The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

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Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and the State of the Union

“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won.”

-Lyndon B. Johnson, State of the Union Address, 1964

Coming on the heels of the fiftieth anniversary of LBJ’s War on Poverty speech, there is a lot of speculation regarding whether President Obama will capitalize on this timing to address U.S. poverty in his 2014 State of the Union Address on January 28th.

A recent article in The New Yorker, “The ‘P’ Word: Why Presidents Stopped Talking About Poverty,” provides an overview of the number of times poverty has appeared in State of the Union addresses since Lyndon Johnson’s last term in office.

The author of the piece, Jeff Shesol, points out that it took five presidents and twenty-three years for the term poverty, or “the poor,” to be said in State of the Union addresses the same number of times as during the Johnson administration. (President Johnson used those words forty times; so far, for President Obama, the tally stands at eight.)

As your students watch and discuss the State of the Union Address on January 28, have them take note of those topics, including poverty, that do and do not make the cut in the president’s formal statement. Will Obama overcome presidential fears of the “P” word(s), or will he avoid the rhetoric that had powerful (and controversial) implications for 1964?

Be sure to check out our “Surveying State of the Union Addresses” Teaching with the News Lesson, which we first released last January. This lesson features an interactive video timeline (including LBJ’s 1964 speech) and updated graphic organizers for your students to fill out before and after the address.

In the lesson, students will:

  • Understand the constitutional basis and history of the State of the Union Address
  • Explore significant moments in twentieth century State of the Union Addresses and identify important historic themes
  • Collaborate with classmates to identify likely topics for the State of the Union Address
  • Assess President Obama’s State of the Union Address

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Update: Debating the U.S. Response to Syria

“When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it.”       —President Obama

Last night, President Obama addressed the American public on the topic of the crisis in Syria. After earlier calling for a vote in Congress on the use of targeted military strikes, he has now asked that Congress postpone their decision. With Russia pushing for Syria to hand over its stockpile of chemical weapons, new diplomatic alternatives have come to the fore. The president made clear, however, that the future of these talks is uncertain. Other options remain on the table.

In Choices’ Teaching with the News lesson, Debating the U.S. Response in Syria, students explore different foreign policy options for addressing the conflict in Syria, and have a chance to articulate their personal views on what role the United States should play. What is the United States’ ultimate goal in Syria? Should we pursue military intervention, diplomatic measures, or let other countries take the lead on seeking a resolution? Students are encouraged to share their views not only with their classmates, but with their elected representatives and the president. Referencing individual letters he received in his speech, President Obama made clear that the American public is engaged and grappling with the issues in Syria. We hope students will join in the discussion.

 

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.

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