that is accessible to them. In my brother’s case, the catalyst for his learning was the White Helmets—seeing people risk their lives to help others escape a conflict about which he had the privilege of knowing next to nothing. For other people, it may be a photo in the news, the story of a family member or a classmate affected by the conflict, a personal experience with war and violence, a post on social media, a statement from a politician or activist, or a lesson in the classroom. Whatever it is, these entry points—and meeting students where they are in terms of their knowledge and the gaps in their knowledge in a non-judgmental way—is an important step in the process of nurturing students as they grow into both informed and empathetic global citizens.

The Choices Program provides a number of resources that offer an accessible entry point, and beyond, for students of all levels and backgrounds to engage with the war in Syria. Specifically, in addition to directing my brother to some reputable and diverse media sources and scholarly articles, I pointed him to a few free, online Choices resources, including videos by political scientist Bessma Momani and Teaching with the News Lessons “Debating the U.S. Response to Syria” and “Refugee Stories: Mapping a Crisis.”

Teachers may also find the Choices curriculum unit The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy useful as it introduces students to the conflict in Syria as well as many other regional histories and issues. We hope that these resources might help educators who are looking to prompt students to engage with the many dimensions of Syria’s war.



Photo: Public Domain, United States Agency for International Development. 

The New School Year: Processing the Summer’s Events in the Classroom

A lot can happen in a summer. With the new school year already off to a start for some and soon to begin for others, all of us at Choices want to take a moment to recognize the many tragic events that have taken place in the past few months throughout the world. International terror attacks, ongoing wars and conflicts, violence perpetrated against U.S. citizens of color, U.S. law enforcement personnel, and LGBTQ people in the United States, and other acts of violence and hatred have defined this summer, for many, as one of tragedy.

At Choices, knowing how to respond to acts such as these challenges all of us, and certainly there is not a perfect way to do so. But we also believe that these are issues that are on the minds of many students and teachers. Some teachers may find that the classroom can serve as a space in which students and teachers alike may begin to process and heal from these events by thinking critically and engaging one another in discussion. But at the same time, locating resources for facilitating these conversations is not always easy.

In response to this need, we wanted to remind teachers of resources that we offer, including two of our recent free, online Teaching with the News lessons—Black Lives Matter: Continuing the Civil Rights Movement (updated August 2016) and our Resource Guide on the Orlando Nightclub Shootings (June 2016). In addition to these resources, you may also find our blog post Approaching Race in the Classroom, Actively useful. In addition, Choices offers the curriculum unit Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy.

In our recently updated lesson on the Black Lives Matter Movement, students work in groups to review an interactive timeline of black activism in the United States from the 1950s to today and identify core themes of the civil rights and Black Lives Matter Movement. In our resource guide on the Orlando Nightclub Shootings, we have compiled an annotated list of sources that offer suggestions for various classroom approaches to the many dimensions of the nightclub attack in June 2016. Finally, in our blog post on approaching race in the classroom, we provide a wide array of information on relevant resources for teachers looking to discuss race in their classrooms. 

We hope that these resources prove useful as you navigate these difficult—but important—events and topics in the classroom throughout the upcoming school year.

Outsports.com: News Engagement Series #4


Tor Bakhopper (CC by 2.0)

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.


Lindsay Turchan, International Education Intern, Choices Writing Team

My recommendation for a news-related resource:


What it is:

Outsports is an online news and opinion site that reports on LGBT issues in sports. It features articles, podcasts, photographs, editorials, blog posts, videos, and more. With great content for anyone interested in sports and LGBT issues, teachers might be particularly intrigued by the many pieces that consider the relationship between sports and history, human rights, and politics.

Why I like it and think you might find it interesting:

  1. Few media outlets address LGBT experiences in sports. The very existence of Outsports alerts readers to this glaring historical silence and calls attention to the structures that make this so. In this way, Outsports helps cultivate in its readers some of the skills necessary for critical media consumption.
  2. If you love sports news but you are also a “thinker,” then Outsports is for you. It’s more than just the score of Sunday’s game. Instead, the site’s stories connect sports to broader issues with political, economic, and social importance. In a highly readable way, Outsports articles could serve as a springboard for stimulating classroom conversations rooted in history or current events about the complex relationship between sports and society.
  3. Outsports regularly features works from readers, demonstrating that engaging with the news need not be left to the professionals. The dynamic “Fanpost” section features reader-written (and editor-approved) pieces. It can read as anything from an advice column (an NCAA basketball player solicits advice on coming out in this article) to a forum for debate (this history-based piece discusses opera in order to challenge understandings of what makes something a sport). There are weekly columns, such as openly gay high school student and football aficionado Jeremy Brener’s NFL reports, that also serve as reminders that everyone has valuable perspectives to offer when it comes to engaging with the news.


Note: Outsports uses satire in some opinion pieces. If students are unfamiliar with satire, it may be helpful to discuss this concept. Also, be sure to preview articles before sharing them with students as some discuss sensitive issues and/or use language that may not be appropriate for all classrooms.


For a taste of how Outsports discusses human rights and LGBT experiences in sports, you may be interested in the following articles:  

Coaches Sue University Over Homophobia, Discrimination

Principal Bans Gay Football Player Artwork From Exhibit  

Gay Slurs at the Gold Cup Match?  


Choices Program resources:

Outsports may interest teachers using Competing Visions of Human Rights: Questions for U.S. Policy, especially those who wish to engage students in conversations about freedom of speech and expression as well as LGBT rights.

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The resources on Outsports might also be of interest to teachers looking to build upon discussions of the historical roots and importance of sports raised in History, Revolution and Reform: New Directions for Cuba and Brazil: From Colony to Democracy (revised edition upcoming). 
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