National History Day: A Partnership Between the David & Lorraine Cheng Library and the Paterson Public Schools – A Tale of Three High Schools

National History Day: A Partnership between the David and Lorraine Cheng Library and the Paterson Public Schools—A Tale of Three High Schools

Neil Grimes and Vincent Giardina


National History Day (NHD) is an academic competition for middle school and high school students that is based on a different theme annually, for which students find, evaluate, and use primary and secondary sources to create and present documentaries, plays, papers, websites, and exhibits. Participation in the NHD competition is a unique opportunity to engage students in hands-on learning experiences about many different aspects of history and enables them to engage in research activities.  It allows for partnerships with academic libraries, local libraries, historical societies, and archival repositories. These organizations assist students with their NHD research.  The NHD competition provides the opportunity to foster information literacy and critical thinking skills among students while also developing skills in historical research. 

A partnership to support students’ NHD projects was established in 2020 between the Paterson Public Schools and the David and Lorraine Cheng Library at William Paterson University. The university is a Hispanic-serving Institution as designated by the U.S. Department of Education whose vision, mission, and values align to support the academic library outreach provided by the Cheng Library to support the faculty and students of the Paterson Public Schools, the 4th largest school system in New Jersey. The goal of this partnership was for the Paterson social studies teachers and students to have academic library support in the form of library instruction sessions from the David and Lorraine Cheng Library as well as access to primary and secondary resources, and project-based learning resources that would support the completion of student NHD projects. 


National History Day participation by higher education librarians, collaborating with their K‐12 counterparts, can be a powerful means for secondary students to learn historical content knowledge, historical analysis skills, and information literacy skills.  The partnership between the David and Lorraine Cheng Library and the Paterson Public Schools began during the 2019-2020 school year.  It allowed for collaboration between librarians from the Cheng Library and social studies teachers in the Paterson Public Schools, one of the largest and most diverse schools systems in New Jersey. 

Background on Paterson Public Schools 

The Paterson Public Schools, an urban school system, is the 4th largest school system in the state of New Jersey (Niche 2020). There are more than 40 languages spoken in its classrooms which makes the Paterson Public Schools is among the most diverse in the state. Close to 57 percent of all students in Paterson speak a primary language other than English” (Paterson Public Schools, District Profile 2020). The rich cultural and linguistic diversity in the district is an educational asset (Delpit, 2006; Nieto, 1992). It enables students to learn firsthand about other cultures and develop an appreciation for cultural similarities and differences as they prepare for success in a multicultural world.

New Jersey public schools are categorized based on District Factor Groupings (DFGs), a single measure of socioeconomic status (SES) for each district based on the percent of adult residents who failed to complete high school, along with income, unemployment, and the percentage of residents below the poverty level. From the lowest SES to the highest, the categories are A, B, CD, DE, FG, GH, I, and J. The Paterson Public School falls within the lowest SES category of eight groupings, grouping A (State of New Jersey – Department of Education 2019).  

Paterson Public Schools are home to 23,756 students, of which all students are eligible to receive free and reduced lunch and roughly 89% of students are minorities (16,760 students from Latino and Hispanic households, 5,209 Black students, 1,252 White students, and 1,448 Asian students). There are 5,814 students that are classified as having Limited English Proficiency, with Spanish, Arabic, and Bengali being the home languages most frequently spoken (Paterson Public Schools 2020).

Background on David and Lorraine Cheng Library 

“The David and Lorraine Cheng Library is the academic knowledge center of William Paterson University. The Library advances the University’s mission and core values of academic excellence, creation of knowledge, student success, diversity and citizenship” (William Paterson University – David and Lorraine Cheng Library – Mission, Vision, & Goals 2020). The Library serves more than 10,000 students who are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs. (William Paterson University, 2020). Academic libraries should engage in library outreach to increase their involvement in the implementation of collaborations and the establishment of partnerships in the greater region in which it serves (Salamon, 2016). Library outreach can take many forms in the region that an academic library serves. A partnership with the Paterson Public Schools in support of the teachers and students involved in the National History Day competition fulfills the university and library’s mission of providing community service to K-12 schools in the northern New Jersey region. This library partnership with Paterson Public Schools adds to the established relationship that was already in place between the College of Education and Paterson Public Schools. 

Historical Context of the National History Day Competition 

In 1974, History Day was established by David Van Tassel, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.  The event quickly spread, first across Ohio, then across the nation as it developed into a national organization. Today, History Day is a very popular event with more than 500,000 students, Grades 6-12, along with 30,000 teachers, participating each year in the United States (National History Day, 2018). The competition is based on a different theme annually, for which students find, evaluate, and use primary and secondary sources to create and present documentaries, plays, papers, websites, and exhibits.  Students enter their projects into local and state History Day competitions, with the national contest held in June at the University of Maryland (National History Day, 2018). 


By requiring that student participants do in‐depth research using primary source materials, NHD encourages partnerships between social studies teachers and librarians.  The need for these resources have led academic librarians to offer research instruction with high school students (Manuel, 2005). The partnership between the David and Lorraine Cheng Library and the Paterson School District gave high school students access to the additional primary and secondary resources needed for the NHD competition. The Cheng Library also provided research instruction to support teachers and students participating in the NHD competition. The NHD competition highlighted commonalities between NHD learning goals, the National Standards for History: Historical Thinking Standards (Grades 5‐12); the American Association of School Libraries’ Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning; and the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

Thinking like a Historian – Rethinking History Instruction

History is an important discipline that encourages students to analyze historical evidence, evaluate it, and demonstrate their understanding of the evidence (Mandell & Malone, 2013).  Participation in the National History Day (NHD) competition allows students to engage in a project-based learning activity individually or in groups while undertaking in historical research and analysis as part of the historical literacy process which “incorporates the historical process (the disciplinary skills and procedures that historians use to study the past) and historical categories of inquiry (the conceptual patterns that historians use to make sense of the past)” (Mandell & Malone. 2013, p. 11).  Engaging students in historical literacy through the NHD competition allowed them to become historians as they explored a topic and specific research question relating directly to the annual theme.  By doing their own project-based research on a historical topic of their choice and making decisions about how best to formulate their own interpretations and present evidence, students benefit from a more active learning experience than reading about history from a textbook and being told by the historians and publishers what is most important to learn about any given topic or period in history. Participation in NHD gives students an authentic purpose for learning while providing opportunities for both collaboration and competition (Vandenberg-Daves, 2006).

Leadership and Communication

The author began working with the Paterson Public Schools in December of 2019 when Library Dean Edward Owusu-Ansah formalized a partnership with the Paterson Public Schools led by International High School Principal Rita Routé. Routé was able to connect the Cheng Library librarians with the Paterson Public Schools Social Studies Coordinator, Gloria Van Houten who helped to coordinate some of the efforts to support teachers and students involved in the National History Day competition at Eastside High School and J.F.K. High School.  Rita coordinated all visits made to International High School in support of the NHD competition.   

Beyond support for NHD, the author provided a professional development session on the topic of project-based learning for all of the social studies teachers.  Scheduling the outreach visits through Routé and Van Houten made the visits more manageable.  Teachers and students benefited from research instruction and support provided by the Cheng Library.  Librarians that provided instruction and support included author, [title] Librarian [Name], Outreach and Instruction Librarian Gary Marks, and Electronic Resources Librarian Richard Kearney. The sharing of instructional materials before and after our sessions via Google Drive with coordinators and teachers was an essential step in the collaborative process.  At the three individual high schools that competed in the NHD competition, the co-author Vinnie Giardina took on a large leadership role at International High School where he had one-hundred twenty-five 9th grade students, eighty 10th grade students, and five 10th grade students work on projects for a more schoolwide approach to the NHD competition.  

Collaboration/NHD Support within the Paterson School District International High School Collaboration

Acting IB Principal Routé arranged for select teachers from International High School to meet the Librarian and the Dean of the Cheng Library.  These would be the teachers who would be working the Librarian as a result of the academic library partnership. The initial in-person meeting at International High School took place on 12/6/19. This meeting led to the scheduling of three library instruction dates (1/7/20, 1/14/20, and 2/25/20) where the Librarian would provide research and NHD specific instruction in support of the students working on NHD projects. The school administration wanted as many students from the school to participate in the NHD competition as possible. In total, 210 students attempted NHD projects which resulted in 76 projects which were judged at International High School by teachers at International High School.  From those 76 projects, 10 projects (4 group exhibit boards, 1 individual exhibit board, and 5 group documentaries) competed at the Regional competition. Moving forward to the state competition were 10 students comprising 3 projects (2 group exhibit boards and 1 group documentary). Both the regional and state NHD competitions were held online as a result of the pandemic. This limited the students’ ability to interact with the NHD judges to explain how their projects specifically aligned with the theme of “Breaking Barriers in History” and why they included specific primary or secondary sources for their NHD projects. 

Through the course of the library instruction sessions, student feedback was positive and students felt empowered as they began to build confidence in their historical research, MLA citation, and historical annotation skills. As the NHD Advisor at International High School, arrangements were made to have all library instruction sessions in the seminar room where as many as 50 students were able to attend at one time. Beginning in October of 2019 IB Social Studies Teachers Matthew Caruso and Christopher Wirkmaa along with Social Studies Teacher William Towns introduced the Freshman and Sophomore Students to National History Day (NHD). International High School (IHS) had competed in NHD many times in previous years. In 2017, IHS had a team compete at the National Competition. In 2019, the school by way of IB Principal Catherine Forfia-Dion and Acting IB Principal Rita Routé wanted the freshmen and sophomores to learn different research techniques with assistance from William Paterson University. IHS is an International Baccalaureate (IB) School. The IB program is the single most rigorous college preparatory program where the students have to complete multiple research-based essays. Their hope was that with the introduction of school-wide NHD Competition that the freshmen and sophomores would learn the skills needed to complete these assignments.  

By November 1, the students competing in the School Competition had created their groups and narrowed in a topic to research. Many of the students chose to research topics like; The first African-American Women in Space, Jackie Robinson, President Barack Obama, the civil rights sit-ins, the 21st Amendment, In vitro fertilization the Transcontinental Railroad, and others.  

During the week of January 20, teachers set up a NHD base camp in the Seminar Room for the students to complete their Exhibit Boards, Websites, Documentaries, and Skits for the competition that was being held the next week. Teachers housed all of his classes in the Seminar Room and volunteered his prep time and lunch to ensure that the students would have a place to complete their projects. The school wide competition took place between January 27 and January 30at International High School. There were a total of five internal teacher judges for the in-house competition.

For this school year, teachers and students in the Paterson Public Schools are engaged in teaching and learning in the virtual environment through Google Classroom.  This presents challenges and opportunities for teachers and students. It may be difficult to get as many teachers and students at International High School to participate in the NHD competition as last year. Library instruction sessions will be limited to providing support to one teacher and one class at a time. Leading the coordination of these efforts this year will be IB Principal Catherine Forfia-Dion. Despite the challenges of scheduling and limited class sessions, having the partnership with William Paterson University will lead to successful outcomes for the teachers and students involved in the NHD competition at International High School. 

JFK High School Collaboration

At JFK High School, one in-person visit was made in support of the two NHD advisors who had fifteen students that planned on competing in the NHD competition.  This visit allowed the presentation to focus on how to find primary and secondary sources, how to evaluate sources, how to take research notes, and how to engage in historical analysis.

Eastside High School Collaboration

At Eastside High School, Social Studies coordinator, Gloria Van Houten arranged for every Social Studies class to attend an in-person introduction to NHD and NHD resources in the school library led by librarians, Neil Grimes and Richard Kearney.  An NHD Library Guide was created and updated to reflect collections of digital resources available for student use.  The resources on the NHD Library Guide were highlighted.  Students were also engaged in database searching and advanced search strategies were shared with all of the student researchers. Students were engaged in researching their historical topic that related directly to the NHD annual theme.


Through the partnership between the Paterson Public Schools and William Paterson University’s Cheng Library, students that competed in the NHD competition were able to engage in historical research, learned historical analysis, and how to format their NHD project to fit the requirements of their selected NHD competition category. Through feedback shared from the Social Studies teachers in the Paterson Public Schools, it was found that students had a greater interest in history and increased their ability to conduct research, as well as historical analysis, through the work completed during the NHD competition. At International High School, the co-author became the new NHD advisor during the 2019-2020 school year and had every social studies class participate.  In the previous school year, one group participated at the regional level and in the 2019-2020 school year ten groups participated at the regional level with 3 groups moving onto the statewide competition.

As a result of this partnership, students learned how to formulate a research question, and unique search terms that related to their topics, and learned the difference between primary and secondary resources. This partnership helped students to learn how to conduct, annotate, and use their historical research in composing their individual and group projects for the New Jersey National History Day competition.

Future Directions

Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, virtual library instruction and support will be provided to the teachers and students in the Paterson Public Schools that are engaged in the 2021 National History Day competition.  This will be provided through Google Meets which allows for presenters to share their screen and record sessions for students to re-watch. There are limitations to providing this type of support as class sessions are limited to 30 minutes.  A virtual professional development session on NHD was held in October 2020 for all of the social studies teachers in the Paterson School District to be conducted by the author and Electronic Resources librarian Richard Kearney. The scheduled visits will be emailed to each school building’s principals throughout the 2020-2021 school year within the Paterson School District. 


Delpit, L. (2006). Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom

Mandell, N., & Malone, B. (2013). Thinking like a historian: Rethinking history instruction. Wisconsin Historical Society. 

Manuel, K. (2005). National History Day: an opportunity for K‐16 collaboration. Reference services review

National History Day (2018, January 1) David Van Tassel & the origins of National History Day. National History Day.  

Niche. (2020) Largest school districts in New Jersey. Retrieved from 

Nieto, S. (1992). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education

Paterson Public Schools (2020). District profile. Paterson Public Schools. 

Paterson Public Schools (2020). Promising Tomorrows: Annual Report July 2018 – September 2020 (pp. 1-2, Rep.). Paterson, NJ: Paterson Public Schools. 

Salamon, Anaïs. 2016. “Benefits and Challenges of Outreach in Academic Libraries: A Case  

Study at the McGill Islamic Studies Library.” MELA Notes 89: 1–14. 

State of New Jersey – Department of Education (2019). District Factor Groups (DFG) for School Districts  

Vandenberg-Daves, J. (2006). Making history : a guide to historical research through the National History Day program. ABC-CLIO. 

William Paterson University (2020, January 31) Factbook 2019. William Paterson University.  Retrieved from

William Paterson University – David and Lorraine Cheng Library (2020) Mission, Vision & Goals. Retrieved from 

Teaching the History of the AIDS Crisis: 40 Years of HIV/AIDS in American Life

Teaching the History of the AIDS Crisis: 40 Years of HIV/AIDS in American Life

Mark Helmsing and Andrew Porter

In 1981, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (now called the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention) published details about a rare lung infection in its weekly report on morbidity and mortality trends in the United States. The details focused on five young, white men in Los Angeles who were healthy and identified as gay men. The report discussed how all five of these men presented the rare lung disease (called Pneumocystis Pneumonia, or PCP) along with other infections that seemed to indicate their immune systems were not functioning. All five men were dead soon after the report was published, sparking what would become known as the AIDS epidemic, part of what was to become a global AIDS pandemic (amfAR, 2020).

            As referenced and used in this article, this portion of the epidemic is often referred to historically as the AIDS crisis, referring to responses to the epidemic in the U.S. beginning with the founding of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1981 and continuing through the 1990s and early 2000s (amfAR, 2020). The AIDS crisis has not ended, despite major advances in the treatment and management of HIV/AIDS. However, the scope of this article considers what is historically viewed as the “height” of the AIDS crisis in the U.S. Our choice in framing the history of the AIDS crisis this way is due to the high priority of periodization in U.S. History courses in which units on the 1980s and/or the 1990s are taught as discrete decades. In this sense the history of the AIDS crisis as it unfolded in the 1980s and 1990s is of most relevance for social studies educators despite the important recent history of the crisis from 2000 through the present.

            This article presents a number of primary source texts middle and high school social studies can consider using when teaching the history of the AIDS crisis, particularly in U.S. History courses, but also in courses that relate to sociology, psychology, civics/government, and social problems or social issues. Further, this topic can be a rich topic for shared interdisciplinary inquiry amongst social studies educators, science educators, and language arts educators searching for topics that can be studied and taught across the disciplines. Before exploring the primary sources, we will briefly offer with social studies educators with three rationales for teaching the history of AIDS crisis.

Rationale for HIV/AIDS in the History Curriculum

Four decades later, the current moment in which we are living and teaching is an important time for history and social studies educators to reflect on and consider how they teach the AIDS crisis. We argue social studies educators need to rethink how they frame and teach about the AIDS crisis, isolated less as a current event topic, which is how we, the authors, learned about the epidemic in school, and instead framing and teaching the AIDS crisis as an historical event necessary for understanding the history of American life in the twentieth century.      

            For most veteran teachers in their fifties and sixties, their teaching careers began in the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Most of their teaching career has run parallel to the AIDS crisis unfolding in ‘real time’ and not as ‘history.’ For some mid-career teachers, those in thirties and forties, their teaching career began during the shift of the AIDS epidemic from a full-blown public health crisis to a more controlled public health risk. These educators grew up in the 1980s and 1990s as children and adolescents whose experiences were shaped by some of the strongest and most combative public responses to the AIDS crisis. For the newest ranks of our profession, many novice teachers completing teacher preparation programs are in their early to mid-twenties, having been born in the mid to late 1990s, such as 1997, the year in which AIDS deaths in the U.S. declined by 42% once anti-HIV therapies known as HIV drug “cocktails” became widely used and demonstrably effective (amfAR, 2020). These newly emerging teachers did not live in a time when an HIV diagnosis was seen as a ‘death sentence’ and accompanied by fear, shame, and discrimination as was prevalent for many people in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, early career educators, mid-career educators, and late career educators each have distinct orientations to the AIDS crisis and must learn from each other collectively towards creating usable social studies curriculum on HIV/AIDS. To make the case for why this is necessary, we provide three compelling rationales.

            A different time. First, the AIDS crisis is no longer as dominant in the public sphere’s attention as it once was. In the mid-to-late 1980s and all through the 1990s, the AIDS crisis “was impossible to overlook” as HIV/AIDS awareness permeated most “shared spaces, from policy to popular culture” throughout public schools, public health, and everyday life (Finkelstein, 2018, p. 1). Today there are few if any special programs aimed at discussing HIV/AIDS like the ones I grew up watching on the portable television set in my elementary and junior high schools, such as the made-for-television specials In The Shadow of Love: A Teen AIDS Story (González, 1991), or The Ryan White Story (Herzfeld, 1989), about teenager Ryan White, who died from complications of AIDS in 1990 after captivating national attention for his mistreatment by his hometown and high school in Indiana. There are few storylines in film, television, and popular literature that spotlight HIV/AIDS as singular and central issues in our present moment compared to films such as Longtime Companion (René, 1989) and Philadelphia (Demme, 1993). This is due in part to how the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. began to shift from a crisis that was difficult to manage and contain to a disease that scientists and medical experts began to better understand and better treat.

            The past is present. The presence of the AIDS crisis in our cultural memory leads to a second reason social studies educators should consider teaching about the history of AIDS. Whereas there are a few examples of HIV/AIDS featuring in a storyline in contemporary popular culture, there abounds in recent years numerous examples of popular culture that foreground the history and memory of HIV/AIDS. Examples of this history-in-use range from films such as The Normal Heart, based upon Larry Kramer’s 1985 play of the same name (Murphy, 2014) and the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague (France, 2012) to young adult literature, such as the massively popular novels Like a Love Story (Nzemian, 2019), which features young people living with AIDS in New York City in the 1980s, and We are Lost and Found (Dunbar, 2019), which also spotlights youth living in New York City on the eve of the AIDS crisis. These and other books and films offer contemporary audiences an opportunity to contemplate how HIV/AIDS have been understood and experienced throughout U.S. history.

            The 1980s are history. A third reason relates to U.S. history as an academic subject in schools. As each year passes by, the chronology of recorded history expands and the academic subject of history races to keep up, expanding its scope annually. Despite this expansion of what becomes historical, there is still deep immobility on the timeline of history taught in U.S. History courses. By this we mean how time somewhat stops in U.S. History courses with units and lessons on the long Civil Rights Era of the 1960s and 1970s, the conflict in Vietnam, and some scant coverage of the nation’s history as the 1970s morphs into the 1980s. For us, the authors, this is as far as our U.S. History courses covered when we were students in the 1990s, and, as teachers in the 2000s and 2010, our own courses we taught stopped at this point in the timeline. Yet within the past decade, the 1980s and the 1990s are increasingly becoming properly historical in the sense that many history curriculum standards and textbooks include content from these decades. In a study we conducted of U.S. History curriculum standards and textbooks, we found conclusive evidence that the 1980s are historically significant enough to receive dedicated instruction within U.S. History contexts. Indeed, released exams from the Advanced Placement U.S. History course over the past few years show questions that require student knowledge of the 1980s within the context of U.S. history. If the 1980s and 1990s continue to be increasingly taught as history instead of recent events in social studies courses, then teachers and students should develop content knowledge on the AIDS crisis and how the crisis and the broader epidemic changed American life during this time.

Historical Inquiry into the AIDS Crisis

Through using digitized primary source texts to investigate responses to the AIDS epidemic, students can examine different facets of public and private life in the United States. Below we organize a sampling of various digitized primary sources into four different thematic foci: (1) newspapers and magazines; (2) digital memories of public memorials; (3) public service announcements; and (4) opinions and editorials. These are only four of many different possible ways teachers can help students engage in inquiry to interpret the historical significance of the AIDS crisis.

Newspapers and magazines. First, students can analyze primary source material, including newspaper articles and magazine covers, to understand the widespread uncertainty and confusion surrounding HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s. The picture that emerges from primary source material is one of a wary nation trying to understand the science and epidemiology of HIV/AIDS and how it was transmitted to individuals. The first major news article to reference AIDS (although not directly by name) was printed in the New York Times on July 3rd 1981 (Blakemore, 2017). The article was titled: “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals” (Altman, 1981). A year later on July 18th in 1982, the New York Times published a story titled: “Clue Found on Homosexual’s Precancer Syndrome” (Altman, 1982). Teachers can elicit students’ historical thinking through methods of comparison between the framing used in these headlines from the early 1980s and what was later learned as new and better information was shared with the public. For example, HIV and AIDS are not a form of “cancer,” but in the absence of more accurate scientific knowledge in the early 1980s, this is how the viral infections we now know as HIV and AIDS was first described. Students can see how the immediate framing of this scientific discovery foregrounded LGBTQ communities by using the then-acceptable term “homosexuals” as a designated group, a term and framing no longer acceptably used by medical communities in the present. Similarly, students can analyze the visual imagery of a TIME Magazine cover from July 4th 1983 that presents cover stories such as: “Disease Detectives,” “Tracking the Killers,” and “The AIDS Hysteria” (Pierce, 1983). Reading an article from an Indiana newspaper, the Kokomo Tribune published on August 31, 1985 titled “School bars door to youth with AIDS” (MacNeil, 1985) helps students understand how Ryan White was officially banned from attending public school as a result of contracting HIV/AIDS through a blood transfusion.

Digital memories of public memorials. Using digital video source material, students can examine news broadcasts chronicling the first unveiling of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall on October 11, 1987 and listen to emotional interviews where survivors memorialize lost loved ones. Teachers can encourage students to critically analyze the video in order to investigate the importance of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and the significance of the Quilt being displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the first time. The NAMES Project Foundation’s website affords students the opportunity to view the entire AIDS Memorial Quilt. While on the website, students can “search the quilt” in order to view images of specific panels that memorialize individuals who died from HIV/AIDS. Each three-foot by three-foot panel in the quilt is different, and tells a distinctive story about a unique individual who died from HIV/AIDS.

Public service announcements. One thematic focus of students’ historical inquiry can examine how public perceptions of and responses to HIV/AIDS evolved throughout the 1980s. A New York Times article published on July 24, 1987 titled “Reagan Names 12 to Panel on AIDS” (Boffey, 1987), and the TIME magazine cover story for February 16th 1987 which reads “The Big Chill, How Heterosexuals are Coping with AIDS” (Brosan, 1987), illustrate a growing public realization that AIDS was becoming a legitimate health crisis that demanded attention. Students can compare and contrast these two sources with source material from the early 1980s to investigate why and the public perception of HIV/AIDS had changed and why it was increasingly impacting the country as a whole. Students can also analyze public service announcement (PSA) posters such as one created by Jack Keeler in 1987 that depicts a crayon drawing of a frowning child with outstretched arms, stating “I have AIDS please hug me, I can’t make you sick” (Keeler, 1987). Through examining the origins and purpose of the PSA, students can recognize how discrimination beginning in the 1980s (and continuing through the present) often robbed people living with HIV and AIDS of their dignity and humanity. The U.S. National Library of Medicine hosts a digital gallery online titled “Surviving & Thriving: AIDS, Politics, and Culture” that has digitized 42 PSAs surveying a wide array of health and social issues related to the epidemic.

Opinions and editorials. Finally, a fourth theme for historical inquiry can explicate how political and social beliefs contributed to a negative stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS during the 1980s, helping students establish historical causation on the rise of legal discrimination towards people living with HIV and AIDS. Political cartoons from influential newspaper cartoonist Daniel Sotomayor (who died from AIDS-related complications in 1992) illustrate the growing frustration to the U.S. federal government’s slow response in addressing the AIDS epidemic (Sotomayor, 1989). In the cartoon, a turtle labeled “Too little Too Late” (symbolizing the U.S. government’s inadequate response to the AIDS epidemic) is slowly climbing a mountain of caskets. Teachers can have students examine the cartoon in order to determine the authors perspective, the overall message of the cartoon and any elements of symbolism. In order to understand how the HIV/AIDS epidemic became a controversial social and political issue, students can read The Moral Majority Report from July, 1983 which cover story is titled: “Homosexual Diseases Threaten American Families.” Furthermore, students can watch Rev. Jerry Falwell (leader of the Moral Majority group) debate “The Morality of AIDS” with reverend Troy Perry (a leader in the fight against AIDS) on a live television broadcast from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1983.  Through the tense exchanges in the debate, students can see that Rev. Falwell and those aligned with the “Moral Majority” generally lacked empathy for AIDS victims, considered AIDS to be gods judgment against the sin of “homosexual promiscuity” and believed that the cure for HIV/AIDS was traditional family values. Conversely, in the video Rev. Perry argues for an end to the politicization of HIV/AIDS in order to provide compassionate support the victims and stem the loss of life.

Conclusion: Lessons for a new health crisis.

When the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the United States in the spring of 2020, many wanted to make comparisons between the COVID-19 public health crisis and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. To be sure, there are some areas of comparison, especially in terms of shifting knowledge and public awareness to both outbreaks as well as missteps in governmental responses to both (in addition to the leading roles both Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx have played in both). And yet there are numerous distinctions that are important to point out, such as the fact that “financial collapse, massive unemployment, and daily White House briefings” did not take place during the AIDS crisis, nor did a race to find a vaccine take off in the first year of the disease’s discovery (Page, 2020, n.p.). One of the main history lessons students can take away from studying the history of the AIDS crisis is that tireless activism and civic protest, along with hundreds of thousands of deaths in the U.S., all took place before a light began to appear in the AIDS crisis. We hope this sample of primary source resources will enable social studies educators to consider with their students “the multiple and contested discourses around HIV/AIDS circulating in news coverage, public policy statements, health initiatives” and other sources of public life that can enrich learning about HIV/AIDS (Lesko, Brotman, Agwal, & Quackenbush, 2010, p. 826). This work is what Finkelstein (2018) terms “AIDS 2.0,” the work ahead of “a new generation of historians, archivists, artists, and activists, who were born in the midst of HIV/AIDS and are struggling to make sense of the worlds they both inherited and missed” (p. 1). We hope social studies educators will be a part of this work as well.


Altman, L. K. (1981, July 3). Rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals. The New York Times.

Altman, L. K. (1982, June 18). Clue found on homosexuals’ pre-cancer syndrome. The New York Times.

amfAR. (The Foundation for AIDS Research). (2020). HIV/AIDS: Snapshots of an epidemic.

Blakemore, E. (2017, July 3). This was the first major news article on HIV/AIDS. Smithsonian Magazine.

Boffey, P. M. (1987, July 24). Reagan names 12 to panel on AIDS. The New York Times.

Brosan, R. (1987, July 24). Cover image. TIME, 129(7).,9263,7601870216,00.html

Butler, P. (2004). Embracing AIDS: History, identity, and post-AIDS discourse. JAC, 24(1), 93-111.

Demme, J. (Director). (1993). Philadelphia [film]. TriStar Pictures.

Dunbar, H. (2019). We are lost and found. Sourcebooks.

Finkelstein, A. (2018). After silence: A history of AIDS through its images. University of California Press.

France, D. (Director). (2012). How to survive a plague [film]. IFC.

González, C. (Director). (1991). In the shadow of love: A teen AIDS story [made-for-television film]. ABC.

Herzfeld, J. (Director). (1989). The Ryan White story [made-for-television film]. ABC.

Keeler, J. (1987). I have AIDS, please hug me. [Still image]. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Digital Collections.

Lesko, N., Brotman, J. S., Agrwal, R., & Quackenbush, J. L. (2010). Feeling jumpy: Teaching about HIV/AIDS. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 23(7), 823-843.

MacNeil, C. M. (1985, August 31). School bars door to youth with AIDS. Kokomo Tribune.

Murphy, R. (Director). (2014). The normal heart [made-for-television film]. HBO.

Nazemian, A. (2019). Like a love story. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Publishers.

Page, A. (2020, May 12). I’m an AIDS survivor and COVID-19 is giving me flashbacks. HuffPost.

Pierce, B. (1983, July 4). Cover image. TIME, 122(1).,9263,7601830704,00.html

René, N. (Director). (1989). Longtime companion [film]. Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Shahani, N. (2016). How to survive the whitewashing of AIDS: Global pasts, transnational futures. QED, 3(1), 1-33.

Sotomayor, D. (1989). America responds to AIDS [Illustrated cartoon].

The Journal. (1983, July 6). Jerry Falwell and Troy Perry debate morality of AIDS. [Video].

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Surviving & thriving: AIDS, politics, and culture [Digital gallery].

Walker, L. (2017). Problematising the discourse of ‘post-AIDS.’ (2020). Journal of Medical Humanities, 41, 95-105.

YesterGayTV. (2013, June 24). First unveiling AIDS Quilt 1987. . YouTube.

Censorship and the First Amendment by Richard F. Flaim & Harry Furman


Censorship and the First Amendment: Should We Shield Citizens from Unpopular Ideas, or Is ‘Sunshine the Best Disinfectant’?

by Richard F. Flaim & Harry Furman

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in its entirety reads as follows:

            Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,

            or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of

            speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,

            and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Throughout our history, issues related to freedom of speech, or of the press, have been debated, and both judicial rulings and various laws of Congress have attempted to further refine the manner in which these freedoms can be exercised or restricted.  Generally, the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have interpreted the Constitution in a manner that protects all kinds of speech, including speech that is commonly considered hate speech. 

With the advent of the Internet and tech platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, a virtual explosion of information and opinion-based comments inundate us on a daily basis.  While much of what appears on the Internet is useful, allowing instantaneous access to information on virtually any topic of interest to us, it also is a source for a great deal of unfiltered, false and misleading information as well as downright hateful and potentially dangerous ideas.  Unless citizens consciously apply the skills of critical thinking to what they access, their subsequent beliefs and actions can be guided by such false, misleading or hateful information.  

Recently, the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter were among those who were asked to appear before a committee of Congress to explain and defend their platforms’ policies regarding what is allowed on their sites.  These platforms have recently taken increasingly aggressive steps against posts that present false or misleading claims about the voting process, especially as they relate to voting-by-mail, which became, and continues to be, a politically-charged issue in regard to the 2020 Presidential election.  Warning labels were actually posted by the platforms on some remarks that they considered inflammatory.  On December 9, 2020, YouTube announced it would start removing newly updated material that falsely claims the outcome of the Presidential election was influenced by widespread voter fraud or errors. (Ortutay)

The law that applies to this issue is Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1996, which is currently being attacked by both Republicans and Democrats, but for different reasons.  Republicans claim that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are using the law to stifle the views of conservatives.   Democrats claim the platforms must assume more responsibility for false information, hate speech and other potentially harmful content that appear on their sites.  Both President Trump and President-Elect Biden believe the law should be removed and replaced with updated legislation.  House Democrats have introduced a bill that will hold the platforms liable if they amplify or recommend “harmful radicalizing content that leads to violence.”  In their defense, the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter expressed their support for the current law, and reminded the Congressional Committee that the law provides First Amendment protection of free speech on the Internet. (Bond)  In a small step toward dealing with the concerns, the Judiciary Committee in Congress passed a bill this year to amend Section 230, which would allow federal and state claims against social media platforms that allow content that sexually exploits children.  However, as of this writing, the politicization of the issue has prevented any agreement on more substantial modifications of the law.

In recent years, controversies have occurred over decisions at a relative handful of college campuses to “disinvite,” or prohibit, certain speakers from appearing because of serious disagreement with their ideas, which were deemed offensive or dangerous.  In some cases, such decisions followed demonstrations in support of and/or in opposition to the appearance of certain speakers.  Some have viewed this with deep concern about restricting freedom of expression at our centers of learning that historically have been open to all ideas.   Others fear that some ideas pose a danger to society and should be restricted.  Interestingly, “…according to a Knight Foundation survey, 78 percent of college students reported they favor an open learning environment that includes offensive views….the U.S. adult population as a whole lags well behind, with only 66 percent of adults favoring uninhibited discourse.”  (Bollinger) 

The debate regarding whether further limitations on the guaranteed right of free speech are necessary or wise will likely outlive us all.  Over the years, such debates have involved issues such as flag burning, athletes “taking a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem, and the denial of the Holocaust.  At what point does one’s right of free speech violate the common good?  Who decides what constitutes the common good?  What are the dangers of allowing hate speech or hateful comments on the Internet or on college campuses?  What are the dangers of suppressing such expressions?  What are the limitations of suppressing free speech in a democracy?  The debate is a healthy one for our democracy, as it represents an ongoing process that has enabled our country to continue to refine the meaning of the First Amendment and its importance to all of us. 

These are questions that play out in real life.  One such instance occurred in the Vineland (NJ) Pubic Schools in 1994, while this writer was assistant superintendent of schools.  A community group approached the Vineland Board of Education with a request to rent the auditorium at Vineland High School for the purpose of having a controversial speaker, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, deliver an address to the public.  Muhammad was a provocative Black Nationalist leader who espoused hateful ideas toward Jews and the white establishment, among others.  He was a prominent leader in the Nation of Islam, and later the New Black Panther Party.  In a speech at Kean University in New Jersey in 1993, Muhammad made inflammatory remarks toward Jews, the Pope, and even advocated the murder of South African whites.  This address led to his removal from the Nation of Islam, and a resolution passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress condemning his speech.  Muhammad died of a brain aneurysm in 2001 at age 53.

The issue in the Vineland case was complicated by the fact that the Board President at the time was Harry Furman, the son of Holocaust Survivors, a former history teacher at Vineland High School, and a practicing attorney in the community.  Furman had to make the recommendation to the Board regarding whether to honor the community group’s request.  Furman had to consider a range of issues:  (1) the implications of the First Amendment right to free speech; (2) the existing Board policy that allowed the rental of the VHS auditorium to community groups; (3) the potential negative reaction from those in the community who supported the appearance of Muhammad, and from those who were vehemently opposed to the potentially hate-filled speech to be delivered in our community; and (4) whether the appearance of Muhammad could lead to violent confrontations.  What was the Board President to do?

Years later, Furman and this writer collaborated on the writing of the book The Hitler Legacy: A Dilemma of Hate Speech and Hate Crime in a Post-Holocaust World (N.J. Commission on Holocaust Education, 2008, available free on the Commission’s website. See below for address.)  The book, written for high school students, challenges students to confront the various dilemmas involved in reconciling the Constitutional right of free speech with the potential implications of allowing speech that is hateful and potentially dangerous.  In addition to numerous articles that relate to different aspects of these issues, we wrote a number of “moral dilemma stories” that challenge students to deal with some very difficult issues regarding free speech, issues that pose a conflict of values.  One such moral dilemma story was based upon Furman’s decision as Board President back in 1994.  It is entitled Up Against the First Amendment: The School Board President’s Dilemma (Flaim and Furman).  This dilemma story is presented below.  While the dilemma story is fictionalized, it is loosely based upon the Vineland example.  Thus, the names of individuals and school are not real. 

Up Against the First Amendment: The School Board President’s Dilemma

by Harry Furman and Richard F. Flaim

Harry Sendin is the President of the Seneca School Board of Education.  A former teacher and now an attorney, Sendin is sensitive to the needs of a very diverse school system in which almost one-half of the students are African-American and Latino.  The community is also the home of approximately 200 families of Survivors of the Holocaust.  Indeed, Sendin himself is the son of Holocaust Survivors.   As a practicing lawyer, he is aware of the potential legal implications of Board of Education actions. 

The Board maintains a policy that members of the public may rent a school facility such as an auditorium for the purpose of promoting a public or community interest.  Sendin learns that a local organization has rented the high school auditorium and has invited Khalid Abdul Muhammad to be the featured speaker for an evening event.  A fiery orator, Muhammad is known for his alleged anti-Semitic and anti-white positions as to the state of current American society.

After the invitation becomes public knowledge, some members of the community strongly suggest that what they describe as demagogues like Muhammad have no right to speak in the public schools.  They argue that every legal step should be taken to block Muhammad from appearing at Seneca High School.

The Board’s solicitor advises Sendin that the Board President alone makes the decision as to whether the Board should take any action about Muhammad’s visit.  Sendin knows that regardless of what he decides to do, there will be people who will be critical of his action or inaction.  Sendin speaks with other members of the school board and many other persons in the community, but he realizes that he alone must make this decision.

Questions for Discussion (Revised 12-13-20)

  1. Why is Mr. Sendin’s decision a difficult one?  What values come into conflict for him?  What choices are available to him?  What are the probable consequences of each of these choices?
  2. Should Sendin’s ethnic or religious heritage influence his decision?
  3. Should Sendin make this decision based upon the law, community response, personal interest or any other criteria?
  4. What should be the reaction of Muhammad if he is barred from speaking?  Does Sendin have any sound reason for doing this?  Is there any legal basis upon which Muhammad can be stopped from speaking?
  5. If the speaking engagement is not stopped, should Sendin and members of the school board attend the speech?  Why or why not?
  6. How should the community respond to the presence of such a speaker in their community?  What options are available?
  7. To protect the public peace at such an event, should the community provide additional security?  Who should be responsible for the cost of such security?
  8. Explain whether or not your advice to Sendin would have been different if the intended speaker:
  • was a neo-Nazi leader
  • a national leader of a LGBTQ rights organization?
  • a “right-to-life” speaker?
  • a “pro-choice” advocate?
  • a member of a militia group?
  • a proponent of Black Lives Matter?
  • a sympathizer with the Taliban?
  • an advocate of QAnon?

9. Do you believe there should be restrictions on the expression of potentially dangerous ideas, misinformation, or lies on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google?  Explain.  If so, who should decide?  Could such restrictions be reconciled with the guarantees of freedom of speech in the First Amendment? 

10. Several countries in Western Europe have passed laws prohibiting the display of the Nazi swastika and prohibiting the expression of ideas that claim the Holocaust did not occur.  How do you view such prohibitions?

11.Would there be any change in your point of view if the issue is free speech involving a teacher in a public school classroom making anti-Jewish or anti-White comments similar to those of Muhammad?  Is there a difference between speech in a classroom and speech in the “public square”? (For a recent federal case, in part about speech in the classroom, see Ali v. Woodbridge Township School District.)

12. To what extent does the desire to constrain speech under certain circumstances intersect with what has recently been labeled as “cancel culture”?  Explore what is meant by this phrase and whether it has implications for the future expression of speech.

13. In 2014, Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State, was invited to be the commencement speaker at Rutgers University.  In the face of student protest, Rice declined the invitation.  Conduct research into the nature of the objections to having Rice serve as commencement speaker and whether there is any merit to such objections.

14. Underlying the willingness to constrain speech in a democratic society, whether on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or in the “public square”, is an assumption that many people are vulnerable to being manipulated by speech, and that such manipulation could have dire consequences.  This is a very different point of view than that expressed by Justice Louis Brandeis when he asserted in 1913 that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”.  Discuss.

15. Research:  What restrictions on the freedom of speech have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, or enacted into law?  What rationales underlie such restrictions?  Explore several recent issues related to the guarantee of freedom of speech and discuss how they are being resolved. 


Furman’s Actual Decision, and Concluding Comments

As stated above, this dilemma story is loosely based upon the appearance of Khalid Abdul Muhammad at Vineland (NJ) High School in 1994, and co-author Harry Furman’s own involvement in the dilemma.   Furman’s decision was to allow Muhammad to speak, and he and several other members of the Board of Education attended the event.  While Muhammad’s speech was typical of his hate-filled blasts, there were no incidents before, during or after his appearance.  Furman based his decision on numerous factors:  (1) the Constitutional guarantee of free speech; (2) the Board policy that provided for the rental of school facilities by community groups which, if an exception were made for this particular community group, would have been deemed discriminatory; (3) his personal belief that in a democratic society, even unpopular ideas should be open for discussion.

In discussing issues related to free speech, Furman has often quoted the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who, in defense of the protection of even hateful speech, proclaimed “…sunshine is the best disinfectant.”  Brandeis believed that if we prohibit the expression of hateful speech, such views would simply go “underground” and fester out of public view, making it more difficult for citizens to become aware of them and work to challenge such views.  The guarantee of free speech, even that which is unpopular or hateful, makes it incumbent upon all citizens to be critical consumers of the explosion of information and misinformation that bombards us daily.  In the months and years ahead, citizens’ application of the skills of critical thinking may very well help determine the degree to which our democracy will either thrive, or decline.


Bollinger, Lee C.  “Free Speech on Campus Is Doing Just Fine, Thank You.”  The Atlantic. June 12, 2019.

Bond, Shannon. “Day Before Election, Tech CEOs Defend Themselves from GOP Accusations of Censorship.”  NPR. October 18, 2020.  

Flaim, Richard F. and Harry Furman, Co-Eds.  The Hitler Legacy: A Dilemma of Hate Speech and Hate Crime in a Post-Holocaust World.  N.J. Commission on Holocaust Education, Trenton, NJ. 2008.  (Available free viewing:

Ortutay, Barbara.  “Weeks after election, YouTube cracks down on misinformation.” Associated Press. December 9, 2020. removal-74ca3738e2774c9a4cf8fbd1e9771of

About the Authors

Richard F. Flaim is a Past-President of NJ Council for the Social Studies; former Executive Director of the N.J. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development; and retired teacher of history, Social Studies Supervisor, and  Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in the Vineland (NJ) Public Schools.  He is co-editor of The Hitler Legacy: A Dilemma of Hate Speech and Hate Crime in a Post-Holocaust World; and The Holocaust and Genocide: A Search for Conscience.  He served as Chairman of the Curriculum and Education Committee of the N.J. Commission on Holocaust Education.

Harry Furman is a practicing attorney in Vineland, NJ; former teacher of history in the Vineland Public Schools; Part Time Lecturer (PTL) at Rutgers University; Editor-in-Chief of The Holocaust and Genocide: A Search for Conscience; and co-editor of The Hitler Legacy: A Dilemma of Hate Speech and Hate Crime in a Post-Holocaust World.  He serves as Chairman of the South Jersey Holocaust Coalition, and has spoken on topics related to the Holocaust and genocide and related issues of conscience throughout the United States and in Israel. He is a past member of the N.J. Commission on Holocaust Education.

December 2020

The Case for Interdisciplinary Education: A Student’s Perspective

by Edward Kim


The word, “Interdisciplinary” has been circulating in education for years. Over time, “interdisciplinary collaborations” and “interdisciplinary learning spaces” have become more prevalent in schools and institutions across the country. Just this year, I have proposed a new interdisciplinary class called “Science and Society” to my district Curriculum Committee and got it approved for implementation. However, the significant increase in interdisciplinary learning over the years is hardly a surprise given its vast appeal.

To begin with, the very prospect of learning through a marriage of multiple disciplines is an inherently progressive standard. It is a clear break from the status quo of traditional disciplinary barriers that have been established in education systems for decades. As a result, interdisciplinarity is an innovative and exciting topic for many teachers, supervisors, and students. More recently, it has begun to move into frontline conversations about 21st century education reform and a fundamental structuring of pedagogy itself.

As a student interested in education policy, I too share the enthusiasm of others who are excited to see the rise of a new learning model that aims to boldly change the educational landscape. At the same time, the hype and novelty surrounding such a learning paradigm can often overshadow the reality behind what interdisciplinary education truly is and why it has become essential for schools across the nation. I would like to take this opportunity to share why interdisciplinary education is much deeper and more profound than it appears to be, and why it has become a fundamental necessity for the education system in America.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Currently, the world is seeing tremendous advancements in science and technology that will certainly permeate every aspect of society. With giant leaps being made in robotics, artificial intelligence, 5G connectivity, gene editing, virtual reality, robotics, and sustainable technology to name a few, the world is building upon the previous digital revolution (the “3rd” Industrial Revolution) in ways never seen before. Ever since the World Economic Forum introduced the realization of this new “Fourth Industrial Revolution” in 2015, people have started to grasp just how drastic these technological changes are going to be.1

The Job Market

An obvious result of these enormous changes in technology is a corresponding shift in the job market. The predicted impact of automation and artificial intelligence on jobs is staggering: a McKinsey study claims that 400 million workers across the world will be displaced by automation within the next 10 years2, while an Oxford University study reveals that around 47% of American jobs are at high risk of being taken over by computerization.3 While there is much debate on the extent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s impact on net job growth, it is indisputable that employees in the next few years will work in an environment increasingly dominated by automation. At this point, it is important to take a step back and consider what this all really means for workers and what kinds of skills they will need to bring to the workplace. Simply put, what are the things people can do that automation cannot already do better and more efficiently? Our ability to collect and analyze data, memorize, calculate, and perform repetitive physical tasks are not on that list and will be at high risk of being supplanted by automation. The reality is that certain job skills will not maintain the same value at a time of such rapid change in the world. Not being able to identify what skills may be placed at higher value as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR) could be disastrous for people and the economy.

This is where interdisciplinary education will make a difference. In the coming years, one of the most coveted and important job skills will be the ability to think about and approach problems by drawing from multiple disciplines. More specifically, this will come in the form of being able to understand modern technologies and scientific developments within societal, historical, economic, and moral contexts – perspectives that artificial intelligence would not be fully trusted with in the near future. People who have developed the capacity and willingness to approach the complex issues of today from an interdisciplinary standpoint will not only be assets to the workforce by being able to provide nuanced solutions covering both objective and subjective perspectives, but will also be most conscientious about how to deal with the FIR technologies that are dramatically impacting the job market.

Public Policy and Scientific Progress

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring about significant dilemmas for government at the federal and local levels. While technological progress is amazing and currently improving the quality of life for millions, it has limited value until society determines how it will advance civilization and be regulated. The current controversy surrounding the role of giant tech companies (Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Google) in politics as well as partisan strife on issues such as abortion, artificial intelligence, climate change, cyber security, and healthcare are just the beginning. Novel technologies brought on by the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be radically more pervasive in the lives of people and much more multifaceted than the issues of today.

One prominent example is the bioethical issue of embryonic gene editing (the technology for which already has been used) which will have a tremendous impact on people’s relationship with biomedical technology. If granted the decision to choose on an individual basis whether gene editing is a viable option for their own children, people could potentially be given the ability to dictate the evolution of the human species by selecting certain characteristics. From what kind of moral or even policy-based foundation can society learn to adequately deal with such decisions? People in this nation are already extremely polarized and struggling to make significant strides in reconciliating opposing viewpoints over the single controversy of abortion, which is just the tip of the iceberg of dilemmas brought by increasing biotechnological capabilities. This is ignoring the host of moral, political, economic, and social quandaries that will result from the rise of artificial intelligence, human-machine interfaces, augmented reality, and much more. As of now, the world is woefully unprepared to deal with the inevitable technological dilemmas that will arise in the future. Future generations need to be able to relate perspectives from economics, ethics, behavioral psychology, and sociology to the current rise of advanced FIR technologies.

Outside FIR, the necessity for interdisciplinary thinking relating to modern issues is already being put into the spotlight due to the complex nature of the current pandemic. The immediate COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the need to approach a topic as complicated as a pandemic from scientific, economic, and social standpoints.

When the world’s current events are so obviously multifaceted and require not just dialogue among experts from different fields but also people able to integrate different disciplines, it is the responsibility of the education system to take notice and adapt appropriately. Education is the only wide-encompassing entity that can systematically influence young people, and is the key to empowering a new generation of people who will be prepared for such dramatic changes in the world.

Historical Precedent

Examining the drastic advancements in technology throughout time and their effects on society is extremely relevant in regards to the current Fourth Industrial Revolution and the importance of interdisciplinarity. The transformation of society in Europe and the United States from an agrarian to an industrial civilization (~1740-1860) undeniably had many positive effects such as the overall increase in quality of life and wealth for the average person. On the other hand, the failure to consider mechanization and industrialization from a holistic view of multiple perspectives presented unprecedented consequences such as soaring income inequality, vast overcrowding of cities, and loss of individuality and sense of agency for many workers. Perhaps the most disastrous overlooked consequence of industrialization was its devastating effect on the environment, as the government made practically no effort to mitigate the pollution produced by factories. Below is a report from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change showing the dramatic increase in greenhouse gas levels as a direct result of industrialization. The inability for society to prepare for the interdisciplinary nature of technological changes has had ramifications lasting to this day.

The necessity for taking a nuanced approach to the world’s problems did not begin with the Fourth Industrial Revolution and has always been prevalent throughout history.

The Essence of Interdisciplinary Learning

Many educators are familiar with interdisciplinarity as a newer approach to education. However, the idea of combining multiple disciplines dates back to pedagogy used in ancient Greece with the Trivium and Quadrivium, which represent early philosophical approaches to a “unified” form of liberal arts education. Although originating in ancient Greece, the Trivium and Quadrivium primarily came into use in the early Middle Ages, and are often associated with that era historically. While there has been much evidence over time indicating the benefits of interdisciplinarity,4, 5, 6, 7 what about this learning model in particular makes it go beyond simply recognizing the connections between concepts learned in two different classes? The word “Interdisciplinary” literally means “between or among disciplines.” But what does “between or among disciplines” really mean? Perhaps the true essence of learning between disciplines is much deeper and more profound than it immediately seems.


Every academic discipline, whether it be social studies, math, science, or language arts, has a certain knowledge base to go along with it. A foundation of facts and fundamental skills are necessary to advance a student’s learning in any subject. It would not make sense to do calculus without having a solid grounding in algebra, or to analyze historic events without first learning at least the basic factual details of those events. However, too often the disciplines are viewed as really just a set of facts, formulas, and “knowledge bases.” Interdisciplinarity takes the disciplines and elevates the meaning behind them to the point that such restricted viewpoints no longer become sustainable.

By its very nature, an interdisciplinary approach requires an understanding of the disciplines far above the informational level. Actually “combining” multiple disciplines in a profound and meaningful way is simply not feasible without first viewing them as different “mindsets” and not just “knowledge bases.” Through this approach, it is possible to put the social studies, natural sciences, and humanities into larger and more applied contexts that exist across and beyond the spheres of those respective fields. When multiple disciplines are not only juxtaposed but truly integrated, the differences and similarities of what they each offer and aim to accomplish through different ways of approaching issues become illuminated. One of the most prevalent issues in society is unnecessary conflict between people with differing perspectives who are unwilling to compromise or take each other’s viewpoints seriously. Interdisciplinarity eliminates the notion that one perspective is superior and fosters a healthy dialogue that seeks to value and combine multiple disciplines and ways of thinking. Thus, Interdisciplinary thinking is not simply defined by the ability to make obvious, surface-level connections across different fields.

Innovative Thinking

A unique quality to interdisciplinary learning is that in many ways it opposes thinking by analogy. Thinking by analogy builds off of what has already been long-established, which is often the case when studying or conducting research in a single discipline. Granted, there are obvious benefits to specialization in one subject area that can have tremendous applications in society and academia. Advancing knowledge in an area over time is intrinsically valuable, and interdisciplinarity does not aim to overhaul or “dethrone” the existing educational paradigm but rather gain more presence and importance in the learning process.

However, exclusively thinking by analogy is what prevents innovation and progress. Being stuck in the past when the world is being upturned by the Fourth Industrial Revolution is dangerous, and a learning model that can create new perspectives and ways of approaching nuanced issues of today is needed now more than ever. By exploring a scientific issue through a social studies lens or vice versa, students are pushed to think critically about what connections can be made that have never been identified before.

Interdisciplinary Learning in the Classroom

While the theory behind interdisciplinarity may sound attractive, actually implementing it in the classroom is a different story entirely. The key point is that there is no one way to effectively do this. Education policy itself is highly localized, and each district has its unique way of implementing and maintaining the standards outlined by the state. This is not too surprising considering the fact that different students make up the population in different areas. These are the personal thoughts of a student which were enhanced by various conversations over the past years with education professionals.

Distinct Class

A direct pathway to increase interdisciplinary education would be the implementation of a separate class (or classes) specifically designed to foster this thinking in students. In my own district, the Curriculum Committee approved a “Science and Society” elective class built on specific topics that were identified to be effective in helping students think from both a scientific and societal perspective: the origin of scientific thought, Darwinian evolution and society, and the scientific revolution and enlightenment. However, the resources that were used to develop the components and structure of this class were very specific to the school and district where it was being implemented.

A plausible approach to implement “interdisciplinary” classes in a more general sense is the idea of thematic classes. These would not be attached or affiliated with any one department in particular, but rather a shared responsibility between or among multiple departments. If this is the case, faculty who develop the curriculum and coordinate the logistics might have more leeway to cooperate in a joint-effort. Perhaps even a classroom with a two-teacher dynamic, each from a different discipline, might be fitting for a class of this type. This goes back to the idea of interdisciplinarity as a convergence of “mindsets,” not simply knowledge bases. The specific experiences and perspective that a social studies teacher brings to a classroom environment is significantly different from that of a science teacher, and even a simple dialogue or sharing of ideas between professionals from different disciplines in a classroom can be very powerful.

Furthermore, the NJ Student Learning Standards that were recently revised contain specific curricular areas that are great candidates for thematically oriented classes. These include a section in the social studies standards called “Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, Reformation, and Enlightenment,” the unit on biological evolution in the science standards, and a unit called “Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World” also from the science standards. These are areas that are not only explicitly part of the learning curriculum as mandated by the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, but also areas that can be targets of thematically organized classes that can very easily bring in multiple disciplinary perspectives.

Depth Over Breadth

An alternative approach to creating a distinct interdisciplinary class is something that might be more broadly implemented in traditional social studies and science classes. This is not necessarily about changing the curriculum content itself, but how this content is conveyed to students. By creating a larger emphasis on how curricular content relates to real contemporary issues and society at large, students will have a more efficient and holistic learning experience.

This broadly based approach addresses an aspect of education that needs improvement, which is how students personally view their learning. On too many occasions students are bombarded with the rapid pace and workload of classes, which leaves them with insufficient room to seriously consider the importance and realistic implications of what they are learning. Too often, the curriculum taught in the class is left in the classroom only and interpreted by students as merely a series of strategies and memory points to be utilized in assessments. Classrooms brimming with potential to explore concepts in a deep and substantive manner are sometimes forced to prioritize breadth over depth, out of fear that the required units might not all get covered. How will this prepare the next generations for the rapidly changing world and the slew of complex interdisciplinary issues that will force us to think outside of traditional education models? Students need an educational model that is inherently interdisciplinary and thematically based in multiple subject areas.

While having a knowledge base of facts and concepts is necessary in a social studies class, it is important for students to understand how this knowledge fits into a larger context that includes disciplines other than the social studies. This educational approach is not only a more accurate reflection of the real world that is not arbitrarily divided into separate disciplines, but also a far more efficient and engaging way of teaching. It goes back to the idea of interdisciplinarity as “mindsets.” Considering one discipline in the context of another is impossible unless the student is willing to go beyond the superficial and internalize what kind of thought process or approach a certain discipline brings to a nuanced dialogue. As such, an increased focus on the holistic applications of a discipline will naturally enhance students’ understanding of that discipline itself.


Interdisciplinary learning is no longer a privilege for schools but a necessity. Change in the education system is time-sensitive and needs to start happening now. In many ways, this change is already becoming evident. Only recently the initiative to implement curricula for climate change was added to the NJ Student Learning Standards, and there has been a clear move in the right direction from the NJ Department of Education to increase the prevalence of interdisciplinary learning. Little by little, cumulative changes will hopefully provide the next generations with increasingly innovative and advanced ways of thinking and learning about the world around them.


I would like to thank Mr. Hank Bitten at NJCSS for his tremendous support throughout this. I also want to thank Mr. Gold, Ms. d’Adolf, Dr. Mamman, and the wonderful educators and professionals back at Tenafly High School for being such a positive influence in my life.


1 – Written by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What It Means and How to Respond.” World Economic Forum,

2 – Manyika, James, et al. “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: What the Future of Work Will Mean for Jobs, Skills, and Wages.” McKinsey & Company, McKinsey & Company, 11 May 2019,

3 – Frey, Carl Benedikt, and Michael A. Osborne. “The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?.” Technological forecasting and social change 114 (2017): 254-280

4 – Hall, Pippa, and Lynda Weaver. “Interdisciplinary education and teamwork: a long and winding road.” Medical education 35.9 (2001): 867-875

5 – Strauss, Ronald P., et al. “Cognitive and attitudinal impacts of a university AIDS course: interdisciplinary education as a public health intervention.” American Journal of Public Health 82.4 (1992): 569-572

6 – Jones, Casey. “Interdisciplinary approach-advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies.” Essai 7.1 (2010): 26.

7 – Coops, Nicholas C., et al. “How an entry-level, interdisciplinary sustainability course revealed the benefits and challenges of a university-wide initiative for sustainability education.” International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education (2015).

Diagram 1:

Diagram 2: strialrevolution.html

Diagram 3: g-in-general-education-through-maps

Assessment in the Remote Teaching Arena

As I am writing this, we are scheduled to return to school in a hybrid approach for 2020-2021. Significantly, it appears that at least 20% of families will be opting for an all-remote experience to begin the school year. Additionally, it certainly seems at least possible that Governor Murphy could either require a remote start to the year, or we could be forced to use the all-remote plan after a few weeks if the rate of infection increases with back-to-school. 

by Timothy B. Monahan

Teacher and Technology & Innovation Specialist at Ridgewood High School (NJ)

On a personal level, I accept that I have very little control or influence on the numerous reopening issues at hand. With this in mind, I have been focusing most of my attention on remote teaching for 2020-2021. More specifically, one question has driven me: “How can I implement a package of meaningful, reasonable assessments that resemble what I would normally give in-person under observation to deter violations of academic integrity?” 

The Challenges of Remote Learning

Frankly, I have enough trouble enforcing academic integrity when I am present in the classroom, so remote assessment presents quite a challenge for me. Formative assessment and remote learning go hand in hand, as I am sure many educators found last spring. Summative assessment can be much trickier, especially if your course is not tied to essay responses or is tied to a rigorous AP exam. Unfortunately, in my case, I teach a course where students are expected to succeed on two extremely rigorous AP Exams in May. Therefore, abandoning the traditional (summative) modes of assessment that motivate and validate student learning is not an option if I intend to achieve my district’s mandate for high student achievement. 

Since last March, I have been planning ways to preserve rigorous, traditional summative assessment in a remote learning environment. Naturally, academic integrity is a monumental hurdle. As it stands, it appears that we will need to solve this question for at least the approximately 20% of students opting for all-remote learning. Obviously, there remains a distinct possibility that we could need a plan for all our students if and when we go to the all-remote schedule. 

I am not only a teacher; I am also a member of my district’s Technology & Innovation Specialist team (formerly called Tech Coaches). Naturally, we spent hundreds of crisis hours in 2020 cataloging and pushing platforms & strategies for remote learning to our colleagues. I focused on screening everything out there for the most valuable strategies for high school classes. Fortunately, our team has been doing this type of in-house professional development work for many years prior to 2020, a major credit to the Ridgewood Public Schools! 

Formative vs. Summative: Rethinking Assessment in the Remote Arena

We don’t advocate our teachers to merely lecture in a Zoom or Google Meet. Our district philosophy is based on a standards based approach, with formative and summative assessment being implemented to both engage students and check for learning at various intervals. While our approach in the 2020 crisis provided a teacher option to teach synchronous (live) or asynchronous (flipped lessons due at 8pm each night), heading into the 2020-2021 we have adopted a much more synchronous approach. This coming year, we will lean heavily on formative assessment during or after synchronous lessons. It seems likely that many teachers will start each remote period with the full-class meeting before breaking-out into smaller rooms on Google Meet or Zoom to accomplish an objective. The teacher can bounce group-to-group virtually, or even have groups record their break-outs to promote focus on the group objective. For example, in the course I teach, the group objective will vary between going over a problem assigned for homework previously, or solving a new problem in real time.

Other teachers will have their students discuss or debate a topic, or maybe even produce work digitally. The possibilities are confined to the virtual setting, but remain limitless! At the end of the period, the teacher can then bring the whole class back together to debrief and complete a formative assessment which is a “check for learning.” There are dozens of ways our teachers can push formative assessment, and our Technology and Innovation Specialist team will continue to work with teachers individually to build-out their remote courses.To accomplish this, our teachers will likely use an interactive platform, such as Pear Deck, for direct, synchronous instruction with formative assessment embedded. Our teachers also craft their own formative assessments in Google Forms and the Skyward SMS to supplement direct instruction. Furthermore, in our district we recently completed Summer Professional Development to craft Standards Based Assessment & Rubrics to lean on during remote instruction. As it pertains to rubrics, I strongly advocate teachers use the Google Classroom Rubric functionality.

Good news: we seem to have figured-out synchronous teaching and formative assessment during the unexpected 2020 Crisis. While it wasn’t easy, hopefully you agree that teachers have remote instruction and formative assessment under control. But what about summative assessment? Remember, those are the traditional unit tests that check for long-term learning. Those are invaluable in education, too, because they check to make sure students are retaining and building upon the skills they learn day-to-day. 

We’re not talking about the old-days of rote memorization here, because that went out of fashion with the advent of Google. No, summative assessment is where the student demonstrates the ability to analyze, critique, or solve complex problems by applying thinking skills to a relevant (“real world”) scenario. I used to tell parents on Back-to-School Night that summative assessment in my World History course would never be “How tall is the Great Pyramid of Giza?” but something closer to, “What does our knowledge of the methods required to construct pyramids in Egypt indicate about the structure of the government and economy of the Old Kingdom period of Ancient Egyptian civilization?” 

Keep in mind that concluding formative assessment means multiple choice while summative assessment means essay is a common mistake. While the second question could certainly work as a free-response question, both those questions about Ancient Egypt can be multiple choice stems. One way I differentiate between formative and summative assessment is to lean on my experience as a sports coach. Formative assessment is like evaluating how my players did on specific skills in the drills we execute during practice. Summative assessment is how well they put all the skills together during scrimmages or games. 

How to Preserve Traditional Formative Assessment in the Remote Arena

Normally, my course features 10 different unit exams that cover several clusters of content standards each. These are my traditional summative assessments. Based on professional collaboration with teachers of the same course at other schools, there is absolutely nothing revolutionary about what I do. However, with the 2020 Crisis, traditional summative assessment got immediately marginalized out of despair over security. Many teachers, including me, opted to replace traditional summative assessment with project-based assessment where academic integrity was not an issue. Also, this allowed the students a chance to socialize virtually during the darkest days of the quarantine. However, that was March 2020, a point where my students had already completed 9 of the 10 traditional summative assessments. I don’t have the luxury of abandoning traditional summative assessment for the entirety of 2020-2021, and there is no guarantee I’ll be able to pull-it-off in the physical classroom with so many opting for all-remote.

What I will be doing in my classroom is a variation of what my neighbor was subjected to as he finished a graduate program last spring. It goes something like this: 

Step 1: The teacher must first decide how to best digitize his/her traditional assessment for remote access. (e.g.: Google Doc, Google Form, Skyward, etc. etc.) 

Step 2: Where practical, teachers are encouraged to make several versions of each assessment by scrambling questions, slightly changing numbers/wording to reduce the temptation and ease for students to violate academic integrity. 

Step 3: On the day of the summative assessment, the teacher will assign students to individual break-out rooms (e.g. Google Meet). During testing, the teacher can choose to have every room open (but muted) as a tab in Chrome or to bounce room-to-room to check in. 

Step 4: Students will be instructed as to the teacher expectations in advance. For example, “all students must put their phones away.” Here are the expectations I plan to push to my students:

  • You must locate yourself in a quiet area/room of their house where you will not be interrupted during the assessment. 
  • All students must have their cameras & volume on (teacher will check for each), and must refrain from communicating with anyone else present in their home during the testing period.
  • All students must share their screen to ensure no unauthorized tabs are open and to provide a record of the session. (Note: in my district we have a GoGaurdian license and I’ll have this running, but it only works on district issued Chromebooks, and many use personal devices. So I’m doing this for the Mac Book users.)
  • Each students’ testing session will be recorded and archived by the teacher only (not the student). In the event of any issues, the recording will be scrutinized for irregularities.
  • All of the above are considered an extension of the school Academic Integrity Policy.

Step 5: Stress the expectation that academic integrity extends firmly into the remote arena. Do this early (on your syllabus and first day of class), seek administrative support to reinforce this value, and make sure to hold students accountable. The best deterrent for cheating is vigilance. I know that during in-person assessments, I often have a bad habit of grading work at my desk, despite my better judgement telling me I should spend the entire period vigilantly patrolling the classroom. In the remote arena, this is even more important. I am planning in advance to spend the entire period closely watching the test-takers, and doing nothing else.

I should also mention that some teachers might also want to incorporate the approach used by the College Board for the 2020 AP Exams. In that case, the students were allowed to access their notes, but strictly forbidden from communicating with each other during the exam period. Upon release of the exams, it became apparent that the College Board had re-designed the format of the exams to be very difficult to complete in the allotted time, presumably scoring the exams on a greater curve to compensate. This format not only assesses student mastery of the content by further emphasizing the time constraint, but it also discourages cheating because sorting out the answers to different versions of the exam would potentially take-up valuable time. Notably, teachers who have multiple sections of a course (e.g. I usually have 4-5 sections of one AP course) face the challenge of preventing inter-section breaches of exam security (screen shots, etc.) However, that issue transcends remote learning vs. in-person learning, and remains elusive. 

While the particular approach described here is what I am planning to adopt and use for this September, I am not suggesting everyone adopt this approach. In fact, not every teacher will need or want to implement this type of plan for the 2020-2021 school year. However, as I said earlier, something I am specifically trying to accomplish is overall preparedness for two extremely rigorous AP exams in May 2021. I have to believe this approach gives me the best chance to replicate the annual student achievement I have been able to obtain with in-person instruction. 

Do Not Spit at Random: Public Health Lesson for Elementary School

Prepared by Alan Singer

In the 1950s and 1960s the revolutionary communist-led government of China enlisted elementary school-age students to educate adults about the need for public health measures. The Chinese campaign against spitting in public was actually not new or communist inspired. In the late 19th century, as immigrants poured into
overcrowded urban areas, tuberculosis bacterium (TB) was responsible for a pandemic that caused the death of one in seven people in the United States
and Europe. It New York City, spitting on a public conveyance was made illegal in 1896 and spitters were subject to arrest and a fine of up to fifty dollars. Signs were placed in street cars and on the subway system warning that spitting spread TB.
When the signs proved to be an inadequate deterrence, health officers, known as the Sanitary Squad, conducted random raids at subway stations arresting hundreds of scofflaws. The city also launched public health campaigns distributing flyers
and schools were enlisted to educate children about the spread of the disease.

This play was performed on street corners in Hangzhou and Shanghai by Young Pioneers, children between the ages of nine and thirteen. In the 1950s and again during the Corona virus pandemic today, China uses poster art to teach
public health lessons. Classes can act out and discuss “Do Not Spit at Random” on Zoom. This version of the play is from a New York City multicultural curriculum package (1967).

Questions for discussion include:

  1. Who are the Young Pioneers?
  2. In your opinion, why are they involved in the public health campaign?
  3. What are some of the arguments and social pressures used to make the Passer-By clean up the spit?
  4. If you lived in China at that time, would you have joined the Young Pioneers? Explain.
  5. Do you think student plays like this one would help in the current Corona virus pandemic?
    As a follow-up, students can write their own plays teaching people how to be safe during the Corona virus pandemic and create public health posters.
    Do Not Spit at Random (188u-yao sui-ti t’u t’an) by Fang Tzu
    Setting: Street corner of Hangzhou, China, the early 1960s. A young girl Pioneer with a megaphone comes out from a crowd in the street or from among the audience in a theater.

 Young Pioneer (Hsiao-Ying)
 Passer-By (Ch’em Jung-fa)
 One of the Crowd
 Crowd
 People’s Police
 Mother

YOUNG PIONEER. Dear uncles and aunts, please do not spit at random. Spitting at random on the ground is a most deplorable habit. It helps to spread germs and disease, and so may affect our health harmfully. Dear uncles and aunts, if you want to spit, please do so into a cuspidor. If there is no cuspidor at hand, then spit into a handkerchief.

PASSER-BY (walks across a stage with a briefcase, makes noise as if going to spit).
Hmm …hawk…choo! (Spits phlegm on the ground.)

YOUNG PIONEER (seeing the passer-by spit, hurries away from the crow to overtake the man, or leaps onto stage from below). Uncle, uncle, don’t spit on the ground. Please rub it away with a piece of paper.

PASSER-BY. My young friend with the cuspidor so
far away, where do you think I should spit.

YOUNG PIONEER. You can go up to the cuspidor. It’s only a few steps away.

PASSER-BY. I’d have to go there and come back again. How do you think I am going to catch my bus?

YOUNG PIONEER. Uncle, don’t you know there are many germs in spittle? When it dries the germs will be scattered everywhere, and, by breathing the air, people may be infected with such diseases as typhoid, diphtheria, tuberculosis –

PASSER-BY. I am not a tubercular. So there cannot be any germs in the phlegm I coughed out.

YOUNG PIONEER. It is a social obligation to refrain from spitting at one random. If everyone spits and insist that there can be no germs in what he has spat, how can we be patriotic and keep ourselves in good health?

ONE OF THE CROWD (speaks from the crowd or from the audience, in a theater). Rub the spittle away quick! (A large crowd gathers around the passer-by)

PASSER-BY (irritated). Hmm. You want me to squat there and rub away the spittle? But I have no time for that. Besides, I’m not used to doing that sort of thing. (Prepared to go.)

YOUNG PIONEER. Uncle, uncle, don’t go. I haven’t finished with you yet.

PASSER-BY. I have to go home now to my dinner and have no time to carry on a conversation.

ONE OF THE CROWD. Hey, you come back here! There can’t be a more unreasonable man than you.

PASSER-BY. How so?

YOUNG PIONEER (offering a piece of paper). Uncle, please rub it away with this piece of paper.

PASSER-BY. I won’t do it!

YOUNG PIONEER. How can you refuse to carry out a social obligation?

PASSER-BY. Are you lecturing me?
(Here a number of actors come out of the crowd to speak, or speak from among the audience, or some may go up on the stage.)

CROWD. What? You are trying to assume airs? Don’t argue with him. Call the police. Police! Comrade police!

PASSER-BY. I won’t rub it. I promise not to spit again.

CROWD. Comrade, what is your unit?

PASSER-BY. That’s none of your business

CROWD. Why isn’t it my business? When you refuse to carry out a public obligation, everyone is entitled to criticize you.

PEOPLE’S POLICE (enters). What’s happened here?
(At this moment the crowd becomes larger.)

CROWD. He spat at random and refuses to accept criticism. He would not listen to the advice of a child. And he’s such a big man. He is no better than this child. And he is a Party member too! Probably a backward one.

PEOPLE’S POLICE. All right, it’s clear to me now. (Addressing the crowd.) Comrades! What do you think we should do with such a man?

CROWD. He should be criticized and fined. He should be made the subject of a wall newspaper. A cartoon should be drawn of him for all to see. He should be taken to the police station.

PEOPLE’S POLICE. Oh, well, if you will not rub it away, I’ll do it for you. But, first of all, may I know what unit you belong to?

PASSER-BY. As for that – (The voice of a middle-aged woman is heard offstage calling someone.)

MOTHER. Hsiao-ying, Hsiao-ying!


MOTHER. There you are. We’ve been waiting for you a long time. The meal is cold. Won’t you hurry home to your meal?

YOUNG PIONEER. I haven’t finished my work yet.

MOTHER. Work? What sort of work?

YOUNG PIONEER. Someone has spat on the ground and refuses to accept criticism. Unless he cleans it off, I am not going to let him go.

MOTHER (recognizes the passer-by). Oh, is that you, Comrade Ch’en?

PASSER-BY. Er – es, it’s me, Teacher Wang.

MOTHER. Hsiao-ying, who is it that refuses to accept criticism?

YOUNG PIONEER. Mama, there he is.

PEOPLE’S POLICE (addressing mother). Comrade, do you know which unit this comrade belongs to?

MOTHER. He is the accountant of the cotton mill. He is Comrade Ch’en Jung-fa.

PEOPLE’S POLICE. Good, thank you. (Addressing the passer-by.) I think there’s only one way now.
(Draws a circle round the spittle on the ground with a piece of chalk and is about to write down the name of the passer-by and the unit to which he belongs.)

PASSER-BY (frightened). Comrade, don’t! Don’t write down the name of my unit! (Addressing the crowd.) Comrades and my young friend, please pardon me this once. You may write my name there, but please do not write the name of our mill too. Our mill has already signed a patriotic health pact.

PEOPLE’S POLICE. Yet you break the pact?

PASSER-BY. All right, I’ll clean it, I’ll clean it. I promise not to do the same thing again.

PEOPLE’S POLICE (to mother). Comrade, your child is really a good Young Pioneer, a young heroine for the elimination of the seven pests (mosquitoes, flies, rats, sparrows, and so forth) and for public health. If everyone eliminates the seven pests in earnest and maintains public hygiene as she does, our cities and the countryside will be rid of the seven pests sooner, disease will largely be wiped out, people will be healthier than ever, and the nation will be more prosperous and stronger.

MOTHER. Hsiao-ying, hurry home to your meal.
It’s already cold.

YOUNG PIONEER. Mama, my group leader isn’t here yet. I’ll go home when he come to relieve me.

MOTHER. Oh, well, I’ll have to warm the meal again anyway.

YOUNG PIONEER (speaking through megaphone and coming toward crowd in the street or toward audience in theater). Dear uncles and aunts, please do not spit at random. Sitting at random is a most deplorable habit.

Integrating Climate History into the Global History Curriculum

Kristen Bradle, Jessica Hermann and Dean Bacigalupo

Rationale: This package was created as a resource to assist educators who are teaching the 9th grade New Jersey World History or 9th and 10th grade New York State Global History and Geography curriculum. The resources and guiding questions are
aligned with the New Jersey and New York Learning Standards and the academic skills required on the New York State Global History and Geography Regents examination. The resources highlight the impact of climate change on human
societies as an enduring issue that reemerged at different points in history. These resources contain strong transdisciplinary connections between Social Studies, Science, and STEM/STEAM.

The impact of climate change on human societies is one of the most pressing topics affecting the world today. Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is demanding government and corporate action to prevent a climate catastrophe. Goals in designing these materials were to interest students in the past and to engage them as active citizens in the present empowered with historical knowledge.

The question of how to respond to climate change has been contentious as some political leaders in the United States and other countries have challenged the science that explains the threat of climate change to human civilization. Some have dismissed proposals to restrict the emission of greenhouse gases claiming it would injure economies and because “We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem.” In reference to the Corona virus, Donald Trump tweeted in all caps, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” Students will have to respond to this assertion as educated citizens, future parents, and community leaders.

Enduring Issues: The activities in this packet engage students in exploring a number of Enduring Issues in human history.

Human Impact on the Environment: Includes environmental degradation, deforestation, desertification, global warming, destruction of ozone layer, pollution, extinction of species/loss of species, loss of biodiversity, diversion of rivers/water sources, use of alternative energy sources, impact of policies on sustainability, and
spread of disease.

Impact of Environment on Humans: Includes impact of climate, impact of natural disasters, and impact of policies designed to deal with natural disasters.

Impact of Technology: Includes consequences of technology use for people and consequences of technology use for the environment.
Impact of Industrialization: Includes consequences of industrialization.

Impact of Globalization: Includes consequences of interdependence.

Social Studies Frameworks: The following New York State Frameworks are addressed in this series of climate activity sheets:

civilizations in Eurasia and Mesoamerica employed a variety of methods to expand and maintain control over vast territories. They developed lasting cultural
achievements. Both internal and external forces led to the eventual decline of these empires. Geographic factors encouraged and hindered a state’s/empire’s expansion and interactions. Students will investigate how geographic factors encouraged or hindered expansion and interactions within the Greek, Roman, and Mayan civilizations.

SOCIAL AND CULTURAL GROWTH AND CONFLICT: During the postclassical era, the
growth of transregional empires and the use of trade networks influenced religions and spread disease. These cross-cultural interactions also led to conflict and affected demographic development. Networks of exchange facilitated the spread of disease, which affected social, cultural, economic, and demographic development. Students will map the spread of the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) as it was carried westward from Asia to Africa and Europe. Students will evaluate the effects of the
Black Death on these regions

CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: Innovations in agriculture, production, and transportation led to the Industrial Revolution, which originated in Western Europe and spread over time to Japan and other regions.
This led to major population shifts and transformed economic and social systems.

Technological changes have resulted in a more interconnected world, affecting economic and political relations and in some cases leading to conflict and in others to efforts to cooperate. Globalization and population pressures have led to strains on the environment. Technological changes in communication and transportation systems allow for instantaneous interconnections and new networks of exchange between people and places that have lessened the effects of time and distance. Students will investigate the causes and effects of, and responses to, one infectious disease (e.g., malaria, HIV/AIDS). Population pressures, industrialization, and urbanization have increased demands for limited natural resources and food
resources, often straining the environment. Students will examine strains on the environment, such as threats to wildlife and degradation of the physical environment (i.e., desertification, deforestation and pollution) due to population growth, industrialization, and urbanization.

Science and STEM/STEAM Transdisciplinary Connections: The NYS P-12 Science Learning Standards with STEM/STEAM practices and crosscutting concepts guidance document that was referenced to inform connections with middle and high social studies can be found at:

 Transdisciplinary connections for middle school include 3 inquiries: Earth’s Systems, Weather and Climate, and Human Impacts can be found on pages 48-50.
 Transdisciplinary connections for high school include the inquiry focused on
Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems and can be found on pages 67-68.

Sample Lesson Introduction
Below is a visual Do Now activity that displays the impact and affect climate change has had on the world. This provides students with the evidence and visual understanding that the climate change has resulted drastic changes to our ecosystems. The website below, created by NASA, displays a series of before and after pictures of different climate change “hot spots” around the world. Within these pictures, visible changes, such as rising levels of water can be seen.

DO NOW: You will examine a series of images on the board, while viewing these images fill out the chart below.

Topic: Old Kingdom Egypt
AIM: What environmental change caused the downfall of Old Kingdom Egypt? These documents explore the effect of desertification in the past.

Map of Old Kingdom, Egypt
Statue of Pharaoh Menkaure (center)
Pyramid of Djoser
Temple of Djoser

Document 1: Desertification of Egypt
“Tomb paintings and inscriptions hint that the environment became more arid toward the end of the Old Kingdom, as some plants disappeared and sand dunes crept close to river settlements. Data drawn from cores in the Nile basin confirm that the climate began to dry around 2200 B.C.”
Source: Did Egypt’s Old Kingdom Die—or Simply Fade Away?

Document 2: “During the last 10,000 years or so, desertification, punctuated by temporary reversals, has driven people out of what was once a well-watered savannah covering vast areas of the present Sahara into smaller areas fed by rivers and near surface groundwaters.”
Source:(PDF) The Desertification of the Egyptian Sahara during the Holocene (the Last 10,000 years) and Its Influence on the Rise of Egyptian Civilization

Document 3: Desertification of the Sahara
“7,300 to 5,500 years ago: Retreating monsoonal rains initiated desiccation in the Egyptian Sahara, prompting humans to move to remaining habitable
niches in Sudanese Sahara. The end of the rains and return of desert conditions throughout the Sahara after 5,500 coincides with population return to the Nile Valley and the beginning of pharaonic society . . . The climate change at [10,500 years
ago] which turned most of the [3.8 million square mile] large Sahara into a savannah-type environment happened within a few hundred years
only, certainly within less than 500 years,” said study team member Stefan Kroepelin of the University of Cologne in Germany.”

Document 4: Effects of Drought and Desertification on the Egyptian Empire
“When a drought brought famine to the land, there was no longer any meaningful central government to respond to it. The Old Kingdom ended with the 6th Dynasty as no strong ruler came to the throne to lead the people. Local officials took care of their own communities and had no resources, nor felt the responsibility, to help the rest of the country. As the 6th Dynasty passed away, Egypt slowly tumbled into the era now classified by scholars as the First Intermediate Period . . . At the end of the 6th Dynasty, there was no longer a central government of note and Egypt entered a period of social unrest and reformation known as The Frist Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BCE) during which Egypt was ruled regionally by local magistrates who made and enforced their own laws. The rise of these local officials and the power of the priesthood were not the only causes of the collapse of the Old Kingdom, however, in that a severe drought toward the end of the 6th Dynasty brought famine which the government could do nothing to alleviate. Scholars have also pointed to the exceptionally long reign of Pepi II of the 6th Dynasty as a contributing factor
because he outlived his successors and left no heir to the throne.” Source:

Questions: The civilizations you examined today made advances in their societies.

  1. How have environmental factors impacted the societies you examined today?
  2. How did the advances civilizations made contribute to environmental consequences?
  3. How have these advances caused a long-lasting impact that is negatively affecting societies today?
  4. Identify a similarity or a difference between the events, ideas, or historical developments presented in documents 1 and 2.
  5. Explain a similarity or a difference in the events, ideas, or historical developments
    presented in these documents. Be sure to use evidence from both documents 1 and 2 in your response.

Topic: Collapse of Akkadian Empire
Aim: What did the Curse of Akkad teach us about the impact of climate on society?
These documents examine the effect of drought caused by a changing local environment.

“For some time, researchers attributed the collapse to political disintegration and invasion by hostile groups. Some paleoclimate records indicate that a catastrophic drought also occurred around this time and suggest that climate factors beyond the control of the empire played a role in its demise.” Source: Drought and the Akkadian Empire

“Instead of rain, the Akkadians and their subjects were baked by dry, hot winds from the north. Precipitation fell by 30 percent, and crops withered in the field; the raw wind picked up the topsoil and blew it south. With their surplus dwindling, the fields barren, and laborers consuming what was left, at some point the Akkadians decided the game was up. Many of the Akkadians moved south, likely as word filtered back that the Euphrates, though diminished, continued to flow, supplying irrigation
water to the fields there. Some refugees became pastoral nomads, moving with their herds in search of fodder.

Those who remained at Tell Leilan left no trace. As the decades went by, sand and dust gradually entombed the acropolis. When the winds and drought finally abated, some three hundred years later, new settlers moved in.” -Eugene Linden, The Winds of Change


  1. What was “The Curse of Akkad”?
  2. Use specific quotes from the text to explain what happened as a result of the climate change the Akkadian Empire experienced.
  3. How did Akkadians adapt/respond to the changing climate?

Topic: Mayan Civilization
Aim: Did consequences of climate change play a significant role in the downfall of the Mayan Civilization? Climate change played a critical role on the collapse of the Mayan Civilization.

Document #1: Chart of Evaporation: Scientists have reconstructed climate at the time of the Mayan civilization by studying lake sediment cores from the Yucatan Peninsula (Hodell et al. 1995; Curtis et al. 1996; Hodell et al. 2005). It is possible to
reconstruct changes in the balance between precipitation and evaporation (P−E), a common indicator of drought, by measuring oxygen isotope data from the shells of gastropods and ostracods. Lake H2O molecules containing the isotope 18O evaporate less easily than H2O molecules with 16O. Thus, during periods of strong evaporation, the lake water becomes enriched in 18O (values of δ18O are high). These isotopic values are incorporated into the growing shells of gastropods and ostracods that
live in the lake.

Another proxy for P−E is the percent of sulfur in the lake sediments. Evaporation concentrates sulfur in the lake water. If the sulfur concentration becomes high enough, salts such as gypsum (CaSO4) will start to precipitate from the lake water
and add sulfur to the lake sediments. The variations of sulfur percentage match the variations in oxygen isotopes closely. Corroborating one paleoclimate proxy with another is an important check on proxy records and gives us more confidence in them.

Scientists reconstructed changes in the balance between precipitation and evaporation using the percent of sulfur in sediments and the oxygen isotopes of shells of gastropods and ostracods from Lake Chichancanab on the Yucatan Peninsula (Hodell et al. 1995)

Document 2: Effects of Deforestation on Mayan Civilization: “Results from simulations with a regional climate model demonstrate that deforestation by the Maya also likely induced warmer, drier, drought‐like conditions. It is therefore hypothesized that the drought conditions devastating the Maya resulted from a combination of natural variability and human activities. Neither the natural drought or the human‐induced effects alone were sufficient to cause the collapse, but the
combination created a situation the Maya could not recover from. These results may have sobering implications for the present and future state of climate and water resources in Mesoamerica as ongoing massive deforestation is again occurring.”
Source: Oglesby, R. J., T. L. Sever, W. Saturno, D. J. Erickson III, and J. Srikishen (2010). “Collapse of the Maya: Could deforestation have contributed?” J. Geophys. Res., 115, D12106, doi:10.1029/2009JD011942.

“Deforestation led to lower rainfall and higher temperatures; both factors would have been detrimental to Mayan life. The reduction in rainfall means it would have been more difficult for the Maya to store enough water to survive the dry season, while the warmer conditions put more stress on evaporation, vegetation, livestock, and people. These effects occurred during both the wet and dry seasons but were much larger during the wet season, when they were also arguably more
important. This is because the Maya societal structure depended on storage of water during the wet season, which in turn provided for them during the dry season.” Source: AGU Journal

Document 3: Effects of Drought on Mayan Civilization: “Recent data indicate that a major drought at this time may have been a key factor in the collapse. Research along the Holmul River, which runs through several bajos and connects 10 major Maya cities, indicates that between A.D. 750 and 850 the river either dried up or became swampy, perhaps as a result of a long period of drought” [Sever and Irwin, 2003; T. P. Culbert, personal communication, 2002].

Document 4: Reduction of Rainfall and Wetland Formation: Researchers from Arizona State University analyzed archaeological data from across the Yucatan to reach a better understanding of the environmental conditions when the area was
abandoned. Around this time, they found, severe reductions in rainfall were coupled with a rapid rate of deforestation, as the Mayans burned and chopped down more and more forest to clear land for agriculture. Interestingly, they also required massive amounts of wood to fuel the fires that cooked the lime plaster for their elaborate constructions—experts estimate it would have taken 20 trees to produce a single square meter of cityscape. Smithsonian magazine Accelerator mass spectrometry dates chart and conceptual model of wetland formation. (Credit: T. Beach et al., University of Texas at Austin)

Document 5: Lake Bottom Sediment Core from Yucatan Peninsula: Bands located on sediment core help indicate periods of drought and periods of rainfall based on the coloring of the bands. Below, is a piece of lake bottom sediment core from the Yucatan Peninsula, displaying periods of drought during the time of the Mayan

Picture source: The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations by Eugene Linden.

Questions for Mayan Document Series:

  1. How did deforestation and drought play a critical role in the decline and eventual collapse of the Mayan Civilization?
  2. How does science aid historians in understanding important changes in climate that have affected civilizations?
  3. Based on the research presented in this document series, did consequences of climate change play a significant role in the downfall of the Mayan Civilization?

Topic: Roman Empire (27 BC-476 AD)
Aim: How did shifts in climate lead to the decline of the Roman Empire?
During the establishment and peak of the Roman empire Europe was enduring a period of climate stability. When Rome began experiencing colder, unstable weather, deadly epidemics led to a decline in civilization.

Document 1: Climate Change Background
“Climate change did not begin with the exhaust fumes of industrialization, but has been a permanent feature of human existence. Orbital mechanics (small variations in the tilt, spin and eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit) and solar cycles alter the amount
and distribution of energy received from the Sun. And volcanic eruptions spew reflective sulphates into the atmosphere, sometimes with long-reaching effects. Modern, anthropogenic climate change is so perilous because it is happening quickly and in conjunction with so many other irreversible changes in the Earth’s biosphere. But climate change per seis nothing new.” Source: Smithsonian

Document 2: How Favorable Climate Led To The Rise of the Roman Empire
“It turns out that climate had a major role in the rise and fall of Roman civilization. The empire-builders benefitted from impeccable timing: the characteristic warm, wet and stable weather was conducive to economic productivity in an agrarian
society. The benefits of economic growth supported the political and social bargains by which the Roman empire controlled its vast territory. The favorable climate, in ways subtle and profound, was baked into the empire’s innermost structure.”
Source: Smithsonian

Document 3: Climate and The Fall of The Roman Empire
“The end of this lucky climate regime did not immediately, or in any simple deterministic sense, spell the doom of Rome. Rather, a less favorable climate undermined its power just when the empire was imperiled by more dangerous enemies— Germans, Persians—from without. Climate instability peaked in the sixth century, during the reign of Justinian. Work by dendro-chronologists and ice-core experts points to an enormous spasm of volcanic activity in the 530s and 540s CE, unlike anything else in the past few thousand years. This violent sequence of eruptions triggered what is now called the ‘Late Antique Little Ice Age,’ when much colder temperatures endured for at least 150 years. This phase of climate deterioration had decisive effects in Rome’s unravelling. It was also intimately
linked to a catastrophe of even greater moment: the outbreak of the first pandemic of bubonic plague.” Source: Smithsonian

Document 4: Levels of Precipitation in the Roman Empire
The Fall of the Roman Empire was affected by a period of cooling, known as the Little Ice Age. This period of cooling greatly affected the way people lived. Source: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

Source: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (

Document 5 and 6: Favorable Flooding of the Nile Creating Stable Conditions
Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History
“Finally, unnoticed until not, Egypt, the Roman Empire’s breadbasket, spears to have enjoyed exceptionally favorable conditions for cereal production during this period . Nile river levels reflect precipitation over Ethiopia and East and Central Africa. Precious study has clarified the history of Nile floods down to 299 A.D., but that abundant evidence has never been exploited for climate history or economic performance. Before Rome annexed Egypt, all seven of nine securely recorded Nile floods in the earlier years of the first century B.C. were below average. For the next 329 years, from the annexation in 30 B.C. to 299 S.D., reliable documents allow an estimate of the annual flood in 199 different years, after which the available data become more scarce until 642 A.D. They show a subtle but significant pattern: The most favorable floods occurred when contrasted with those of the following period.”

Note: Dead Sea: Fluctuating sea levels reflect overall precipitation in the Levant. Although the chronology is fluid, recent work clearly confirms earlier findings of an early and late period of humid conditions, separated and followed by dry conditions
Note: Lake Van: Oxygen isotopes within our period indicate most humid conditions c. the first centuries B.C. and A.D. and c. the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., and dry conditions c. the third and seventh centuries.

Document 7: Favorable Conditions During the Roman Empire
Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, The Roman Optimum: Stability from C. 100 B.C. to 200 A.D.
Exceptional climate stability characterizes the centuries of the Roman Empire’s rise; certain regions enjoyed unusually favorable conditions. In the western Roman Empire, the first century B.C. through the first and possibly second century A.D. were warmer than later centuries. Archaeological evidence from Britain, ice-core date from Greenland, and dendrodata about summer temperature.

Document 8: The Fall of the Roman Empire
Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History
We synthesize the results for the entire sweep of Roman imperial history in four multi-century phases, distinguishing between the western (approximately -9.34 to 22 degrees) and the eastern (22 degrees to 38.96 degrees) regions of the Empire. The written, archeological, and natural-scientific proxy evidence independently but consistently indicates that climate conditions changed during the period of the Roman Empire’s maximum expansion and final crisis. Rates of change shifted dramatically over time, from apparent near stasis under the early Empire to rapid fluctuations later in the Empire’s history.
Changes affected different parts of the Empire in different ways and at different times. Even though the different data sets are not in perfect agreement about absolute dating, they impressively converge about the sequence of events. In each case, the discussion moves from west to east.


  1. Why might an unprecedented period of chilling have major consequences on the Roman Empire?
  2. Why is it important river levels and flooding remain on a set schedule and stay predictable? If they do not, what effects might it have on society?
  3. Was the Roman Empire able to adapt to climate change?

Topic: Collapse of the Norse North Atlantic Network
Aim: How did climate change cause the Inuit civilization to prosper and the downfall of the Norse?
Climate change can cause one civilization to flourish while it causes another to collapse. Civilizations that are able adapt to climate change may prevail.

Medieval Warming Period 900-1250 A.D. created wealth and prosperity in Europe. During this time the peak expansion of Viking Influence occurred. This warming period caused the growing season to lengthen as population and trade expanded
throughout Europe. The Norse first ventured to Iceland starting in 874 when trees were plentiful. From Iceland they traveled to Greenland which had “better land for growing barley than Iceland, as well as birch and willow trees, and meadows to support livestock.” In an attempt to expand their influence some “Norse traders ventured to North America during the 350-year span of the Western Settlement
in Greenland” but “Norse ventures in the New World petered out” and the Norse were forced to return to Greenland and Iceland. The weather turning colder due to the Little Ice Age “eliminated the possibility that the Norse would colonize North

“Climate changes, and when it does, it favors some and penalizes others. This is what happened during the Viking Age. Starting between 1343 and 1345, Greenland suffered through ten cold years, culminating in the worst winter in five hundred
years in 1355. This led to the collapse of the western colony.” The Norse civilization slowly collapsed and starved as “short cold summers gave the Norse no opportunity to rebuild their flocks and grain supplies. For food, they relied on hunting and
gathering as well as farming…and relied on meat and milk to get them through the winter.”

“The Inuit flourished during this same period. The Norse could have survived the bad weather too if they had learned from the Inuit, who love it when the weather turns frigid because it gives them an ice platform from which to hunt ringed seals with harpoons when the mammals surface at breathing holes in the sea ice. Christian Norse likely regarded the shamanistic Inuit as unenlightened and beneath
them. The Norse could have adapted Inuit hunting methods and survived the Little Ice Age. Greenland colonies prospered during the warm years and became uninhabitable by agrarian people during the cold years. The Little Ice Age proved absolutely fatal to the Greenland colonies.” – Linden, The Winds of Change


  1. Would the world be different today if the Medieval Warm Period had continued and
    Greenland settlers had endured? Explain your answer.
  2. Why did the Inuit civilization survive the Little Ice Age while it caused the collapse of the Norse civilization?

Topic: The Fall of the Ancient Khmer Empire 802 CE-1431CE
Aim: What does Ancient Khmer infrastructure reveal about their collapse?
Through innovation the Khmer Empire tried to decrease the effects of climate instability but ultimately climate change prevailed and led to the fall of the Empire.

“The cause of the Angkor empire’s demise in the early 15th century long remained a mystery. But researchers have now shown that intense monsoon rains that followed a prolonged drought in the region caused widespread damage to the city’s infrastructure, leading to its collapse. From the beginning, water was central to the development of Angkor, which is often described as a “hydraulic city.” Channels and reservoirs were constructed to collect and store water coming from the hills, both for flood control and for distribution for agriculture. A system of overflows and bypasses carried surplus water to the Tonle Sap Lake to the
south of the city.

In the mid to late 1300s, Angkor began suffering from a persistent drought. This was followed by several years of unusually strong monsoon rains, producing extensive flooding with which the city’s infrastructure seemed to have been unable to cope.
The flooding caused serious erosion in the system, with links in it being systematically severed. To the south of the city, canals were choked with material
eroded from the center of Angkor.

The bridge at Angkor Thom was built from reused stone blocks from temples, with many of them carved in intricate ways. That they would take apart a temple and use it for something as mundane as a bridge suggests there is something seriously going
wrong. It has long been thought that the damage to the water management system put an end to a long period of decline at Angkor. As the flooding destroyed the infrastructure, the city of Angkor collapsed. In 1431, it was taken by the Siamese

The medieval Khmer were confronted with a period of climatic instability that they had no experience of, and which fully changed the rules of the game that they had been playing for hundreds of years. A similar scale of challenge is now confronting
contemporary communities, as the climate begins to change.”
Show video for architecture and river:
Source: Angkor Wat’s Collapse From Climate Change Has Lessons for Today


  1. How did infrastructure innovations created by the Angkor civilization help their civilization flourish and then aid in the collapse?
  2. What advantages do societies have today for surviving climate change that the Ancient Khmer Empire did not?

Document 1: The Rise of Genghis Khan and The Mongols. “On a research trip to Mongolia in 2010, Pederson, Hessl and their colleagues discovered a stand of stunted Siberian pine trees in the Khangai Mountains. The trees—some of which were still alive—were ancient, some more than 1,100 years old. Old trees provide a living history book of the climate. During warm, wet years, the trees grow more, and the rings inside the trunk that mark those years are wider. The opposite happens during dry years, when the rings would be narrow. Counting back to the late 1100s, just before the rise of Genghis Khan, the tree-ring data indicated that the Mongol steppes had been in the grip of an intense drought, one that could have helped drive the years of division among the Mongol tribes as they competed for scarce resources. But the tree-rings showed that the years between 1211 and 1225—a period of time that coincided with the meteoric rise of Genghis Khan, who died in 1227—were marked by unusually heavy rainfall and mild temperatures.” Source: Time Magazine

Document 2: “The transition from extreme drought to extreme moisture right then strongly suggests that climate played a role in human events. It wasn’t the only thing, but it must have created the ideal conditions for a charismatic leader to emerge out of the chaos, develop an army and concentrate power. Where it’s arid, unusual moisture creates unusual plant productivity, and that translates into horsepower. Genghis was literally able to ride that wave.” Source: PNAS Study, Amy Hessl

Document 3: Tree Ring Moisture: Tree ring moisture indicated the Mongols suffered severe drought and began dealing with a period of moisture when Genghis Khan was able to rise to power. Tree-ring drought reconstruction site (green cross) and inferred temperature site (white cross) are 50 km apart. Map of the Mongol Empire near its zenith (aqua) in 1260 CE. The ancient capital city of Karakorum (black triangle) and current capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar (black star). Source: PNAS


  1. How could change in climate lead to the emergence of a new leader?
  2. Why would climate altering from dry to damp help foster conditions where a civilization is able to thrive?
  3. Do we see a similar trend of unfavorable climate conditions, followed by favorable climate conditions leading to the emergence of powerful leaders elsewhere in history?

Topic: Bubonic Plague
Aim: Was the Bubonic Plague pandemic driven by climate change?
The Bubonic Plague (1346-1353) was a result of weather effects due to climate change during the Little Ice Age (1303-1860)

Document 1: The Spread of the Black Plague
“From 1347 to 1353, a second plague pandemic called the Black Death swept across Europe, killing some 25 million people there and another 25 million in Asia and Africa. But plague is not naturally found in Europe. The disease is endemic to Asia, where the bacterium is found among small animals (rodents) and their fleas. It’s possible the disease was reintroduced to Europe multiple times following Asian climate events. The world was suffering through a second plague pandemic as
effects of quick succession of floods and droughts. The rodents likely played a role in moving the disease between harbors. Instances of quarantining ships—a practice developed in the late 14th century in response to the Black Death—could have saved
at least a few port towns during the centuries of the second pandemic.” Source: Plague Pandemic May Have Been Driven by Climate, Not Rats

Document 2: The climate causes of the Black Plague
“Rapid shifts between warm and cool throw ecosystems out of balance, unleashing pests and microbes, and ruining crops. During the Little Ice Age global temperatures dropped between 0.5 and 1 degree centigrade. Flooding in China’s river valleys “one of the greatest weather-related disasters ever known,” since the floods led to the deaths of roughly 7 million people…made Asia a petri dish for the next iteration of the plague in 1332. The years following saw severe drought, setting up the climate seesaw that would cause the rapid increase and collapse of various rodent populations, both of which could have brought the plague into contact with humans.
Weather played a role in releasing the Black Death from China and Mongolia, where it had been bottled up in rodent populations. Before it made its way down the Silk Road to Crimea, the plague killed an estimated 35 million people in China.
Then, in about 1346, it began to move west. The plague and other epidemics made several return visits over the next few centuries. All these traumas were direct and indirect effects of the Little Ice Age.” Source: Linden, The Winds of Change


  1. Would the world be different today if the Medieval Warm Period had continued and
    Greenland settlers had endured? Explain your answer.
  2. Why did the Inuit civilization survive the Little Ice Age while it caused the collapse of the Norse civilization?

Topic: Medieval Europe
AIM: How did building Cathedrals during the Middle Ages impact the environment?
Deforestation places strains on the environment with major consequences.

Document 1: The Notre Dame Cathedral: The Notre Dame Cathedral was built in Paris, France in 1163. On April 15, 2019 a structure fire broke out under the roof in the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Document 2: “The trees that made up the roof’s wooden structure were cut down around 1160, and some sources estimate that the beams accounted for 13,000 trees, or about 21 hectares of medieval forest, many of which had been growing since the
800s or 900s. “You have a stage in France where deforestation was a problem; these buildings consumed huge amounts of wood.” That’s according to Columbia University art historian Stephen Murray, who spoke with Ars Technica. All that
wood, he said, supported an outer roof of lead— until the wood burned and the roof collapsed.” Source: Notre Dame Cathedral will never be the same, but it can be rebuilt

Document 3: “The wooden roof, which burned in the fire, was built with beams over 850 years old, comes from secular forests. Most of the large 12thcentury trees were cut for construction, making them a deciding factor in the current state of the trees on French territory. Another major problem is the large-scale deforestation that was taking place at that time. Many trees have grown since the 7th century, which means that much of the wood destroyed in Dombrand was destroyed 1,300 years ago. For the construction of churches castles and ships needed large quantities of wood, leaving a large part of the wood in French forests as felled.”Source: SUMBER projections for the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral. What the
architects say about the lack of a crucial element


  1. Is it possible to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral roof today replicating its original structure using the same original materials? Explain your answer.
  2. What environmental impact did the construction of the Notre Dame Cathedral have on the environment at the time of its original construction? How did it impact the environment?

Topic: Industrial Revolution
AIM: How did the advancements made during the Industrial Revolution impact the environment?
The Industrial Revolution started mid-18th century in England. and has had a lasting impact on climate. These documents focus on how new industries produced new problems with pollution, problems that continue today.

Document 1:

Document 2: Political Cartoons

Document 3:
“Fog everywhere. Fog up the river… fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollution of a great (and dirty) city.” – Charles Dickens, BLEAK HOUSE. The towns surrounding Manchester . . . re badly and irregularly built with foul courts, lanes, and back alleys, reeking of coal smoke, and especially dingy from the originally bright red brick, turned black with time. These east and north-east sides of Manchester are the only ones on which the bourgeoisie has not built, because ten or eleven months of the year the west and south-west wind
drives the smoke of all the factories hither, and that the working-people alone may breathe . . . Along both sides of the stream, which is coal-black, stagnant and foul, stretches a broad belt of factories and working-men’s dwellings . . . The cottages are
old, dirty, and of the smallest sort, the streets uneven, fallen into ruts and in part without drains or pavement; masses of refuse, offal and sickening filth lie among standing pools in all directions; the atmosphere is poisoned by the effluvia from these, and laden and darkened by the smoke of a dozen tall factory chimneys. – Condition of the Working Class in England, by Engels, 1845.

Document 4: “And what cities! … smoke hung over them and filth impregnated them, the elementary public services – water supply, sanitation, street-cleaning, open spaces, and so on – could not keep pace with the mass migration of men into the cities, thus producing, especially after 1830, epidemics of cholera, typhoid and an appalling constant toll of the two great groups of nineteenth century urban killers – air pollution and water pollution or respiratory and intestinal disease.” –
Hobsbawm, 1969, p. 86.

Document 5: Audio clip explaining how carbobased pollution causes glacial melting.


  1. What environmental effect did the Industrial Revolution have on England’s environment? Note one environmental effect from political cartoons
    and one from the excerpts.
  2. What aspect of the Industrial Revolution caused these environmental effects? Explain your answer.
  3. Explain the historical circumstances that caused the environmental effects?
  4. Identify and explain a cause and effect relationship associated with the ideas or events in documents 1 and 2. Be sure to use evidence from both documents 1 and 2 in your response.

Topic: Climate Change and Disease
Aim: How did the eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia lead to a global pandemic?
Natural catastrophic events like a volcanic eruption can had long term widespread consequences.

Tambora is located in Indonesia. It erupted on April 9, 1815 causing lasting global effects; including a year without a summer in 1816.

Environmental Effects
“A powerful volcanic eruption in 1815 set off a chain of events, from extreme weather and crop failures to a global cholera pandemic. Mount Tambora erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. It belched millions of tonnes of rock, ash
and gas in April 1815, set off a tsunami, and killed about 100,000 people in the immediate aftermath. Then, as sulphur dioxide rose with the ash into the
stratosphere and circled the globe, the world was plunged into a volcanic winter that lasted three years. Crops failed in China, Europe and, eventually, America. In New York, it snowed in June. In the Alps, glaciers fingered out at unprecedented speed. Weird as it may seem, the Tambora explosion, unnoticed outside Java, not only unleashed devastating weather, destroying crops and communities around the globe. It also transformed cholera from a local nuisance in Bengal into one of the world’s most virulent and feared diseases.” Source: Relevant lessons from climate
change and a global pandemic in the 19th century

“The onset of volcanic winters jeopardized global food security and had climate effects that lasted years. It created a global pandemic that lasted years
and hurt the global economy.”

Rise of a New Disease
“In 1817, a global cholera pandemic suddenly erupted, a “phantom agent of death that was brutal, unknowable, and potentially limitless in its reach.” From India, a newly virulent strain of cholera spread to Myanmar and Thailand in 1819 and 1820
and Iran in 1822 before reaching France in 1830 and eventually the United States in 1832.”
Source: Relevant lessons from climate change and a global pandemic in the 19th century

“From India, a newly virulent strain of cholera spread to Myanmar and Thailand in 1819 and 1820 and Iran in 1822 before reaching France in 1830
and eventually the United States in 1832.”
Source: Relevant lessons from climate change and a global pandemic in the 19th century

“Drought brought on by the eruption devastated crop yields across the Indian subcontinent, but more disastrously gave rise to a new and deadly strain of
cholera. Cholera had always been endemic to Bengal, but the bizarre weather of 1816–17 triggered by Tambora’s eruption—first drought, then late, unseasonal flooding—altered the microbial ecology of the Bay of Bengal. The cholera bacterium, which has an unusually adaptive genetic structure highly sensitive to changes in its
aquatic environment, mutated into a new strain. This was met with no resistance among the local population, and it spread across Asia and eventually the globe. By the century’s end, the death toll from Bengal cholera stood in the tens of millions.”
Source: Tambora eruption caused the year without a summer: Cholera, opium, famine, and Arctic exploration.


  1. What climate reactions occurred as a result of the eruption of Mount Tambora?
  2. How did the eruption of Mount Tambora cause the cholera pandemic?
  3. How did the eruption of Mount Tambora affect the world economy

Topic: Water Resources
Aim: What will the United States do when the water in the Great Plains is gone?
Changing climate is affecting a vast area of the United States. The droughts and shorter growing season taking place in the Great Plains will have dire effects on the population. The main source of water in this area, the Ogallala Aquifer, is being
drained and dried. The unstable climate will affect water resources and agriculture in the United States.

“The Plains are made up of a broad range of ecosystems, including forests, rangelands, marshes, and desert. Climate change related impacts, including heat waves and extreme weather events, have disproportionate effects on vulnerable groups, including young, elderly, ill, and low income populations. In the Great Plains, remotely located populations, face greater challenges in responding to climate change because of a lack of development, public health resources, and access to other public services and communication systems. Language barriers for indigenous groups can also impact the ability to respond to climate extremes.”
Source: Climate Impacts in the Great Plains | US

“This is the breadbasket of America—the region that supplies at least one fifth of the total annual U.S. agricultural harvest. If the aquifer goes dry, more than $20 billion worth of food and fiber will vanish from the world’s markets. And scientists say
it will take natural processes 6,000 years to refill the reservoir.” Source: The Ogallala Aquifer: Saving a Vital U.S. Water Source

Impacts on Water Resources
“As patterns of temperature and precipitation change, the Great Plains region is expected to face increased competition for water supplies for use by homes, business, agriculture, and energy production. Water in this region comes largely from the High Plains Aquifer system, made up largely of the Ogallala aquifer. The High Plains Aquifer system is one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world and underlies approximately 111 million acres in parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Nearly 30% of all irrigated lands in the United States reside above this aquifer, making it
one of the primary agricultural regions in the nation.
The High Plains Aquifer also provides drinking water for more than 80% of the residents living over the aquifer and is key to the region’s energy production. Long-term declines in the water level within the High Plains Aquifer have resulted from
greater water discharge than recharge. Discharge (or withdrawal) occurs largely by irrigation, which has resulted in an average water level decline of 14.2 feet since irrigation began around 1950. This translates to an 80 trillion gallon reduction in water storage within the aquifer. Recharge (or replenishing) comes primarily from precipitation. In the northern portion of the Great Plains, rain can recharge the aquifer quickly. However, with climate change, precipitation in the winter and spring is projected to increasingly fall in the form of very heavy precipitation events, which can increase flooding and runoff that reduce water quality and cause soil erosion. In the southern portion of the region, little recharge occurs, so declines in the aquifer’s water level are much greater (see figure of High Plains Aquifer). Climate change will worsen this situation by causing drier conditions and
increasing the need for irrigation.”

Topic: Natural Disasters
Aim: Can climate change trigger volcanic eruptions?
Researchers believe record rainfall attributed to climate change triggered the 2018 Kīlauea volcano eruptions in Hawaii.

Do Now: Read about the relationship between climate change and rainfall and answer question:
How does “human-caused climate change” lead to more intense rainfall?
“Human-caused climate change intensifies the heaviest downpours. More than 70% of the planet’s surface is water, and as the world warms, more water evaporates from oceans, lakes, and soils. Every 1°F rise also allows the atmosphere to hold 4% more water vapor. So when weather patterns lead to heavy rain, there is even more
moisture available for stronger downpours, increasing the risk and severity of flooding.
“– Climate Central,

Map of Hawaiian Islands
Location of Kīlauea volcano

Instructions: Examine Document A, the abstract from a scientific report in the journal Nature, and Document B, an excerpt from a report on the study
published in the British newspaper The Guardian. An important role of the press is to translate technical language into conventional speech. After reading the two documents answer the guiding questions and discuss with our team whether The
report adequately explained the scientific study.


  1. Where is the Kīlauea volcano and when did it erupt?
  2. According to the scientific report, what triggered the eruption?
  3. The scientific report cites “anthropogenic climate change” as a cause of the eruption. Based on context clues, what is “anthropogenic climate change”?
  4. What other evidence is there of volcanic eruptions triggered by intense rainfall?
  5. The headline in The Guardian article is “Record rain triggered 2018 Kīlauea volcano eruptions, says study.” In your opinion, are the headline and article an accurate summary of the scientific report?

Document A: Extreme rainfall triggered the 2018 rift eruption at Kīlauea Volcano
Source: 020-2172-5
The May 2018 rift intrusion and eruption of Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai‘i, represented one of its most extraordinary eruptive sequences in at least 200 years, yet the trigger mechanism remains elusive. The event was preceded by several months of
anomalously high precipitation. It has been proposed that rainfall can modulate shallow volcanic activity, but it remains unknown whether it can have impacts at the greater depths associated with magma transport. Here we show that immediately before and during the eruption, infiltration of rainfall into Kīlauea Volcano’s subsurface increased pore pressure at depths of 1 to 3 kilometres by 0.1 to 1 kilopascals, to its highest pressure in almost 50 years. We propose that weakening and mechanical failure of the edifice was driven by changes in pore pressure within the rift zone, prompting opportunistic dyke intrusion and ultimately facilitating the eruption. A precipitation-induced eruption trigger is consistent with the lack of precursory summit inflation, showing that this intrusion—unlike others—was not
caused by the forceful intrusion of new magma into the rift zone. Moreover, statistical analysis of historic eruption occurrence suggests that rainfall patterns contribute substantially to the timing and frequency of Kīlauea’s eruptions and intrusions.
Thus, volcanic activity can be modulated by extreme rainfall triggering edifice rock failure — a factor that should be considered when assessing volcanic hazards. Notably, the increasingly extreme weather patterns associated with ongoing anthropogenic climate change could increase the potential for rainfall-triggered volcanic phenomena worldwide.

Document B: Record rain triggered 2018 Kīlauea volcano eruptions, says study
The spectacular eruptions of the Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii in 2018 were triggered by extreme rainfall in the preceding months, research suggests. Scientists say the finding raises the possibility that climate breakdown, which is causing more extreme
weather, could lead to an increase in eruptions around the world. The 2018 Kīlauea eruptions were one of the most extraordinary sequences in at least 200 years, according to the scientists, with rifts opening, summit explosions and collapses, and a magnitude 6.9 earthquake. But the trigger was not known. However, several months of unusually high rainfall preceded the eruption, with one 24-hour
period setting a record for the entire US. This flood of water would have percolated down into fissures and pores in the rocks of the volcano, as far as 1.8 miles (2.9km) below the surface. The scientists calculated this pushed up the pore pressure inside
the rocks to the highest level in almost 50 years, weakening them and allowing magma to push up from below. The scientists also looked at eruptions of Kīlauea since 1790 and found that these historical events were twice as likely to happen in
the rainy season. Such a link has long been thought possible – JD Dana, one of the first geologists to visit Hawaii in the late 1800s, suggested the idea.
They also ruled out magma pressure from below triggering the eruption, because the surface had barely deformed, and the gravitational pull of the sun and moon, which can trigger eruptions. “All the circumstantial evidence points in the same direction,” said Jamie Farquharson, at the University of Miami, whose research is published in
the journal Nature. Rain has been linked to shallow eruptions in the past, such as at Mount St Helens in 1980, but this is the first time an impact at depth has been found.

Topic: Impact of Current Climate Change
Aim: How does climate change threaten the future of Kenya?
Climate change severely impacts Kenya. Kenya is dealing with erratic rainfall, extreme drought, and an increase in temperatures. Kenya is in extreme need of global action to help combat the challenges climate change brings to their everyday life.

Document 1: Projections of Kenya’s Future
Source: United States Agency of International Development

Document 2: Kenya Annual Average Precipitation Low
Source: United States Agency of International Development

Document 3: Historic Climate vs. Future Climate Projections (U.S. Agency of International Development)

Document 4: Effect of all Aspects of Life (U.S. Agency of International Development

Document 5: Primary Source Information: The Children of Kenya (Source: UNICEF)
“Our home was destroyed by the floods and we have nothing left. My parents cannot even afford to pay my older siblings’ school fees since we have no cows left to sell.”-Nixon Bwire, age 13, Tana River.

“Climate change is affecting us and, in the future if we are not involved, we will live in a desert. The rivers have dried up and sand mining has increased, this has caused many children to drop out of school to work loading vehicles for mines”-Samuel, age 14, Machakos

Idhila Mohammed carries her child on her back as she searches for food and water for her surviving cattle. “We had 180 cattle last year, but since the drought only 40 are left,” she said.
“In the few years that I’ve been here, the climate has really changed. Temperatures have gone up. The rainfall has dropped. As time goes by, things are getting worse and worse … It rains once in three months, that’s not normal. This has led to shortage of food and water, which has led to the death of animals. People lose their livestock and other people die due to starvation and hunger.” Lourine Oyodah, age 15, Lodwar

Document 6: Projection for Mombasa, an area in Kenya hit hard by climate change
Source: UNICEF

Document 7: Documented Changes from 1967- 2012 (Source: Human Rights Watch)
Between 1967 and 2012, maximum and minimum average temperatures in Turkana County, in Kenya’s northwest corner near the border with Ethiopia, rose between 2 and 3°C (3.6 to 5.4°F), according to data from the meteorological station in Turkana’s capital. Rainfall patterns seem to have changed, with the long rainy season becoming
shorter and drier and the short rainy season becoming longer and wetter. Insecurity and conflict in the region are expected to get worse as grazing lands decrease.

At the same time, hydroelectric projects and irrigated sugar plantations in Ethiopia’s lower Omo River Valley threaten to vastly reduce the water levels in Lake Turkana, the world largest desert lake, and the source of livelihood for 300,000 Turkana residents. Some experts forecast that the lake may recede into two small pools, devastating fish stocks.

Document 8: Conditions in Kenya (Source: Kenya Climate Innovation)
For instance, the flooding in Naivasha, Kenya after the Karati River burst its banks caused 172 fatalities, displaced 283,290 people and left 84 people with severe injuries. Government data also shows that in the Tana River alone, 150,000 people
have been displaced and 16 killed due to flooding.
Furthermore, flooding is related to food scarcity fueled by decreased yields. The drought has also lead to decreased power and water supply to cities
in Kenya, including Nairobi.
One of the areas that has negatively been impacted by climate change is agriculture, which supports 75% of Kenya’s population and contributes to 21% of the country’s GDP. Given its high reliance on rainfall, it is adversely impacted by drought. For
instance, prolonged drought in 2016/2017 yielded low agricultural productivity that resulted in food prices increasing by a third.


  1. What major changes in climate has Kenya had to deal with?
  2. How has climate change affected Kenya?
  3. Have climate conditions improved and are conditions projected to improve? What do the climate projections suggest?
  4. Do the United States and other economically advanced nations have a responsibility to provide aid to Kenya? Explain.

Topic: Climate Change Impact on Sub-Sahara Desert
Aim: How is climate change affecting regions bordering the Sahara Desert?
Climate change in sub-Sahara arid regions has led to an increase in temperature, changes in rainfall levels, an increase in sea level, desertification, deforestation and the emergence of new diseases that will seriously impact human life, both in the
area and globally.

Document 1: Climate Changes and Impacts
Source: Climate change impacts in Sub-Saharan Africa: from physical changes to their social repercussions.

Document 2: Rising Sea Levels
Source: Climate change impacts in Sub-Saharan
Africa: from physical changes to their social repercussions

Document 3: Is Africa sleepwalking into a potential catastrophe?
Source: BBC. The African continent will be hardest hit by climate change. There are four key reasons for this:
 First, African society is very closely coupled with the climate system; hundreds of millions of people depend on rainfall to grow their food
 Second, the African climate system is controlled by an extremely complex mix of large-scale weather systems, many from distant parts of the planet and, in comparison with almost all other inhabited regions, is vastly understudied. It is
therefore capable of all sorts of surprises
 Third, the degree of expected climate change is large. The two most extensive land-based end of-century projected decreases in rainfall anywhere on the planet occur over Africa; one over North Africa and the other over southern Africa
 Finally, the capacity for adaptation to climate change is low; poverty equates to reduced choice at the individual level while governance generally fails to prioritize and act on climate change

Document 4: Deforestation in Sub-Saharan Africa: At the end of 1990, Africa had an estimated 528 million hectares, or 30 percent of the world’s tropical forests. In several Sub-Saharan African countries, the rate of deforestation exceeded the
global annual average of 0.8 percent. While deforestation in other parts of the world is mainly caused by commercial logging or cattle ranching the leading causes in Africa are associated with human activity. Developing countries rely heavily on wood fuel, the major energy source for cooking and heating. In Africa, the statistics are striking: an estimated 90 percent of the entire continent’s population uses fuelwood for cooking, and in SubSaharan Africa, firewood and brush supply
approximately 52 percent of all energy sources. Source: African Technology Forum

Document 5: Deforestation: It is difficult to imagine that such vast ancient woodlands are at risk of extinction. But they are disappearing at an alarming rate. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), indigenous (also
known as “old-growth”) forests in Africa are being cut down at a rate of more than 4 mn hectares per year — twice the world’s deforestation average.
According to the FAO, losses totalled more than 10 percent of the continent’s total forest cover between 1980 and 1995 alone. Source: “Saving Africa’s
Forests, ‘The Lungs of The World’
by Michael Fleshman.

Document 6: Desertification: Desertification is defined as the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems by climatic variations and human activities. Simply put, desertification is the process by which fertile lands become deserts, typically because of drought, deforestation or inappropriate agriculture. Desertification affects up to 30 percent of land worldwide, and 1.5 billion people around the world depend on land at risk from desertification for their main source of food or income. Seventy-four percent of these people already live in poverty.

In sub-Saharan Africa, desertification may force up to 50 million people to flee their homes by 2020. Since 1923, the Sahara Desert has expanded by 10 percent, especially affecting people living in the Sahel region. Dryland covers 65 percent of the African continent, and 70 to 80 percent of people in Ethiopia and Kenya are threatened by
desertification. Source: The Borgen Project

Document 7: Desertification: Desertification is most severe in Africa. Arid lands account for two-thirds of the African continent, and three-quarters of the continent’s drylands that are used for agriculture have already begun to lose productivity. A total of 45 percent of Africa’s population lives in drylands that are susceptible to desertification, according to the United Nations Development Program’s Drylands Population Assessment II. In Kenya, a three-year drought has withered crops and killed livestock, leaving thousands of people without adequate food supplies. Two-thirds of the country’s land has been severely affected by the drought, and over 40 percent of Kenya’s cattle and up to 20 percent of its sheep and goats have perished,
according to the Arid Lands Resource Management Project, a government initiative. In neighboring Tanzania, widespread tree felling threatens to transform much of the country’s forest into desert. In early January, Vice President Omar Ali Juma called attention to the worsening problem, noting that the country is losing between 320,000 and 1.2 million acres of forest land each year to the expansion of agricultural lands and to increased demand for fuelwood. Livestock herders also contribute to the deterioration of Tanzania’s forests by moving their herds from arid areas in the north to the vegetation- and water-rich forests of the south.


  1. What climate problems are affecting Africa?
  2. Why are deforestation and desertification threatening the survival of sub-Saharan Africa?
  3. How can deforestation and desertification in Africa be prevented

Topic: Pandemics
Aim: How does the world’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic illustrate about the possibilities for responding to climate change? The response to the Corona Virus pandemic led to an unintended decrease in human causes of climate change.

“Levels of air pollutants and warming gases over some cities and regions are showing significant drops as coronavirus impacts work and travel.

With global economic activity ramping down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is hardly surprising that emissions of a variety of gases related to energy and transport would be reduced.”
Source: Coronavirus: Air pollution and CO2 fall rapidly as virus spreads

“Traffic levels in the [New York] city were estimated to be down 35% compared with a year ago. Emissions of carbon monoxide, mainly due to cars and trucks, have fallen by around 50% for a couple of days this week according to researchers at Columbia University. They have also found that there was a 5-10% drop in CO2 over New York and a solid drop in methane as well.”

In Los Angeles, New York, Manila and Milan, the skies clear as air pollution drops. In Venice, the canal water is clear enough to see fish, and dolphins are returning. What would the world be like if we decided to pursue this trend?

Less asthma and cancer, fewer lung and heart diseases, fewer deaths. More beauty in our lives. A slowing of global emissions.” Source: Opinion |Does Coronavirus Bring a New Perspective on Climate Change?

“People in the northern Indian state of Punjab are reacting with awe at the sight of the Himalayan mountain range, which is now visible from more than 100 miles away due to the reduction in air pollution caused by the country’s coronavirus
lockdown.” Source:
Video: Coronavirus lockdown: What Impact on the Planet?


  1. What response to climate change did the coronavirus cause globally?
  2. How did this pandemic lessen the effects of climate change?
  3. As countries plan to restart their economies, what are some changes they should consider in light of unintended consequences of quarantine?

East Africa Confronts New Climate Change Plague
Aim: How has climate change caused the worst Desert Locust in over seventy years in the Horn of Africa?
Rising numbers of Desert Locusts in East Africa are a threat to food security and livelihood. Kenya is experiencing the worst Desert Locust infestation in over seventy years.

Document 1: Desert Locusts. “The eighth plague that the Judaic God launched against the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Old Testament story of Exodus was swarms of locust. The locust covered the sun and devoured everything green in
the fields. This immense locust swarm is a direct result of global warming and climate change. Warming of the Indian Ocean produced record heavy rainfall in the region from October through December, accelerating the breeding and growth of
the desert locust.

Document 2: Effects of Desert Locusts. “Kenya is battling its worst desert locust outbreak in 70 years, and the infestation has spread through much of the eastern part of the continent and the Horn of Africa, razing pasture and croplands in Somalia and Ethiopia and sweeping into South Sudan, Djibouti, Uganda and Tanzania. The highly mobile creatures can travel over 80 miles a day. Their swarms, which can contain as many as 80 million locust adults in each square kilometer, eat the same amount of food daily as about 35,000 people.”

Document 3: “Rising numbers of Desert Locusts present an extremely alarming and unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa. It is the worst outbreak of Desert Locusts seen in the region for decades. Tens of thousands of
hectares of croplands and pasture have been damaged in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia with potentially severe consequences in a region where 11.9 million people are already food insecure. The potential for destruction is enormous.” Rising
temperatures also mean locusts can mature more quickly and spread to higher elevation environments. Given that many locusts are adapted to arid regions, if climate change expands the geographic extent of these lands, locusts could
expand their range as well. “Therefore, in general, locust outbreaks are expected to become more frequent and severe under climate change,” said Arianne Cease, director of the Global Locust Initiative at Arizona State University. Source:


  1. How has climate changed caused faster breeding and growth of Desert Locust?
  2. How have increased swarms of Desert Locust devastated life in Kenya?

Topic: Climate Change
Aim: Can the world reverse global warming?
“Socratic Seminar CRQ “Task: Have students seating arranged to participate in a Socratic Seminar Using specific details from each document, students should discuss:

  1. What is the goal of each author?
  2. How do youth become important in affecting change?
  3. If you had Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and Greta Thunberg over for a dinner party- what would they say to each other? What would they say to you? (Think about each person’s goals, methods, areas of agreement, areas of disagreement, etc.)

Informed Action/Extension activities: Donald Trump (Republican) and Joseph Biden (Democrat) will need to present a plan to address climate change as they try to appeal to American voters. Research each candidate’s
policy proposals/actions on climate change and prepare a graphic organizer to illustrate these with you class. What policy proposals and decisions do you agree with? Disagree with?

“My message is that we’ll be watching you.”
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side
of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m
one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are
collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is
money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and
solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.

Who is Greta addressing in this speech?
Who are “us” that Greta is referring to?

You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the
situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to
“The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50%
chance of staying below 1.5 degrees [Celsius], and the risk of setting off irreversible
chain reactions beyond human control.
“Fifty percent may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping
points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the
aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking
hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely
“So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the
“To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise – the
best odds given by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] – the world had
420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on Jan. 1st, 2018. Today that figure is already
down to less than 350 gigatons.
“How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some
technical solutions? With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be
entirely gone within less than 8 1/2 years.
“There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here
today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature
enough to tell it like it is.
“You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.
“We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the
line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.

Why does Greta think current climate change initiatives will fail?
“And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is” What is ironic about
this statement?
What “change” is Greta alluding to?

Document I: Climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, addressed the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit in New York City on September 23, 2019. Here’s the full transcript of Thunberg’s speech, beginning with her response to a question about the message she has for world leaders.

1) In your opinion, was Greta Thunberg’s speech effective in moving young people to take action against climate change?
2) What part(s) of Greta’s speech had the strongest impact? Why?
3) Greta Thunberg was 16 years old when she delivered this speech to the United Nations. Does this fact make her speech more or less powerful?

Document 2: Statement by Martin Luther King Jr. at the Youth Leadership Conference, April 15, 1960
Background: Over two hundred student and adult activists gathered at Shaw University for an Easter weekend youth conference to discuss the growing
sit-in movement. King issued this statement at a press conference on the opening day of the meeting. The following day, King addressed a mass meeting at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. During the three-day conference, youth leaders voted to create the Temporary Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

This is an era of offensive on the part of oppressed people. All peoples deprived of dignity and freedom are on the march on every continent throughout the world. The student sit-in movement represents just such an offensive in the history of the Negro
peoples’ struggle for freedom. The students have taken the struggle for justice into their own strong hands. In less than two months more Negro freedom fighters have revealed to the nation and the world their determination and courage than has occurred in many years. They have embraced a philosophy of mass direct nonviolent action. They are moving away from tactics which are suitable merely for gradual and long-term change.

Today the leaders of the sit-in movement are assembled here from ten states and some forty communities to evaluate these recent sit-ins and to chart future goals. They realize that they must now evolve a strategy for victory. Some elements which
suggest themselves for discussion are:

1) The need for some type of continuing organization. Those who oppose justice are
well organized. To win out the student movement must be organized.
2) The students must consider calling for a nation-wide campaign of “selective buying.” Such a program is a moral act. It is a moral necessity to select, to buy from these agencies, these stores, and businesses where one can buy with dignity and self-respect. It is immoral to spend one’s money where one cannot be treated with respect.
3) The students must seriously consider training a group of volunteers who will
willingly go to jail rather than pay bail or fines. This courageous willingness to go to
jail may well be the thing to awaken the dozing conscience of many of our white
brothers. We are in an era in which a prison term for a freedom struggle is a badge of honor.
4) The youth must take the freedom struggle into every community in the South without exception. The struggle must be spread into every nook and cranny. Inevitably this broadening of the struggle and the determination which it represents will arouse vocal and vigorous support and place pressures on the federal government that will compel its intervention.
5) The students will certainly want to delve deeper into the philosophy of nonviolence. It must be made palpably clear that resistance and nonviolence are not in themselves good. There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community. The tactics of nonviolence without the spirit of nonviolence may indeed become a new kind of violence.


  1. What was the purpose of “sit-ins” of the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement? Why was it important for students to become involved?
  2. What is a climate strike?
  3. What are similarities and differences between the climate strikes of today and the sit-ins of the 1960’s?

Document 3: American Antiquities Act of 1906, 16 USC 431-433
Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of
antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall, upon
conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.
Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits
of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.
Sec. 3. That permits for the examination of ruins, the excavation of archaeological sites, and the gathering of objects of antiquity upon the lands under their respective jurisdictions may be granted by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and War to institutions which the may deem properly qualified to conduct such examination, excavation, or gathering, subject to such rules and regulation as they may prescribe.
Sec. 4. That the Secretaries of the Departments aforesaid shall make and publish from time to time uniform rules and regulations for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act. Approved, June 8, 1906.
President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law on June 8, 1906.

Read the following quotes from President Theodore Roosevelt. Choose one of these quotes. For this quote:

  1. Define the historical context behind President Roosevelt’s words.
  2. Explain and give examples of how the Antiquities Act (1906) could be used to improve the situation(s) Roosevelt brings attention to.

Quote #1: “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the
time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still
further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding
the fields and obstructing navigation.”

Quote #2: “But we are, as a whole, still in that low state of civilization where we do
not understand that it is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the
destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals— not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people were awakening.”

Socratic Seminar CRQ “Task: Have students seating arranged to participate in a Socratic Seminar. Using specific details from each document, students should discuss:
1) What is the goal of each author?
2) How do youth become important in affecting change?
If you had Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and Greta Thunberg over for a dinner party what would they say to each other? What would they say to you? (Think about each person’s goals, methods, areas of agreement, areas of disagreement, etc.)

Informed Action/Extension activities:
1) Donald Trump (Republican) and Joseph Biden (Democrat) will need to present a plan to address climate change as they try to appeal to American voters. Research each candidate’s policy proposals/actions on climate change and prepare a graphic organizer to illustrate these with your class.
What policy proposals and decisions do you agree with? Disagree with?

2) A great project is launching a Climate Emergency Campaign in your community. The Climate Emergency Campaign asks local governments to declare a climate emergency. Students can lobby school boards to mandate teaching how climate change threatens local communities and human civilization. In 2017, Hoboken, New Jersey was the first city in the United States and the third city in the world to
declare a Climate Emergency. Hoboken is located on the Hudson River flood plain and suffered serious damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The Climate Mobilization website has a sample Climate Emergency resolution.

Whose Country is This? Trump, Coolidge, and Immigration

Bruce W. Dearstyne

Reprinted from “Whose Country is This? Trump, Coolidge, and Immigration,” History News Network, February 16, 2019.

     The current divisive debate over national immigration policy has two sets of confrontational positions. On one side, advocates of immigration favor a liberal policy of admitting sizable numbers of immigrants, no discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, or national origin, and protection of undocumented immigrants. On the other side, President Trump is the leading spokesperson and advocate for building a wall on our southern border with Mexico, banning certain immigrants from entering the country, and deporting those living here illegally, many of whom, he insists, are criminals.

     The debate in some ways echoes discussions in the nation a century ago.

     In 1921, the vice president published an article entitled “Whose Country Is This?” in the popular magazine Good Housekeeping. “We are confronted by the clamor of multitudes who desire the opportunity offered by American life,” the author noted. But America has no place for “the vicious, the weak of body, the shiftless or the improvident . . . Our country must cease to be regarded as a dumping ground.” People accorded the privilege of immigrating to the U.S. should become productive, patriotic citizens. “It would not be unjust to ask of every alien: What will you contribute to the common good, once your were admitted through the gates of liberty?”

     “There are racial considerations too grave to be brushed aside for any sentimental reasons,” the author continued. “Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend. The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With other races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides.”

     What was needed was “the right kind of immigration.”

     That sounds a bit like some government leaders who are demanding immigration restriction today. Actually, it was Calvin Coolidge (R, Vice President, 1921-1923, President 1923-1929).

He became President on August 2, 1923, upon the death of President Warren G. Harding, and was elected in his own right the next year. Coolidge was bland and taciturn. He tried to avoid controversy. But Coolidge had strong views on immigration, some with parallels to today.

     In his first address to Congress on December 6, 1923, he struck a theme of limited, selective immigration: “New arrivals should be limited to our capacity to absorb them into the ranks of good citizenship. America must be kept American. For this purpose, it is necessary to continue a policy of restricted immigration.”

In 1924, he signed the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act which severely limited immigration, imposed a quota system based on the 1890 census which in effect favored northern Europeans over others, continued a longstanding ban on Chinese immigration, and imposed a new one on Japanese immigration.

     His views on immigration were complicated. Speaking to a delegation of labor leaders on September 1, 1924, he asserted that “Restricted immigration has been adopted by this administration chiefly for the purpose of maintaining American standards. It undoubtedly has a very great economic effect. We want the people who live in America, no matter what their origin, to be able to continue in the enjoyment of their present unprecedented advantages. This opportunity would certainly be destroyed by the tremendous influx of foreign peoples if immigration were not restricted. Unemployment would become a menace, and there would follow an almost certain reduction of wages with all the attendant distress and despair which are now suffered in so many parts of Europe. Our first duty is to our own people.”

     The Republican Party platform that Coolidge campaigned on that year put the economic case this way: “The unprecedented living conditions in Europe following the world war created a condition by which we were threatened with mass immigration that would have seriously disturbed our economic life. The law recently enacted [the Johnson-Reed Act] is designed to protect the inhabitants of our country, not only the American citizen, but also the alien already with us who is seeking to secure an economic foothold for himself and family from the competition that would come from unrestricted immigration.” Putting the jobs argument more directly, immigration restriction “saves the American job for the American workman,” as Coolidge said in a speech in December of that year.

     On the other hand, he opposed some immigration restrictions and celebrated America as a melting pot. For instance, he lobbied Congress not to include the Japanese provision in the immigration act, and instead to continue a longstanding, informal agreement by which Japan voluntarily limited the number of its citizens emigrating to America. Congress included it anyway. In his formal signing statement on May 26, 1924, an angry Coolidge called the provision “unnecessary and deplorable” and asserted that Americans had a “sentiment of admiration and cordial friendship for the Japanese people” despite the new law.

     He told the American Legion convention in 1925 that “Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower, or three years [ago in] the steerage, is not half so important as whether his Americanism of today is real and genuine. No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat.”

     In a 1926 speech, he said “when once our feet have touched this soil, when once we have made this land our home, wherever our place of birth, whatever our race, we are all blended in one common country. All artificial distinctions of lineage and rank are cast aside. We all rejoice in the title of Americans.” In Calvin Coolidge’s public utterances and his actions on immigration, several themes emerge. Some have reverberations for today.

     Coolidge emphasized that America has prospered and excelled in the past. Times were good then. But things seem to be slipping. Principles and values seemed in danger and future prospects appeared dimmer. Coolidge thought Americans had to be on guard. That sentiment sounds similar to Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again.”  

     Coolidge encouraged assimilation. He believed that most past immigrants adopted American values and assimilated with the population already living here. Race, religion, and a consensus about the importance of family, hard work, and patriotism were important parts of that process. But, he went on, people now clamoring for admission were of different races and religions, and were determined to hold onto their own cultures and values. These new immigrants tended to stay together rather than assimilate and blend in and, to Coolidge, that made them a threat to the nation. Coolidge’s views in this area seem similar in some ways to Trump’s and other immigration restrictionists.

     Economics was a critical issue in Coolidge’s thinking. The economy was expanding but there were only so many jobs to go around, he implied. Letting in too many immigrants would take jobs from citizens already here. America’s capacity to absorb newcomers was therefore limited. That sounds a lot like immigration restrictionists’ arguments that immigrants (particularly undocumented immigrants) compete with American citizens for jobs, especially low-paying positions.

     Coolidge felt that Americans need not be concerned with conditions in other countries or the fate or prospects of people who wanted to come in as immigrants but were not allowed to do so. That was not something for which Americans had responsibility. It was up to those countries, and to the individuals living there, to fend for themselves. That, too, parallels the view expressed by immigration restrictionists today that unemployment, poverty, and violence elsewhere in the world, e.g., Central and South America, do not justify people from those nations seeking sanctuary here in the United States.

     We have to keep to “America First!” — a vague and undefined but popular slogan among Coolidge and conservatives in those days and occasionally used by President Trump. It has overtones of American exceptionalism, nationalism, and patriotism but also undertones of nativism and racism.

Whose country is this? It was a central question a century ago, and still is today. President Coolidge and President Trump might have similar answers to the question.

Whose Country is This?

By Calvin Coolidge, Vice-President elect of the United States Good Housekeeping, volume 72 number 2, February 1921, pages 13-14, 109

Men and women, in and of themselves, are desirable. There can’t be too many inhabitants of the right kind, distributed in the right place. Great work there is for each and every one of them to perform. The country needs all the intelligence, and skill, and strength of mind and body it can get, whether we draw such form those within our gates, or from those without, seeking entrance. But since we are confronted by the clamor of multitudes who desire the opportunity offered by American life, we must face the situation unflinchingly, determined to relinquish not one iota of our obligations to others, yet not be so sentimental as to overlook our obligations to ourselves. It is a self-evident truth that in a healthy community there is no place for the vicious, the weak of body, the shiftless, or the improvident. As professor Sumner of Yale, asserts in his book, “The Forgotten Man,” “every part of capital which is wasted on the vicious, the idle, and the shiftless, is so much taken form the capital available to reward the independent and productive laborer.” We are in agreement with him in his conviction that the laborer must be protected “against the burdens of the good-for-nothing.

We want no such additions to our population as those who prey upon our institutions or our property. America has, in popular mind, been an asylum for those who have been driven form their homes in foreign countries because of various forms of political and religious oppression. But America cannot afford to remain an asylum after such people have passed the portals and begun to share the privileges of our institutions.

These institutions have flourished by reason of a common background of experience; they have been perpetuated by a common faith in the righteousness of their purpose; they have been handed down undiminished in effectiveness from our forefathers who conceived their spirit and prepared the foundations. We have put into operation our faith in equal opportunity before the law in exchange for equal obligation of citizens. All native-born Americans, directly or indirectly, have the advantage of our schools, our colleges, and our religious bodies. It is our belief that America could not otherwise exist. Faith in mankind is in no way inconsistent with a requirement for trained citizenship, both for men and women. No civilization can exist without a background-an active community of interest, a common aspiration-spiritual, social, and economic. It is a duty our country owes itself to require of all those aliens who come here that they have a background not inconsistent with American institutions. Such a background might consist either of a racial tradition or a national experience. But in its lowest terms it must be characterized by a capacity for assimilation. While America is built on a broad faith in mankind, it likewise gains its strength by a recognition of a needed training for citizenship. The Pilgrims were not content merely to reach our shores in safety, that they might live according to a sort of daily opportunism. They were building on firmer ground than that. Sixteen years after they landed at Plymouth, they and their associates founded Harvard College. They institutionalized their faith in education. That was their offering for the common good. It would not be unjust to ask of every alien: What will you contribute to the common good, once your were admitted through the gates of liberty? Our history is full of answers of which we might be justly proud. But of late, the answers have not been so readily or so eloquently given. Our country must cease to be regarded as a dumping ground. Which does not mean that it must deny the value of rich accretions drawn from the right kind of immigration.

Any such restriction, except as a necessary and momentary expediency, would assuredly paralyze our national vitality. But measured practically, it would be suicidal for us to let down the bars for the inflowing of cheap manhood, just as, commercially, it would be unsound for this country to allow her markets to be over flooded with cheap goods, the produce of cheap labor. There is no room for either the cheap man or the cheap goods. I do not fear the arrival of as many immigrants a year as shipping conditions or passport requirements can handle, provided they are of good character. But there is no room for the alien who turns toward America with the avowed intention of opposing government, with a set desire to teach destruction of government-which means not only enmity toward organized society, but toward every form of religion and so basic an institution as the home.

If we believe, as we do, in our political theory that the people are the guardians of government, we should not subject our government to the bitterness and hatred of those who have not been born in our tradition and are willing to yield an increase to the strength inherent in our institutions. American liberty is dependent on quality in citizenship. Our obligation is to maintain that citizenship at its best. We must have nothing to do with those who undermine it. The retroactive immigrant is a danger in our midst. His purpose is to tear down. There is no room for him here. He needs to be deported, not as a substitute for, but as a part of his punishment. We might avoid this danger were we insistent that the immigrant, before he leaves foreign soil, is temperamentally keyed for our national background. There are racial considerations too grave to be brushed aside for any sentimental reasons. Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend. The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With our races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides. Quality of mind and body suggests that observance of ethnic law is as great a necessity to a nation as immigration law.

We must remember that we have not only the present but the future to safeguard; our obligations extend even to generations yet unborn. The unassimilated alien child menaces our children, as the alien industrial worker, who has destruction rather than production in mind, menaces our industry. It is only when the alien adds vigor to our stock that he is wanted. The dead weight of alien accretion stifles national progress. But we have a hope that cannot be crushed; we have a background that we will not allow to be obliterated. The only acceptable immigrant is the one who can justify our faith in man by a constant revelation of the divine purpose of the Creator.

Figure 1: A 1921 political cartoon portrays America’s new immigration quotas, influenced by popular anti-immigrant and nativist sentiment stemming from World War I conflict. Source: Library of Congress

Conscientious Educators Under Fire

Charles P. Howlett & Patricia Howlett                                              [Excerpted with Permission from Peace & Change, 44 (2), 169-206]

     On matters of teacher loyalty and conscience, World War I marked a legal watershed in the United States. During this conflict, schools became seminaries of patriotism and teachers had to promote loyalty and allegiance to the government. On the local level, the New York State Legislature passed a 1917 law mandating that teachers would be subject to dismissal for “the utterance of any treasonable or seditious word” and even created a commission to hear and examine complaints about “seditious” textbooks in subjects like civics, history, economics, and English literature. In elementary schools, teachers were instructed to teach the themes of patriotism, heroism, and sacrifice as well as learning about the differences between German autocracy and the American democratic way of life.

     New York City, the nation’s largest school system, became the flash point for conflict over conscience. One Board of Education member, General Thomas Wingate, displaying the bluntness of a drill sergeant rather than the aplomb befitting his retired military rank, proclaimed in the New York Times that “It is time to read the riot act to some of these teachers . . . [T]he teacher who teaches pacifism and that this country should not defend itself is a thousand times more dangerous than the teacher who gets drunk and lies in the gutter.” Despite elaborate hearings, defense counsel and all the appearances of a trial, the decision to fire teachers had been largely predetermined by the hysteria and overzealousness of the educational officials in charge of conducting the proceedings. Throughout the city’s school system, teachers were suspended, transferred to another school, or dismissed for questioning American military involvement, refusing to teach patriotism in their classes, or not taking the recently enacted loyalty oath.

    At first, the New York City Board of Education denied certificates of morality and loyalty to probationary teachers which they needed for permanent licensure and tenure. This became the backdoor method for avoiding a school hearing or trial. Anyone in the classroom who was suspected of disloyalty or sympathetic to socialist ideas or pacifism risked an investigation that would determine if they could keep their certificate. High school teachers such as Harrison C. Thomas at De Witt Clinton High School were denied their certificate even though Thomas had been classified as a conscientious objector. Because he would not enthusiastically promote Liberty Bonds with his students and  proclaimed “he would do anything but fight,” the high school committee of the Board of Education found him unfit to teach. Although not a conscientious objector, Bernard M. Parelhoff of George Washington High School was also denied his certificate “because he did not believe in teaching patriotism in the schools and had no reverence for the uniform.” Thomas and Parelhoff were just two of many teachers from city high schools, including Girls’ Commercial, Stuyvesant, Brunswick, and Julia Richman, to have their certificates not renewed.

     Teachers faced much the same on the elementary level. Alexander Fichlander of Public School 165 in Brooklyn was denied his certificate. At Public School 62, twenty-four teachers were grilled by their immediate supervisors and then their cases were referred to the board of education for a public hearing about their fitness for certification in January 1918. In all of these cases of certificates denied, no trial or hearing took place.

     A number of secondary and elementary teachers possessing licenses and accused of disloyalty resisted; they were willing to go to trial (such proceedings were classified as a hearing before school administrators and board officials, which were conducted in legal fashion with both the board’s attorney and defense counsel for the accused, so it really was a trial). One of the most notable cases occurred at De Witt Clinton High School in the northern part of The Bronx. Three teachers — Samuel Schmalhausen, Thomas Mufson, and A. Henry Schneer — were dismissed from their teaching positions. A trial was held for all three in early December 1917.

     Schmalhausen, an instructor in English, was charged with “unbecoming conduct” because he gave a writing assignment asking students to compose “a frank letter to Woodrow Wilson commenting on his conduct of the war against the government of Germany.” Schneer, a mathematics teacher, was found guilty because he insisted that if uniformed soldiers came in to address students so, too, should pacifists be invited to speak as well as his opposition to military training in schools. Mufson, also an English teacher, was accused of discussing anarchism in class and for taking a neutral position on the war — during his testimony he refused to answer any questions pertaining to active support for the war.

     After the day-long trial they were discharged, according to the City Board of Education, for “holding views subversive of good discipline and [sic] undermining good citizenship in the schools.” They were fired because of their socialist opposition to the war and alleged “radicalism”; Mufson also felt that anti-Semitism played a role since all three were Jewish.

     Whatever the precise combination of factors, school officials quickly became obedient servants to the state and followed orders. Gustave Straubenmuller, acting superintendent of the city’s schools, instructed principals to submit to his office the names of any teacher whose patriotism was questionable. Investigations throughout the city school system were rampant. Given the nationalistic climate at that moment, the superintendent had numerous supporters within the teaching ranks. Many teachers were quite vocal in demanding the dismissal of any colleague who criticized the war effort.

       One of the clearest examples occurred in December 1917, when a large contingent of   teachers gathered at the respected Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan for a “loyalty meeting.” They called for the firing of “disloyal” teachers, demanding their immediate dismissal from the classroom. The meeting concluded with teachers loudly proclaiming a loyalty pledge which stated in part: “We declare ourselves to be in sympathy with the purposes of the government and its efforts to make the world safe for democracy, and believe that our highest duty at this moment is to uphold the hands of the President and Congress in this crisis.”

     What quickly followed was the New York “Teachers Council” establishing an investigative arm to sanitize every school of “disloyal” and “unpatriotic” teachers. A questionnaire was sent to all 23,000 teachers ascertaining their beliefs about the war as well as undertaking an effort to remove from the classroom German alien teachers who had not taken out citizenship papers. Such action prompted the Teachers Union to counter with a petition opposing the signing of such loyalty pledges under compulsion. Some eighty-seven teachers endorsed it; the union also wrote President Wilson requesting that he draft a pledge, which teachers could sign “without violating their consciences.” It never materialized.

     John Dewey, sympathetic to the union’s position and seeing the rise of Prussianism at home, lashed out at the Board of Education by calling them “self-righteous patriots” who impugned other people’s loyalty. He also stated that the three teachers at De Witt Clinton were treated unfairly in being “charged with a lack of that active or aggressive loyalty which the state has a right to demand, in wartime particularly, from its paid servants.” Putting it bluntly, he referred to it as an “Inquisition.” These condemnations addressing compulsory loyalty fell on deaf ears. The momentum for total obedience continued unabated despite the 1897 New York State statute enacting tenure to protect teachers from unfair firings or political pressures. Creating a loyalty pledge provided a convenient pathway for charges “unbecoming a teacher” as allowed under the governing tenure statute.

     America going to war created an inconvenient truth for teachers when it came to matters of conscience. One of the earliest victims in this regard was Brooklyn elementary teacher Miss Fannie Ross of Public School 88; she was benched for six months. On December 27, 1917, according to the Flushing Evening Journal, Ross “had been found guilty of opposing the draft and of having used her influence against military enlistment.” As reported in the education journal, School and Society“It was charged that while acting as a census agent, she advised persons not to enlist in the military service, and induced them to claim exemption and that she was opposed to the drafting of men to wage war against the German government, and openly approved of the action of persons who refused to render military service.” However, after her hearing before the Committee on Elementary Schools, though found guilty of the charges, it “expressed the opinion that her utterances were tactless and not made in a spirit of disloyalty.” She accepted her suspension without pay.

     A German-born elementary schoolteacher, also from Brooklyn, became a clear-cut victim of legal injustice in the chapel of patriotic obedience. Unlike Ross, she was not so fortunate to keep her job. Gertrude Pignol, was fired after  a Board of Education hearing on May 7, 1918, on the grounds of “conduct unbecoming of a teacher,” an all too familiar and hard to overcome charge. Pignol immigrated to the United States from Germany when she herself was school aged and in 1911 applied for U.S. citizenship. A strong critic of German autocracy, she taught German and French at Brooklyn Manual for twelve years. In the fall of 1917, amid the patriotic hysteria sweeping the city schools she came under fire when an anonymous letter written by zealous teachers was sent to the board of education accusing her of being proGerman. In the spring of 1918, after she told her principal that she did not support U.S. military involvement but kept her personal beliefs to herself. She never once spoke about it to her students, yet her fate was nevertheless sealed. As evidence of her so-called “disloyalty,” disciplinary charges were brought against her for “wearing a locket engraved by her father and having a picture of the Kaiser’s grandfather on one side and the cornflower on the other.”

     Pignol could have challenged her dismissal in a court of law. This was a teacher’s last resort if the Commissioner did not overturn the school board’s ruling. Some dismissed teachers did file a claim in court, but the time and expense made this course of action prohibitive to most. When considering the wartime climate of opinion, moreover, the chances were most unlikely that a sympathetic judge or jury would rule in favor of the dismissed teacher. Still, there were a few teachers who chose to take their case to court in the name of conscience and to stand up to the loyalty craze. One of the most famous cases in this regard was the dismissal of Phi Beta Kappa, Swarthmore College graduate, and Quaker Mary Stone McDowell from Brooklyn’s Manual Training High School, the same high school as Pignol. When she refused to take the loyalty oath because of her Quaker faith, school officials promptly gave her a hearing and then fired her anyway. Little consideration was given to the right to conscience claimed by the Society of Friends’ religious opposition to war. Grounds for her dismissal in terms of insubordination were that she turned over her homeroom responsibilities for participation in student fundraising for the war and leading students in the pledge of allegiance to another teacher while she remained respectfully silent as well as not joining in supporting the teachers’ loyalty pledge formulated by the “Teachers Council.”

     McDowell, encouraged by attorneys for the New York Religious Society of Friends, chose to challenge her dismissal in state court, but she lost. Ironically, the reason she lost was because her attorneys, believing that this case was of such great magnitude in terms of religious freedom, decided to bypass the normal appeals process with the state Commissioner of Education and, instead, sought immediate relief in the state courts. The court ruled that she should have first appealed to the commissioner as part of the established due process procedure before filing suit. When they did take her case to the Commissioner, he also stood by the board’s decision. Her counsel then chose not to file a brief in the Court of Appeals, perhaps because no procedural error could be found meriting a review of the lower court ruling; the tactical strategy her attorneys employed bypassing established state education department procedures in such matters involving teacher discipline ultimately backfired. Her legal challenge, nonetheless, was the first case in American history involving the issue of religious  freedom in public education that went to a state court.

     To a certain extent, the anti-preparedness efforts of pacifist-socialist Brooklyn schoolteacher Jessie Wallace Hughan made teachers prime targets for loyalty zealots. Before the United States entered the conflict, Hughan was active in speaking out against the war. When the war first broke out she joined forces with other female pacifists Tracy Mygatt and Frances Witherspoon to initiate a number of peace groups that joined pacifism, Christianity, and socialist politics. In 1915, she organized the AntiEnlistment League, which enrolled 3,500 men who were willing to sign a declaration against military enlistment. After the country entered the war and three of her students signed an AntiEnlistment pledge, Hughan immediately became the subject of intense investigation by the city board of education for her antiwar activities. Fired up by the Wilson administration’s call for loyalty in schools her superintendent proclaimed, “We expect to bring before the Board of Education a resolution that will put a stop to Miss Hughan’s utterances and to those other teachers who have adopted a similar attitude.”

     Hughan was not intimidated. She insisted that as long as she separated her role as teacher from her actions as a citizen she was free to express her position on matters related to war and social injustice — the same defense Pignol raised to no avail. “The whole question it seems to me,” she vigorously argued, “centers not about war or peace, but about the right of an individual to express a personal opinion in public . . . I has never expressed my views in the school in which I teach and have never spoken as a teacher. So I cannot have been ‘taking advantage of my position as a teacher.’” Despite tremendous pressure from the local press, public, and school board Hughan was not dismissed because her actions occurred prior to American entrance into the war. However, it was her case that “was partly responsible for the [subsequent legislation on loyalty] that enabled New York school boards to fire teachers, such as Pignol and McDowell, who did not fully endorse the war effort.”

    In the years right after the war, fear and suspicion among teachers regarding the demands of state continued, with New York as its flashpoint. On March 26, 1919, the state legislature established a joint committee of six under the chairmanship of Senator Clayton R. Lusk. Although created as an investigating and not prosecuting body, this committee went out of its way to sponsor two new school laws. The first required a loyalty oath of all teachers and compelled any educators deemed guilty of advocating “a form of government other than the government of the United States or of this state” be removed from the classroom. In taking this oath, a teacher swore “that I am, have been and will be loyal and obedient to the government of this State and of the United States; that I have not while a citizen of the United States advocated, either by word of mouth or in writing, a form of government other than the government of the United States and of this State, nor have I advocated, either by word of mouth or in writing, a change in the form of government of the united States or of this State by force, violence or any unlawful means.” The second law required all private schools to be licensed by the state education department and stipulated that no license be granted to any school “where it shall appear that the instruction proposed to be given including the teaching of the doctrine that organized governments shall be overthrown by force, violence or unlawful means.” It was only  after Al Smith became governor that these laws were repealed. “I firmly believe,” Smith proclaimed, “that I am vindicating the principle that, within the limits of the penal law, every citizen may speak and teach what he believes.”

     Between the world wars, numerous states, including New York, required schoolteachers to sign an allegiance pledge supporting the Constitution of the United States. The residual effects of the war’s patriotic impulse, apart from the imposition of newly enacted loyalty oaths, also resonated long after the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. Teachers were still being held accountable for their remarks and positions on war and peace. Again, New York took center stage. A teacher in Public School 83 in New York City, Louis Jacobs, had been drafted but because of his conscientious scruples was declared “a sincere objector by the Board of Inquiry, and had been furloughed to the Friends’ Reconstruction Union [Unit] for service in Russia.” His conscientious objection to war made no difference in the eyes of Superintendent William Ettinger. His reinstatement was denied in 1919 on the grounds that the Superintendent “deemed him unfit for further teaching once the War was over.” On May 28, 1919, Louis H. Blumenthal of Public School 148 in Brooklyn was officially terminated “because as a conscientious objector to war, he refused to enter the Army.” Morris High School German and Spanish teacher Fritz A.H. Leuchs, in one of the strangest cases, was originally suspended on October 30, 1918, right after he decided to enlist in the Army. He was officially tried after the war for “unbecoming conduct” — sympathy for Germany, avoiding assemblies involving the flag salute, and lack of participation in War Savings Stamps and Liberty Bond drives. At his trial, the New York Times reported, “he appeared in the uniform of a United States soldier and showed his honorable discharge from the army. The only thing that he did not deny was that he had tried to enter the German army as a non-combatant before the war was declared by the United States.” The charges for dismissal were not upheld, his suspension removed, and his reinstatement immediately went into effect. Because of hostility expressed toward him by fellow teachers, he was transferred to another school due to his perceived lack of “respect to the war programme at Morris.” English teacher Garibaldi LaPolla, at De Witt Clinton High, the focal point of numerous investigations, and Stuyvesant High history teacher Charles Hamm found themselves scrutinized for possible dismissal in 1922 because four years earlier they “signed a letter . . . urging that men with conscientious scruples against killing be permitted to serve in noncombatant work.” In 1922, history teacher Simon Goldblum, again from De Witt Clinton, had to defend himself “because of a reputed remark in 1918 that reports of German atrocities had been exaggerated.”


Beale, H. (1936). Are American teachers free? Washington DC: American Historical Association.

Dewey, J. (1917). “Public education on trial,” New Republic 13. Ekirch, A. (1969). The decline of American liberalism. New York: Athenaeum.

Howlett, P. and Howlett, C. (2008, August). “A Silent Witness for Peace: The Case of Schoolteacher Mary Stone McDowell and America at War,” History of Education Quarterly 48(3). 

Kennedy, K. (1999). Disloyal Mothers and Scurrilous Citizens: Women and Subversion during World War 1. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press,

Keyishian v. Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York (January 23, 1967),

New York Times (February 22, 1919). “Find Teacher Is Loyal: charges made against Fritz A.H. Leuchs dismissed.”

New York Tribune (December 17, 1917). “Loyal teachers urge internment of the disloyal.”

Peterson, H. and Fite, G. (1957). Opponents of War, 1917-1918. Seattle: University of Washington.

Pierce, B. (1926). Public Opinion and the Teaching of History in the United States. New York: Knopf.

School and Society V (April 28, 1917).

School and Society VI (December 8, 1917).

School and Society VII (January 12, 1918).

The Importance of Teaching Financial Literacy in Middle Schools

 by Hank Bitten, NJCSS Executive Director

The new state mandate to teach financial literacy in middle schools was passed on January 3, 2019 and becomes required instruction in September. The law passed 38-0 in our State Senate and 76-1 in the New Jersey Assembly. The most likely reason for an almost unanimous vote is the multiple financial crises affecting all income areas of residents in our state. Although New Jersey has the fifth highest per capita income in the United States at $67,609 and some of the highest property values, residents are struggling with debt at $62,300 per capita.

Figure 1: Per capita personal income in the United States in 2018, by state (in U.S. dollars) (  )

Reasons for the New Financial Literacy Law

The alarm was sounded by a report in July 2014 from the Federal Reserve Bank that perhaps 52% of Americans have less than $400 in emergency savings: “Only 48 percent of respondents said that they would completely cover a hypothetical emergency expense costing $400 without selling something or borrowing money.”

Although statistics can be distorted, they are still important and helpful. The data supports the need for financial education in grades K-12. Retirement savings are low and almost non-existent by younger workers, identified as “Millennials” (1980-2000) who are likely the parents of our students. According to a 2019 survey by Merrill Lynch 7 out of 10 millennials ages 18-34 received financial support from their parents in the last year. The primary reason for this is personal debt.

As a retired baby boomer, I remember when

• the owner of the corner grocery store would total the prices on a paper bag

• my parents received S&H green stamps as a reward for shopping

• my grandparents did not have a checking account and kept their savings in the basement

• only male students on my college campus had credit cards

• leaving school during my lunch hour to bring my pay check to the bank.

Financial matters were simpler, the line to deposit or cash a check was long, and money changed hands less frequently than it does today.

The technology of the ATM, direct deposit, PayPal, Apple Pay and a host of other fee-based services takes our money with its “invisible hand.” We are faced with up to 20 automatic deductions from our salaries within hours or days from earning it. For example, a person who uses an ATM machine with a fee of $3.00 a transaction is likely to pay more than $150 on weekly withdrawals over a year. If an organization collects $40,000 through PayPal or another provider, they will pay 2.9% per transaction or almost $1,200 in fees! New Jersey required the teaching of financial literacy K-12 in the 2009 Learning Outcomes and mandated a semester course as a requirement for high school graduation. New Jersey has 117 Learning Outcomes for teaching financial literacy in Grades K-12 in seven content areas of income and careers, money management, credit and debt, planning, saving, and investing, being a critical consumer, civic financial responsibility, and insuring and protecting.

Based on a survey of 65,000 college students administered by USA Today in 2014: “Students who took a class did better on the survey’s financial knowledge questions, were found to be more averse to debt, more likely to pay credit card bills on time, and less likely to go over their credit limit…The study, which is in its second year, is the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of high school financial literacy education on not only knowledge but attitudes and behaviors.”

The National Financial Literacy Report compiled by Champlain College (2017) identified only five states with a requirement of a ‘stand alone’ semester course and an effective curriculum that includes activities, relevance, and specific benchmarks. New Jersey received a grade of “B” while 27 states and the District of Columbia, a majority, received grades of C, D, and F.

As you will see in this report (  ), a B grade does not necessarily mean that a state requires an adequate level of instruction. The Center estimates that half of “Grade B” states allocated less than one-quarter of a half-year course in high school to personal finance topics. This means that students in 8 of these “Grade B” states received between 7 and 13 hours of personal finance instruction in four years of high school. The report identified only11 states that required 15 or more hours of personal finance education in high school.

What Does the New Financial Literacy Law Require?

The legislation mandates that students receive instruction based on the NJ Learning Outcomes for Financial Literacy (9.1) in Grades 6, 7, and 8. The new mandate does not quantify the number of hours of instruction and it specifically requires instruction in each grade level rather than a semester or year course in any one grade. Schools should embrace this as an opportunity to establish positive student behaviors and engage students in decision-making and problem solving. In a school with a curriculum focusing on the application of real life situations, students in Grades K-5 are learning to respect money and understanding how our economy functions, middle school students are applying personal financial lessons to what they are studying in social studies and math and using the tools of technology to analyze their decisions and solutions to problems, and high school students are demonstrating competence as financial planners using scenarios and presentations.

Where Should Financial Literacy be Taught?

Many districts teach financial literacy in social studies, business or family and consumer science courses, math classes, or computer technology courses. The new law suggests a fragmented approach by requiring instruction for a few days or weeks in Grades 6, 7, and 8 without identifying the courses where it will be implemented or the amount of instructional time that is appropriate. Another perspective on this limited approach is to translate five days of instruction in 40-minute periods to about three hours of instruction. The research suggests that effective instruction is best taught in a semester course with 15 or more hours of instruction. There are currently 58 mandated Learning Outcomes for teaching financial literacy in Grades 6-8 and if one class period was allocated for each Learning Outcome, students would need over 30 hours of instruction, instead of 9 hours over three years! The National Financial Literacy Report is critical of instruction that is limited to one quarter or less, or the equivalent of 30 hours of instruction.

A study by The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in January 2015 of three states (Georgia, Texas, Idaho) cited evidence of changes in financial decision-making by students in Texas and Georgia which required a half-year course for graduation, teacher training, clearly stated learning outcomes, and state and/or national assessments:

Based on our analysis, we conclude that exposure to the types of high school personal financial education mandated by these three states improves credit scores and reduces delinquency rates for young adults.

The research strongly indicates that it is important to talk about money with students, provide activities that encourage problem solving and decision-making, application of math skills, and relevance to what is taught or a student’s personal situation. Although credit cards, auto insurance, college loans, savings, and developing a personal budget are the most likely financial decisions for high school students in the next five years, there are also opportunities for personal application in a history or economics course which includes lessons on inflation, trade, national debt, and the inequality of income. Their parents are likely discussing banking, budgeting, mortgages, college expenses, investments and their grandparents are concerned with Social Security, retirement planning, and insurance. Even if students are not directly involved with these personal matters, they are aware of them.

How Should Financial Literacy be Taught?

After accepting the importance of financial education and its relationship to your district’s mission statement, the first step is for the curriculum team in your district and school to decide the best way to effectively deliver instruction on the required NJ Learning Outcomes. Piaget’s theories provide a significant understanding that middle school students are exploring and challenging theories about how the world works. Effective instruction leading to changed behaviors must be relevant, make applications to their prior knowledge and provide opportunities for inquiry, research, debate, and presentation. Instead of a checklist based on core content or the completion of a number of activity sheets, consider how scenarios, simulations, speakers, decision-making, and problem-solving impact enduring understandings and new behaviors regarding saving, spending, investing, and planning.

The second step is to identify the resources for these strategies. Consider planning your curriculum with the assistance of college professors, professional organizations, local banks and entrepreneurs. They require discernment, planning and customizing to your student population. Although there are many resources available on the internet and from banks, investment firms, and entrepreneurs, a serious concern is that some of these resources are simply not effective, do not support student inquiry and are missing applications to prior knowledge. The Council on Economic Education has developed lessons with application to economics and history that are also adaptable to financial literacy concepts. An organization in New York City, Working in Support of Educators (W!SE) has developed a best practices curriculum with assessments. A benefit of the W!SE program is that its effectiveness is demonstrated in many different states and in urban and suburban districts. The New Jersey Council on Economic Education offers professional development programs, webinars, and assistance. See the Works Cited section at the end of this article for their websites.

The third step is to provide meaningful and effective professional development for your teachers. When possible, professional development opportunities should be offered to every teacher in the district. Professional development is affordable and practical by using experienced teachers of financial literacy and economics in your district. Also, banks are required under the Community Reinvestment Act to support financial education in the areas where they are located and colleges and investment firms (real estate, insurance, Chamber of Commerce, etc.) have extensive experience and resources that can lead to a best practices model curriculum for your students. Consider a partnership or collaborative dialogue to get started.

The Importance of Assessments

A critical part of a best practice curriculum on financial literacy includes assessments that engage students in demonstrating their level of competency in addressing problems relating to financial decision making. One concern of the critics who are opposed to requiring financial literacy in schools is that it is not effective and has not produced significant changes in student’s behavior because it lacks relevance to the decisions that make in middle school and high school. A recent article in the Washington Post (April 23, 2019) stated that financial literacy is a “waste of time” and a poor financial decision:

That’s because financial education simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t change behavior — as numerous studies have shown. Indeed, the fact that giving people information does not, by itself, change how they act is one of the most firmly established in social science, whether the subject is the dangers of drug use, the value of getting vaccinated or the calories in a restaurant’s bacon cheeseburger. The same is true of finance.”

Assessments can provide important answers to the debate on the efficacy of financial literacy instruction in grades K-12, especially when assessments involve more than one classroom or school and are validated by an outside professional organization or college faculty. Questions requiring an explanation are best for assessing what students have learned and how they are thinking. An example that includes multiple scenarios is: Select three (3) scenarios below and answer the question with a complete explanation as to which type of insurance policy (if any) is covered and a detailed explanation of the reasons. •

Scenario No. 1: A fire from another apartment destroys much of your apartment and your belongings. Whose insurance (yours of your landlord’s) pays for what? •

Scenario No. 2: You are negligent and leave food on your hot stove, starting a fire. Whose policy pays and what is covered? Are you liable for damage to the apartment building? •

Scenario No. 3: Your landlord is negligent in not repairing a plumbing problem you’ve been reporting, and a pipe bursts. Whose insurance (yours or your landlord’s) pays and what is covered?

Scenario No. 4: Someone trips and falls in your apartment and is injured. Does you renter’s liability pay for the injury, or your landlord’s?

• Scenario No. 5: Your apartment is broken into and your computer, television, and some jewelry are stolen. Are you covered?

Scenario No. 6: Your landlord claims you have damaged the apartment and is keeping part of your security deposit. Will the renter’s insurance cover this loss?

Scenario No. 7: Your washing machine overflows, flooding the basement.

Although multiple choice questions may not always represent higher cognitive skills, Working in Support of Educators (W!SE) provides valuable multiple choice assessments as part of their financial literacy certification test for students. The depth of learning comes with their rich data base of practice questions because the choices lead to deeper student inquiry and research. One benefit of using their multiple choice assessments is that these questions have been tested for reliability and validity and can be used objectively to measure local performance with other classes, schools or states.

Educators should also think about the importance of a longitudinal study of students taking financial literacy classes over time. Even if the evidence collected is anecdotal, it is helpful to collect data about financial decisions while students are still in school. For example, if financial literacy is taught in Grades 9 or 10, students in Grades 11 and 12 might be administered some of the questions they answered in Grades 9 or 10 to see if their answers remained consistent or if they improved or regressed.


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