History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Tag: Afghanistan

Global Issues Since the Fall of the Wall: A Course Made for Choices Materials

Blog Post by Choices Teaching Fellow Deb Springhorn

21st-century-skillsFor 30 years I have lamented the lack of time to teach the current global situation in the context of a world history course that is supposed to go from the prehistoric to the present in one year!  Given the global paradigm shift after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rapid shift again after 9-11, it has become even more imperative to prepare students for global citizenship by developing their understanding of complex global issues and instilling the disposition to see others as they see themselves.  Choices Curriculum units and Teaching with the News lessons do just this.  The goal in developing the course, Global Issues Since the Fall of the Wall was to create an interdisciplinary, common core based course that would incorporate as many materials from the Choices Program as possible.  Beyond the Choices materials, students will read articles from a wide variety of journals and literature of several genres.  They will examine photographic images by James Nachtwey as a way of seeing themselves in such places Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda.

This year long course is divided into four units:

  • The New World [dis]Order of the 1990s: Nationalism, War, and Genocide
  • America After 9-11: The Single Story of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq
  • The Frustration and Hope of “The Arab Spring”
  • Globalization: Geopolitical, Environmental, and Economic Issues.

Each of the four units is organized around 21st Century Skills, reflecting the Common Core.  Choices Curriculum units and Teaching with the News lessons combine with the philosophical, literary, and artistic elements to provide students with an in-depth awareness of the complexities of the current global situation.

The web site for the course has unit overviews, detailed day-by-day plans, resource links, and annotated bibliographies of all the sources used for each of the units.  The attached document illustrates each of the four units with materials from the Choices Program  already incorporated in the first version of the course as well as others that will be added as the course continues to evolve.  The key literary works are listed as well to show the literary connections.

New Course in Development: Global Issues Since the Fall of the Wall

By guest Blogger Deb Springhorn, Lebanon High School, Lebanon, NH

The course I am creating during the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation sponsored Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical, “Global Issues since the Fall of the Wall,” is based on three observations that I have had as a result of my 30 or so years in the classroom:

  1. Most high school programs of study spend little time on the contemporary global situation. American history courses seem to struggle to get past Vietnam; world history courses seem lucky to get to the Cold War.
  2. An interdisciplinary approach to content is dynamic and fosters a different engagement in the material; students can be “hooked” through more avenues – history, literature, philosophy, art, music – and the depth of knowledge deepens as a result.
  3. Art is a seductive and provocative entry point to difficult material. Classroom conversation begins with “what do you see?” No one has to know anything to participate. It’s easy to raise questions about why students are seeing what they are seeing.

I have found that including currents events when there is time does not sufficiently allow for teaching the complexity of the challenges that face us now.  Not only do we need to teach more about the global community in which we live, but we have to teach about it in a way that will foster 21st century skills and a disposition to care about being active global citizens.

The content of my course is reflected by the following themes:

  • The New World [dis]Order of the 1990s: Nationalism, War, & Genocide
  • America After 9-11: The Single Story of Afghanistan, Pakistan, & Iraq
  • Frustration & Hope of “The Arab Spring”
  • Globalization: The Crisis of Consumption of Resources

The structure of the course will be built around the 21st Century skills identified by the Common Core State Standards: Critical Reading, Information Literacy, Effective Oral & Written Communication, and Citizenship (problem solving, collaboration, & leadership).

The approach will be interdisciplinary so that, in the unit, “After 9-11” for example, when students study the historic roots and the current challenges of the situation in Afghanistan they will read one of Khaled Hosseini’s books such as Kite Runner; discuss possible exit strategies and their geopolitical ramifications using the CHOICES curriculum, The US in Afghanistan; and examine photographs taken by James Nachtwey, the pre-eminent war photographer of our time.  I will also use Choices Teaching with the News materials on “The Cost of War” and “Debating U.S. Drone Policy.”

I hope to make the course extremely flexible so that it could be a full year or half year offering. Alternatively, individual units could also be added to existing courses in world studies. Once more of the course is written, I will begin designing a website to accompany the course where I will include most of the materials I am developing.  Any teacher could use it either as a model/resource or as a complete curriculum.

If you have ideas, resources, or articles you think I should be aware of, please email me. Deb Springhorn, springhorn@aol.comIf you would like to be notified when the course is completed, feel free to contact me as well.

Using Infographics for Policy Deliberation on Afghanistan

by Amy Sanders
Yarmouth ME High School Teacher & Choices Teaching Fellow

Infographic 5 © Newsweek

I incorporate the CHOICES curriculum, The United States in Afghanistan, into my Middle East Studies course. The curriculum is an excellent resource that provides helpful information about Afghanistan’s history, geography, and people, and is the framework around which I build our study of Afghanistan.

When teaching CHOICES units, I often modify the policy deliberation into two distinct phases: first, I have students share key points related to their policy options; second, I move into a “fishbowl” discussion to deliberate the pros and cons of the policy options.

In the past, when teaching the CHOICES unit about the US Invasion of Iraq, I located data that the US Department of Defense reported to Congress. Before we began policy deliberations, I would project some of the data from these reports (which included, for example, graphs of weekly security incidents or percentage of Iraqis with electricity). I would ask students to sit with members of their policy option group and to confer and take notes about how each graph/chart related to their policy option. When we began the fishbowl deliberation, I had color copies of the data available in the center of the table. Students would reach for a relevant graph or chart to back up a point they wanted to make. This method encouraged students to incorporate additional relevant, current evidence into the deliberation.

I wanted to try something similar for our policy deliberation on Afghanistan, and this time asked students to analyze infographics related to the war in Afghanistan. I created a handout introducing students to infographics (which includes an analysis sheet). Students divided into small groups, with each group analyzing one infographic. I used the infographics from the links below:

Infographic 1 – The White House – Troop Levels in Afghanistan and Iraq

Infographic 2 – Internews – Violence Against Journalists in Afghanistan

Infographic 3 – Asia Foundation – Visualizing Afghanistan: A Survey of the Afghan People

Infographic 4 – Plumegraph.org – Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan

Infographic 5 – Newsweek – Where’s the Money Going in Afghanistan?

Infographic 6 – US Action  – Ten Years of War in Afghanistan: Bridges NOT Bombs!

Infographic 7 – National Post (Canada) – Blood and Treasure

Infographic 8 – New York Times – Indicators of Worsening Security Situation in Afghanistan

Students rotated the writing responsibility in their infographic analysis and recorded interesting insights and thoughtful questions – including about media bias. Small groups then shared their analysis with the whole group; as teams presented, students within policy option groups conferred about how the data related to their policy option.

Overall, student feedback about the lesson was positive, including these comments:

“Visuals stick in the brain better.”

“This activity gave me a new way to think about data and a new outlook on the war.”

“It made all of the data and numbers relative, which made me better understand the implications of the war.”

“I saw trends that I hadn’t really thought about before.”

“Some of the infographics broke down abstract numbers and helped me to relate to them.”

“The infographics we looked at brought different perspectives and showed how you can manipulate data and numbers to make a point.”

“The infographic about the danger in Afghanistan helped me to see the progression of danger very clearly. It helped me to see visually that conditions there have not necessarily gotten better even after 10+ years of war.”

“This data helped me to better understand and reinforced a lot of what we already learned from the [CHOICES] curriculum.”

“I’d never really thought about how many civilians in Afghanistan have been killed by insurgents vs. the US military. The data showed that far more have died at the hands of insurgents. That was eye opening.”

Immersed in a media-rich world, students are drawn to visualizations of data, and infographics give us new ways to think about and understand information. I believe it’s important for educators to help students both to make connections to their prior learning and to analyze and challenge the information presented in infographics. Students’ analysis of infographics tied into the CHOICES curriculum on Afghanistan and helped extend student learning. It was fun and engaging too… a win/win for my students.

The United States in Afghanistan is available from The Choices Program website. It is also available as an iBooks Textbook from the iBookstore.

The U.S. in Afghanistan unit in a Comparative Philosophy of War Class

By Guest Blogger Lisa Carter
Choices Teaching Fellow, Housatonic Valley Regional High School, NY

We have just completed the Afghanistan unit in an honors level seniors course, “The Comparative Philosophy of War”. We spent the semester studying attitudes about fighting wars throughout history and ended the course with an in-depth look at the war in Afghanistan. My students LOVED the unit. We began our study with a field trip to NYC where we visited the 9/11 memorial and then the United Nations where we had a special briefing on Afghanistan by Kieran Dwyer, a member of the Peacekeeping staff.

We followed the unit as is written and used the supplemental materials as well as the Scholars Online videos. The “Looking at Afghanistan” lesson was extremely successful in terms of identifying students’ impressions about Afghanistan. There was a lot of great discussion and they realized just how much they had to learn about the details of the country before they could begin to really understand the situation there. My students did not have any difficulty with the reading materials and there was much animated class discussion throughout the unit.

We watched the films Human Terrain, Restrepo and clips of Charlie Wilson’s War. I plan to include Afghan Star next year. The films, along with the Scholars Online videos, were extremely important in helping students understand different aspects of the war as well as the Afghan culture.

I took about three weeks to complete the unit in a modified block schedule. This is a ten-day rotation where I see the students for seven meetings. Four meetings are 48 minutes long and three are 72 minutes long. The 72-minute blocks were the most interesting as we could combine film and discussion in a comfortable amount of time.

The role play was excellent. The students were so well prepared and had become so curious about the details of the war and life in Afghanistan that many began to follow the war more closely in the media and they conducted some of their own research about Afghanistan and the war. They could speak to the complexity of the political, geopolitical, cultural and economic aspects of each option. Those students who were the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked great questions as well.

I give a survey to students at the end of this course and nearly every student cited the Choices units as the best part of the class. (We also used Responding to Terrorism in September). I look forward to teaching this unit again next year!

Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empiricism

There’s a good read at Foreign Policy about the misperceptions that contribute to the debate about Afghanistan. It has a list of the limited number of Afghanistan experts in the United States. Several of these scholars helped Choices with its curriculum unit The United States in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan will continue to be a topic of debate in U.S. foreign policy, and will likely garner extra attention because of the presidential election. Our curriculum materials are a good way to bring the expertise of those few scholars of Afghanistan into classrooms and then on into the hands of students. Watch the video clip to get a sense of what they have to offer and some the issues raised in the unit.

New in Scholars Online: Benjamin Hopkins

“[Afghanistan] turns from being this…central player in a regional order into being this…land of endemic chaos that doesn’t really fit any place.”

How did Afghanistan become the country it is today? Professor Benjamin Hopkins takes a look back at the history of Central Asia and how British imperialism shaped the future of Afghanistan.

This video is part of the Scholars Online collection for The United States in Afghanistan. You can see more videos from this interview here.

More Resources on Afghanistan and Pakistan

As Choices prepares for our Summer Institute on Afghanistan, and as Afghanistan and Pakistan take center stage in the news again, here are some additional resources that teachers may find useful.
  1. A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes (2009) – This book contains all of the facts found in a textbook, paired with the human stories, side notes and interesting tidbits that make history fascinating. If you like this book by Afghan-American writer and commentator Tamim Ansary, you may enjoy his site on Afghanistan, where he offers his thoughts and a weekly summary of the news from Afghanistan.
  2. Homeland Afghanistan – This is a comprehensive, impressive website that explores the geopolitical and cultural heritage of Afghanistan.  Teachers can search by themes, eras or highlights.   It includes time lines, videos and primary source documents.
  3. Afghanistan: A Short History of its Peoples and Politics by Martin Ewans.  (2002)  I find this book to contain just enough background to understand the people and history of the region, yet not so detailed that one is overwhelmed.
  4. An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan by Jason Elliot (1999)  and The Places in Between by Rory Stewart (2006)  are two wonderfully written travelogues. Each one does an excellent job of providing students  with a sense of the physical and human landscape of Afghanistan.   Through their writings, the difficulties faced by the average person and the challenges the country faces as a whole become vivid and real to the reader.  Literature and social studies teachers could pair excerpts from either book with the photo collection found at Afghanistan: A Year in Photos for a visually rich introduction to Afghanistan.
  5. A Crisis Guide to Pakistan – Produced by the Council on Foreign Relations, this site includes an overview, timeline, Five Possible Futures and a list of additional resources.  An excellent resource.

Five Good Books on Afghanistan

I am in the midst of developing curriculum materials on Afghanistan. Here are five books that I would recommend to anyone interested in the current situation, the country’s history and people, and the U.S. role there.

The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880-1946. Author: Vartan Gregorian. Written in 1969, this is a beautifully written, thoroughly researched work.

Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History. Author: Thomas Barfield. Written by an anthropologist, this book from 2010 is a rich source of information; it covers the history to present nicely and give attention to the lives of ordinary Afghans as well.

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Author: Steve Coll. Published in 2004, it is well written and delivers what the title promises.

Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Author: Ahmed Rashid. 2008. Lots of great sources from all sides.

The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda. Author: Peter Bergen. 2011. Current and insightful.

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