Bryan Stevenson: On Equality and Social Justice

Bryan Stevenson: I know this to be true

On Equality and Social Justice

Book Reviewed by Hank Bitten, NJCSS Executive Director

I am a history teacher who wanted to learn about the perspectives of racial inequality and social justice as a result of the events during the summer of 2020. Although I have a strong content background in the history of African Americans, slavery, reconstruction, prejudice and discrimination, constitutional law, the economics of poverty, and human rights, I never taught a course on social inequality, criminal justice, or how to address problems in this area.

A former student, Dr. Christopher Borgen, who is a law professor at St. John’s University, introduced me to the Equal Justice Initiative and its founder, Bryan Stevenson. After visiting the EJI website and learning from others that Bryan Stevenson was a past speaker at an NCSS convention, I read his book, all 66 pages in about 30 minutes!

The book was different from what I was expecting. When I read the description on the Amazon website, I was expecting stories of convicted felons on death row who were falsely accused and then represented by Dr. Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. Instead, I discovered that I shared the same hopes, values, and mission as Bryan Stevenson, even though our life experiences were very different. The things we shared were loving grandmothers, disappointing high school educational experiences, religious faith, and a calling to help people by making a difference in their lives. My world view that we are placed into situations by circumstance (or divine intervention) was reinforced in the 66 pages of what I read.

Bryan Stevenson lived in a rural town in southern Delaware from 1959 until he graduated from Eastern University (PA) in 1977. He attended the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard where he earned a Master of Arts degree in Public Policy and a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. After moving to Atlanta, he was an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in 1989 he founded the non-profit law center, Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery. His life’s work is committed to eliminating life-without-parole sentences and capital punishment for juveniles. The Equal Justice Initiative have won reversals or release for 135 wrongly convicted death row prisoners.

The EJI opened the Legacy Museum in 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama to focus on racial inequality and the challenges of race discrimination in the criminal justice system in the United States. The current digital exhibits on racial justice, Reconstruction, and criminal justice reform are informative.

As a white, middle class, educated person living in a suburban community, my wife and I taught our children and now we are teaching our grandchildren that the police are your friend.  We instill in them that if you are ever in trouble to seek the advice of the police who are easily recognized by their uniforms. This is teachable because all of us deserve to be treated equally! The book provides examples of how “our society applies a presumption of dangerousness and guilt to young black men, and that’s what leads to wrongful arrests ad wrongful convictions and wrongful death sentences, not just wrongful shootings.” The example of injustice is the story of Walter McMillian who was sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of Ronda Morrison, an eighteen-year old white woman. He was treated unfairly because he was targeted, the victim of false testimonies, convicted of a life sentence by an all-white jury, and then this sentence was changed to the death sentence by judicial override.  This short book emphasizes the power of mercy and redemption and how simple interventions based on perseverance can lead to justice and goodness and change lives.

The K-12 educational experience of Bryan Stevenson gave me a different perspective of my own experiences. I was educated in the Paterson Public Schools from 1952-1964. I went to overcrowded schools, we were attacked by black teenagers from the other side of the real estate dividing line, lacked a college preparatory experience even though I was in the Academic program, and skipped two years graduating at age 16. Bryan Stevenson’s experience was similar and yet opposite. Although he went to school a decade later, his mother and grandmother were anxious every day about his experiences in an integrated school. Both of our mothers and grandparents were influential in teaching us to read (newspapers and encyclopedias) and we were both the first in our families to attend and graduate from college.

The second perspective I gained from this book was first introduced to me in Race Matters by Cornell West. I read this book in the 1990s and the narrative demonstrated by African Americans through all the years of segregation, insecurity, and prejudice is one of love, hope, and a desire for acceptance. During the current national dialogue of racial inequality and social injustice, I think back to my first years as a teacher at Martin Luther High School in Maspeth, Queens. This was the year of the strike by teachers in the New York Public Schools and the year that neighborhood schools ended and busing to integrated schools began. As a new teacher, I was instructed to start an African American History course, even though college courses in this field were rare and not part of my education. As a result, I learned with my students, enrollment increased to multiple sections, and my students taught me about their experiences in East New York, (and other communities), threats against them on public transportation, and the difficulty in finding work. I also learned about the experiences of their parents in the workforce at a time when the Bakke decision by the Supreme Court challenged the validity of minority quotas.

The third perspective, the one that motivated me to write this book review, was the role and influence of the church and the driving values that motivated the life work and decisions of Bryan Stevenson.  I discovered in this narrative the importance of social and emotional learning, that solutions are always a process rather than an answer, and the importance of teachers in educating students.

It is important for teachers to understand the narrative of fear.  This is evident in the restrictions of the plantation, denial of literacy, and Jim Crow segregation.  It is also evident in the classification of drug addicts and users as criminals instead of individuals with a sickness or mental health condition. Fear is a powerful force in the human condition. We are taught to fear the consequences of breaking laws and rules as well as fearing failure.

It is equally important for teachers to teach and be a voice of hope and help. The social studies teachers I am privileged to know want to make a positive difference in the lives of their students. This is why civic education and historical context is important to them because the context supports equality, freedom, respect, justice, respect, and human rights. These are the threads that weave every day in the lessons of ancient societies, the Enlightenment, totalitarian rulers, colonial America, abolition, suffrage, Reconstruction, the New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society, and the American Dream.

The impressive personal story of Bryan Stevenson is one of notable accomplishments but the difference he has been able to make in the lives of people through the Equal Justice Initiative is very similar to the impactful stories of teachers.  Although our calling is to teach social studies, we are also teachers of life skills, the extraordinary lessons of handling crises, and how to persevere through the frustrations of declining test scores and disappointments. Teachers are always modeling resilience, perseverance, and help.

Another lesson that was reinforced for me through this book was the concept of leadership. Leadership in the classroom is demonstrated by getting our students to support common goals of listening to others, searching for the truth, asking questions, doing our best, and supporting each other.  Bryan Stevenson also includes speaking out for what is right!  This includes making our classrooms and schools free from fear and anger, free from complacency and ignorance, and places where students feel comfortable to ask questions, learn different perspectives, and respect the competing ideas that are inherent in a democracy.

There are many lessons throughout this book and they will speak to each person in a different way. Regarding civic engagement, it is important to follow the calling in one’s heart in addition to their cognitive knowledge of what needs to be changed. It also means to think small when there are big problems. Bryan Stevenson lives in a state with a very high poverty rate and a record of harsh punishments against people. The lesson I came away with is to make a difference where I can, even if it is in the lives of just a few. For your students, let them know that they are witnesses to everything they see – bullying, sexism, injustice, inequality, favoritism, patronizing, cheating, lying, exaggerating, complacency, etc.

The book takes only a few hours to read but the messages in the book will last a long time!

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. 

Using John Lewis’ March Graphic Novel Trilogy in Middle School

Using John Lewis’s March Graphic Novel Trilogy in Middle School

Nicole L. Waid, State University of New York (SUNY)—Oneonta

Many adolescent learners’ knowledge of the history comes from their social studies textbook. Misco (2014) posited that the organization of social studies content must encourage the students to engage in reflective learning activities that they can connect to real world experiences. Ogawa and Kusahara (2011) acknowledged that teachers often glean a significant part of their understanding of the social studies content from information in textbooks. Loewen (2008) pointed out that history is a collection of fascinating stories and suggested that telling the stories of the past could ignite the sense of wonderment in adolescent students that are absent in many students. Loewen felt the problem was the format of social studies textbooks.

Textbooks often struggle to not only illuminate the past, but they fail to use history to put contemporary issues into context. Despite middle school students’ lack of motivation to read social studies textbooks, most adolescents are proficient in using an array of multimodal texts such as the movies, comics, and various internet sources (Draper & Reidel, 2011).

Using graphic novels in middle school social studies classes is a successful way to invigorate instruction. Serchay (2008) described graphic novels as nonfiction or fiction books that follow a similar format as comic books and typically tell a story from start to finish. Draper and Reidel (2011) explained that graphic novels engage middle school students by combining visual and verbal elements to bridge the gap between content from social studies and multimodal texts that students use outside of school. Using graphic novels as instructional tools could promote engagement during literacy-based activities. Graphic novels have emerged as an ‘in demand’ format with today’s adolescents due to popular cable series like The Walking Dead and movies like V for Vendetta.

According to The Lexile Framework for Reading (2012) combining art and text helps engage struggling readers. Cromer and Clark (2007) noted that contemporary graphic novels’ imagery and first-person accounts differ from traditional historical narratives third person. Graphic novels that focus on social studies content provide a narrative approach to social studies education that is more engaging to adolescent learners.

Graphic novels are useful resources that allow students to contextualize the information in the text. Contextualization refers to the student going beyond just comprehending the actual words found in the text to making connections to the historical period depicted in the graphic novel. This contextualization leads to a richer understanding how the events result in awareness of the historical period (Britt & Aglinskas, 2002). Boennan-Cornell (2015) made the contention that instructing students how to read a variety of primary and secondary texts using multiple approaches prepares them to analyze texts more critically. Zammit (2007) was in agreement with Boennan-Cornell’s belief that using graphic novels prepares students to analyze texts more critically and added that it also enabled students to create similar documents to apply the higher level application skills to they gained from critically analyzing graphic novels.

With the emergence of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) teachers have to reevaluate their teaching practices to ensure that that they are making the appropriate instructional shifts that make students college and career ready under the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards. Lee and Swan (2013) identified two types of literacy instruction that attempt to address the instructional shifts that promote literacy in social studies; these areas are content area reading and disciplinary literacy. Social studies teachers are well positioned to put texts into the context of the content area. Social studies instruction focuses on many primary and secondary sources, so refining students’ content literacy skills are crucial. Shanahan and Shanahan (2008) characterized disciplinary literacies as incorporating literacy skills that are critical to creating, communicating and comprehending academic knowledge. Each of the areas of social studies has different literacy skills that are necessary to analyze texts that are appropriate individual topics such as history, economics, and geography.

There have been multiple studies that examined the impact of using graphic novels in social studies instruction. Bosma, Rule, and Krueger (2013) conducted a study of 25 suburban middle school students who were studying the American Revolution. The activity divided students into four groups, and each group was instructed to read one book on the American Revolution over the span of four consecutive 40 minute periods. Students engaged in the reading exercise before receiving instruction on the American Revolution. Students in two of the groups read graphic novels about the Boston Massacre and Patrick Henry and read illustrated nonfiction texts on Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party. The other two groups read graphic novels about Paul Revere and Boston Tea Party and read illustrated nonfiction books about the Boston Massacre and Patrick Henry. At the end of each day, the students answered a survey on a scale of one to ten to report how much they enjoyed the book and to measure their general interest in the topic. After two weeks, students compiled a list of five things they remembered about the book that their group read. That data obtained from the surveys suggested that shows students were able to recall more concepts and generalizations when reading graphic novels than to illustrated nonfiction texts. The findings also showed that students reported more enjoyment and interest were when reading the graphic novel as opposed to the illustrated nonfiction books.

Hawkins, Lopez, and Hughes (2016) discussed how to teachers in Illinois incorporated John LewisMarch Books One and Two (Lewis, Aydin& Powell, 2013, 2015) into two United States History mixed ability courses. The learning segments included pre-assessments that measured the students’ background knowledge about the civil rights movement and posttests that measured the impact the graphic novels had on student learning.

The pretest revealed the students’ apparent lack of knowledge about the pioneers of the civil rights movement and the struggles that Americans faced in their quest for civil rights. The students in both classes read March Book One and March Book Two in conjunction with classroom notes and instruction. The teachers used the graphic novels to scaffold instruction on literacy skills while addressing the historical content. One class used a guided learning packet that stressed vocabulary associated with the civil rights movement such as segregation, civil disobedience, March on Washington, and Freedom Rides. Instructed to define the words using context cues and direct quotations from the graphic novels.

The final part of the activity was student generated projects about the civil rights movement using evidence from the graphic novels as well as other primary and secondary sources. The students synthesized the information from multiple sources to demonstrate their knowledge of the civil rights era after reading the graphic novels.

The second United States History class read excerpts from both graphic novels as a supplement to classroom instruction and analyzing various primary and secondary sources. The students read March Book Two independently and noted key themes using a graphic organizer. The students noted the chronology of the events in the book and then worked in small groups to discuss why the book started and ended the way that they did. The second group also compared and contrasted the different perspectives from other primary and secondary sources on the civil rights era.

After the unit on social change was completed students completed the same questions about their knowledge of the civil rights movement. The students’ level of content knowledge of about civil rights era was increased dramatically after being exposed to March Book 2 and the other sources. The teachers saw the benefit of taking the instructional time to teach students how to read graphic novels because the use of graphic novels invigorated the instruction on racial justice (Hawkins, Lopez, & Hughes, 2016).

The New York City Department of Education has announced that the March trilogy (Lewis, Aydin & Powell, 2013, 2015, 2016) will be used to teach about the civil rights movement. Many strategies could be implemented using the March trilogy. Loewen’s (2008) critique of textbooks suggests that books do not put contemporary issues into context to make the information more compelling to adolescent learners. Using the C3 Framework could make the problem of civil rights more compelling.

The C3 Framework includes four elements:

1. Developing questions that act as the basis of historical inquiry,

2. Applying content reading and disciplinary literacy skills,

3. Evaluating and gathering evidence

4. Making evidence-based claims and taking informed action

 (The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards retrieved from .

Before students begin studying the civil rights movement, the teacher should do a pre-assessment to measure what they know about the civil rights movement. A KWL chart would be a useful tool for determining what background knowledge students have about the civil rights era. Once students fill out the K column the teacher would present the class with current events related to civil rights. The current events for this portion of the activity could include stories involving protests by Black Lives Matter activists and Colin Kaepernick, voter identification court rulings, gerrymandering and police violence against black people. Discussing contemporary issues related to civil rights will put the struggle for civil rights into a context that student could relate to everyday life. Class discussions about contemporary issues might lead to questions about civil rights. Students would come up with questions they would like to know about civil rights in the W column of the KWL chart. Compelling questions are questions that students use as the basis of their inquiries. If students can participate in the formation of the that students use as the basis of their inquiries. If students can participate in the formation of the compelling questions employed in historical investigations, they may be more motivated to find answers that will answer their questions by using evidence-based claims.

Once students complete the K and W of their KWL chart, students would work in three groups. Each group would be assigned either March Book 1 (Lewis, Aydin & Powell, 2013), March Book 2 (Lewis, Aydin & Powell, 2015) or March Book 3 (Lewis, Aydin & Powell, 2016). The students will discuss the questions they generated in the W column of their KWL chart to find any commonalities that exist. The groups will select one compelling question that will act as the basis for their historical inquiry and select supporting queries which support the compelling questions. Rothstein and Santana (2011) discussed the Question Formation Technique which helps students generate questions, refine their questions to make them more open-ended, prioritize the queries and formulating a plan to answer the questions.

The teacher would supply each group with supporting documents for each graphic novel. For example, additional primary and secondary sources related to sit-ins would supplement March Book 1 (Lewis, Aydin & Powell, 2013). Sources about the Freedom Rides would strengthen March Book 2 (Lewis, Aydin & Powell, 2015). Documents relating to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would supply additional information for March Book 3 (Lewis, Aydin & Powell, 2016). The teacher would provide scaffold questions for the supporting documents and a graphic organizer to record evidence to substantiate the claims they would make at the end of the inquiry. Students in each group would answer the scaffold questions and discuss the responses in their groups to determine how the answers fit into their set of questions. Students in each group would read their assigned graphic novel and create a timeline to make a precise sequence of events. One the scaffold questions, graphic organizers, and timelines are complete; students discuss the evidence they gathered from all the sources. The group would answer their compelling and support questions and then create their graphic novels that address their compelling questions.

Each group would present their graphic novels to the other two groups in the class. After all of the student-created graphic novels are presented, the students will fill in the L column of their KWL charts. If any questions remain unanswered after the presentations, they could be addressed in a class discussion. At the end of the March trilogy unit, students would brainstorm actions to improve civil rights in contemporary America.

Using the March trilogy in social studies classes when addressing civil rights in the United States could invigorate instruction by combining words and visuals to examine key events in the civil rights movements. Seeing images and text help motivate students to be more engaged because the story comes alive in a way that does not occur in traditional textbooks. Loewen (2008) felt that textbooks failed to address the fascinating stories that exist in United States History. The March trilogy tells John Lewis’s fascinating stories, and brings the conversation on civil rights into a real world context for the 21st century learner.


Boennan-Cornell,W. (2015). Using historic graphic novels in high school history classes: Potential for contextualization, sourcing, and corroborating. History Teacher, 48(2), 209-224.

Bosma, K., Rule, A. A., & Krueger, K. S. (2013). Social studies content reading about the American Revolution enhanced with graphic novels. Social Studies Research & Practice, 8(1), 59-76.

Britt, M. A. & Aglinskas, C. (2002) Improving students’ ability to identify and use source information. Cognition and Instruction 20(4), 485-522.

Cromer, M. & Clark, P. (2007). Getting graphic with the past: Graphic novels and the teaching of history. Theory and Research in Social Education, 35 (4), 574-591.

Draper, C.A. & Reidel, M. (2011). One nation, going graphic: Using graphic novels to promote critical literacy in social studies classrooms. Ohio Social Studies Review, 47(2), 3-12.

Hawkins, M., Lopez, K., Hughes, R.L.(2016). John Lewis’s March, Book Two: Assessing the impact of a graphic novel on teaching the civil rights movement. Social Education, 80 (3), p. 151-156.

Lee, J., Swan, K. (2013). Is the Common Core good for social studies? Yes, but… Social Education, 77(6), p. 327–330.

Lewis, J., Aydin, A. & Powell, N. (2013). March, Book One. Marietta, Ga.: Top Shelf.

Lewis, J., Aydin, A. & Powell, N. (2015). March, Book Two. Marietta, Ga.: Top Shelf.

Lewis, J., Aydin, A. & Powell, N. (2016). March, Book Three. Marietta, Ga.: Top Shelf.

Loewen, J. W. (2008) Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong,  New York: New Press.

Misco, T. (2014). Powerful social studies unit design: A companion to powerful social studies teaching and learning. Clearing House. 87(6), p. 241.

Ogawa, M., Kusahara, K. (2011). 30 years after the 1981 Japan/United States textbook study project: How are they portrayed? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, April 10, 2011, New Orleans, LA.

Randall, R., Marangell, J. (2016). Improving on past practice: Embracing a new direction in secondary social studies teaching and learning. History Teacher 49(3), p.383-396.

Serchay, D. S. (2008). Graphic novels for children and tweens. New York, NY: Neal-Shuman.

Shanahan, T., Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content area literacy,” Harvard Educational Review 78, p.40-59.

Zammit, K. (2007). Popular culture in the classroom: Interpreting and creating multimodal texts. In R. Whittaker, M. O’Donnel, & A. McCabe (Eds.), Advances in language and education (p. 60–76). New York, NY: Continuum.

Web-Based References

Rothstein, D., Santana, L. (2011). Teaching students to ask their own questions. Harvard Education

Letter, 27(5), retrieved from

National Council for the Social Studies (2013). The college, career, and civic life (C3) framework for social studies state standards retrieved from

The Lexile Framework for Reading. (2012). How to help a struggling reader. Retrieved from

4th Grade NYS and Slavery Inquiry: How did New Yorkers challenge slavery?

April Francis

Editor’s Note: This is the third day of a multi-day lesson in a three-lesson sequence designed for fourth grade on slavery and New York developed by April Francis for the Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES Integrated Social Studies/ELA

Aim: How did New Yorkers challenge slavery? NYS Social Studies Framework: 4.5a: There were slaves in New York State. People worked to fight against slavery and for change; Students will investigate people who took action to abolish slavery, including Samuel Cornish, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Harriet Tubman.

Social Studies Practices: Gathering, Interpreting, and Using Evidence; Comparison and Contextualization; Geographic Reasoning; Economics and Economic Systems; Civic Participation

Next Gen. ELA Standards:
o 4R6: In informational texts, compare and contrast a primary and secondary source on the same event or topic. (RI);
o 4R8: Explain how claims in a text are supported by relevant reasons and evidence.
o 4W5: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to respond and support
analysis, reflection, and research by applying grade 4 reading standards.
o 4SL4: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace and volume appropriate for audience.

Learning Objectives: Identify Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, The Jerry Rescue, African Free School, and the AntiSlavery Society. Define resist and resistance.

Analyze the Underground Railroad system.
Decipher and understand various primary and secondary sources. Develop individual and group presentation skills. Evaluate which form of resistance was most successful in ending slavery in NYS.

Video: Harriet Tubman (4:48 minutes)
o Source 1. Harriet Tubman biography
o Source 2. NYS Map of the Underground Railroad
o Source 3a & 3b. African Free School
o Source 4. Frederick Douglass & The North Star
o Source 5. Anti-Slavery Society
o Source 6. The “Jerry Rescue” Syracuse, NY

Additional Activities: (NYS Underground RR Regional Geography Lesson)
(animated video about Harriet Tubman’s life, 25 minutes)

Formative Task: Students will serve experts on one form of resistance used against slavery and present it as a group to the whole class.

Lesson Narrative & Procedure: In this lesson, students will be introduced to the term “resistance” and analyze various methods New Yorkers used to fight against the system of slavery. Students will be introduced to famous abolitionists such as Harriet
Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and William Lloyd Garrison. Through video analysis, students will understand how the secret Underground Railroad system was used to help enslaved people escape to freedom. To synthesize their learning, students will
be asked to summarize the methods some New Yorkers used to resist the slave system.

Preparation for Day 1: Make copies of “Source 1: Harriet Tubman biography” and the “Circle Map” worksheet. Queue video: Harriet Tubman (4:48 minutes)

Day 1 Engage (10 minutes): The teacher should introduce the supporting question “How did some New Yorkers resist the slavery system?” by having a student read it aloud to the class. The teacher should ask students if they know what the term “resist” means. After students respond, the teacher should give an example of “resisting” and then share a definition of the term. Once students have a
foundation of the term “resist” the teacher should ask students, “Based on what we have learned, why do you think some New Yorkers would want to resist the slave system?” Students should respond with examples from the previous lessons.

Explore (20 minutes): The teacher should distribute Source 1: Harriet Tubman Biography.
Ask students what they know about Harriet Tubman. Students will share various answers. After students respond, the teacher can share they will participate in the read aloud. During the read aloud, students can annotate the reading. Additionally, the teacher can choose to play the animated video Harriet Tubman as a support to the reading ( ).

Once students have finished the reading (and/or video), students share main ideas on their circle map, that answer the questions:
a. How did Harriet Tubman resist the slave system?
b. How did she help others?

Ask, “What can this biography inform us about Harriet Tubman’s character? Do you know of anyone today that would be similar to Harriet Tubman in character?

Explain (10 minutes): After discussing Harriet Tubman, the teacher can ask students, “Based on your own knowledge and our reading today, what do you know about the Underground Railroad?”
Students can share various answers. The teacher can then state, “New York State played a vital role in the Underground Railroad. Let’s investigate how the Underground Railroad worked in helping people resist the slave system.”

Elaborate (15 minutes): The teacher will have students work in pairs on the “Underground Railroad” packet. The student worksheet is located on the last page of the packet.
Once students have completed the packet, the teacher can participate in a whole class review. The teacher should ensure to ask follow-up or clarifying questions when needed based on student responses.

Evaluate (10 minutes)

  1. After review, the teacher should distribute the Exit Ticket- Day 1 to each student, asking them to respond to the question prompt: Do you think you would have been able to escape using the Underground Railroad? Explain.
    a. An alternative activity to the “exit ticket” is
    creating a Padlet board online for student responses.

    Day 2 Preparation: Print Sources 2-6 and create “Stations” for student groups. Make copies of the “Resisting Slavery” Graphic Organizer Chart.

Engage (15 minutes): The teacher should reintroduce the supporting question “How did some New Yorkers resist the slavery system?” and have students complete a brainstorm of their understanding of yesterday’s lesson using the “3-2-1” method:
a) 3 things they learned from yesterday’s lesson.
b) 2 things they found interesting.
c) 1 question they still have?

After reviewing using the 3-2-1 method, the teacher can have students analyze Sources 2-6, in a group format.

The teacher can state:
a. “Today we are going to analyze other ways people in New York resisted the slave system in the 1800s. We will be working in cooperative teams, using your “Resistance of Slavery in New York” chart to record your findings. Each team will be assigned one document to analyze, and then they will report on this document to the class.

i. Station 1. Source 2. NYS Map of UGRR (printed in color or viewed on a smartboard)

ii. Station 2. Source 3a & 3b. African Free School

iii. Station 3. Source 4. Frederick Douglass & The North Star

iv. Station 4. Source 5a & 5b. Anti-Slavery Society

v. Station 5. Source 6. The “Jerry Rescue” Syracuse, NY

Note: Teachers should use their knowledge of their students and assign the documents based on student levels. Documents can also be modified to meet
specific needs of individual classrooms.

Explore & Explain (15 minutes). Students should analyze the document they were assigned for their group. As a group, they should fill out their portion of the Graphic Organizer – Resisting Slavery and then decide how they will present this information
to the rest of the class.

Elaborate (15 minutes). After student analysis, each team should share their “expert” knowledge of the source they were assigned in a presentation format. Students can use the Source Analysis Guide-Historical Thinking Chart adapted from the Stanford Historical Education Group (SHEG) to help develop their presentation. For each group presentation, the teacher should project the source onto the Smartboard so it is visible for all students. While one group is sharing, all members should be recording key points onto their individual “Resisting Slavery” graphic organizers.

Evaluate (10 minutes). After group presentations, the teacher can distribute the Exit Ticket- Day 2 and state, “Slavery was finally banned in New York State in 1827, ‘Which method of resistance do you think was most successful in ending slavery in New York State? Why?’”

Source 1. Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) []

Harriet Tubman’s home in Auburn, NY
Portrait of Harriet Tubman

(A) Harriet Tubman was born a slave. Her parents named her Araminta “Minty” Ross. She changed her name in 1849 when she escaped. She adopted the name Harriet after her mother and the last name Tubman after her husband. Tubman
suffered a head injury as a teenager which gave her…sleeping spells. She was deeply religious and according to her it was her religious beliefs that gave her courage rescue friends and family over and over again. She remained illiterate [unable to read or write] for her entire life.

(B) Harriet Tubman was the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad. In a decade she guided over 300 slaves to freedom; abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison thought she deserved the nickname “Moses”. She worked hard to save money to return and save more slaves. In time she built a reputation and many Underground Railroad supporters provided her with funds and shelter to support her trips.

(C) During the Civil War, Tubman served as a nurse, cook, laundress, spy and scout. After the Emancipation Proclamation she returned to Auburn where she lived the rest of her life. She opened her doors to those in need. With donations and the money from her vegetable garden she was able to support herself and those she helped. She raised money to open schools for African Americans and gave speeches on Women’s rights. Her dream was to build a home for the elderly and in 1908 the Harriet Tubman Home for the Elderly was created.

Source 2. Underground Railroad Routes in New York State
The Underground Railroad was a connection of people helping enslaved people escape from slavery in the early and mid19th century. It included free blacks, whites, church people, and abolitionists. Enslaved Africans traveled to freedom by any means available, using homes as stops, songs, and secret codes. This map shows escape routes used by runaways when traveling through New York State.

Map Key: Blue Line- Hudson/Mohawk Route
Green Line- Susquehanna/ Finger Lakes Route
Red Line- Lake Erie/Niagara Route
Purple Line- Hudson/ Champlain Route
Source: Timothy McDonnell

Source 3a. New York African Free School
Right after the American Revolution, the New York Manumission Society was created. It worked to end the slave trade around the world and to achieve the abolition of slavery in the new county. It established the African Free School in
New York City, the first education organization for Black Americans in North America. It served both free blacks and the children of enslaved

Source 3b. African Free School Student Award for Edward T. Haines
Edward T. Haines proudly displays his handwriting skill and his title as assistant
monitor general, a position that carried significant responsibilities. The 1820 U.S.
census lists an African American ‘Hains’ family with a boy Edward’s age living in
New York City’s Fifth Ward, a west-side neighborhood south of Canal Street that was
the home of many free people of color in New York City.

Edward Haines Handwriting Skill

Source 4. Frederick Douglass & The North Star Publication

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was an American orator, editor, author, abolitionist and escaped slave.
The most famous black abolitionist was Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave. He used his skills to speak in the northern
states against slavery. He also helped slaves escape to the North while working with the Underground Railroad. He established the abolitionist paper The North Star on December 3, 1847, in Rochester, NY.

Source 5a – Anti-Slavery Society
William Lloyd Garrison was born December 10, 1805 in Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1830 he started an abolitionist paper, The Liberator. In 1832 he helped form the New England Anti-Slavery Society When the Civil War broke out, he continued to speak against the Constitution as a pro-slavery document. When the
civil war ended, he at last saw the abolition of slavery. He died May 24, 1879 in New York City. Source:

Source 5b – Anti-Slavery Society
Gerrit Smith founded the New York State Anti-slavery Society in Peterboro, New York in 1835.

Source 6. “The Jerry Rescue” Central New York 1851
Source: rescue-monument/

This monument, added to Clinton Square, Syracuse, NY in 2001, celebrates the October 1, 1851, rescue of William “Jerry” Henry, an escaped slave from Missouri. Henry had been arrested in Syracuse and since he was an escaped slave; law officers were eager to follow the Fugitive Slave Act and wanted to return him to Missouri. The Fugitive Slave Act was a United States law that said runaways, even in free states, had to be returned to their masters. Henry was arrested the same day an abolitionist meeting was taking place in the city. A large group of fifty-two men stormed a police station, pounded on down its doors, and rescued “Jerry” Henry. Within a few days, “Jerry” escaped to freedom in Kingston, Ontario. The “Jerry Rescue” itself was organized by area abolitionist leaders.

How did some New Yorkers resist the slave system?
Directions: Use this chart to organize your information for each document.

The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century and used by African American enslaved people to escape into free states, Canada and
Nova Scotia with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. It is believed that around 100,000 runaways between 1810 and 1860 escaped using the network. The majority of the runaways came from the upper south states that bordered free states such as Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland.

The Underground Railroad was not located underground, and it was not a railroad. It was symbolically underground as the network’s activities were secret and illegal, so they had to remain “underground” to help fugitive slaves stay out of sight.
The term “railroad” was used because the railroad was a system of transportation and its supporters used railroad code to communicate in secret language. Runaways used songs called spirituals to communicate with each other. Homes where fugitives (runaways) would stay and eat were called “stations” or “depots” the owner of the house was the “station master” and the “conductor” was the person responsible to move slaves from station to station. Those financing the Underground Railroad by donating money, food, and clothing were called “stockholders”.

Stephen and Harriet Myers House, Albany, NY
Elias Hicks, UGRR Station Master in Jericho

Codes and Songs of the Underground Railroad
Supporters of the Underground Railroad used words railroad conductors employed every day to create their own code as secret language in order to help slaves escape. Below are a sample of some of the words used:

Songs were used in everyday life by enslaved African Americans. Singing was a tradition brought from Africa by the first enslaved people; sometimes their songs are called spirituals. Singing served many purposes such as providing a rhythm for manual work, inspiration and motivation. Singing was also used to express their values and solidarity with each other and during celebrations. Songs were used as tools to remember and communicate since the majority of enslaved African Americans could not read.
Harriet Tubman and others used songs as a strategy to communicate their struggle for freedom. Coded songs contained words giving directions on how to escape also known as signal songs or where to meet known as map songs.

“Follow the Drinking Gourd” Source:
Listen here:

When the Sun comes back And the first quail calls Follow the Drinking Gourd.
For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom if you follow the Drinking Gourd.
The riverbank makes a very good road. The dead trees will show you the way.
Left foot, peg foot, traveling on, Follow the Drinking Gourd.
The river ends between two hills Follow the Drinking Gourd.
For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom if you follow the Drinking Gourd.

This song suggests escaping in the spring as the days get longer. The drinking gourd is a water dipper which is a code name for the constellation Big Dipper which points to the Pole Star towards the north. Moss grows on the north side of dead trees, so if the Big Dipper is not visible, dead trees will guide them north.


  1. Why do you think it was known as the Underground Railroad??
  2. Why do you think runaways were called fugitives?
  3. What role did songs play in the Underground Railroad?
  4. What are some of the symbols in the song and what do they refer to?

Imperialism Social Studies Curriculum Inquiry

by Kameelah Rasheed and Tim Lent for New Visions for Public Schools

The New Visions Social Studies Curriculum ( is a free online resource that includes full-course instructional materials in Global History I, II, and US History. It integrates rich primary and secondary texts, maps, images, videos, and other reputable online sources into materials that meet the New York State K-12 Social Studies Framework’s objectives and provide students an opportunity to improve literacy skills by focusing on thinking critically while reading, writing, and speaking like historians. We understand that teachers may use resources differently, so we have created and curated high-quality Open Educational Resource (OER) materials as Google Docs; we encourage teachers to make their own copies of resources and thoughtfully modify them to make them useful for their individual needs.

Document Investigation Directions: For each document, complete the prompts below.

Document B: The Crime of the Congo is a 1909 book by British writer and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) about life for Africans in the Congo Free State under the rule of the King of the Belgians, Leopold II. Source: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Crime of the Congo, Double Day, Page, 1909.
There are many of us in England who consider the crime which has been wrought in the Congo lands by King Leopold of Belgium and his followers to be the greatest which has ever been known in human annals. […]
There have been massacres of populations like that of the South Americans by the Spaniards […] I am convinced that the reason why public opinion has not been more sensitive upon the question of the Congo Free State, is that the terrible story has not been brought thoroughly home to the people […]
Should he, after reading it, desire to help in the work of forcing this question to the front, he can do so in several ways. He can join the Congo Reform Association (Granville House, Arundel Street, W. C). He can write to his local member and aid in getting up local meetings to ventilate the question. Finally, he can pass
this book on and purchase other copies, for any profits will be used in setting the facts before the French and German public […]
Mr. Murphy [an American missionary] says: “The rubber question is accountable for most of the horrors perpetrated in the Congo. It has reduced the people to a state of utter despair. Each town in the district is forced to bring a certain quantity to the headquarters of the Commissary every Sunday. It is collected by force; the soldiers drive the people into the bush; if they will not go they are shot down, their left hands being cut off and taken as trophies to the Commissary. The soldiers do not care whom they shoot down, and they most often shoot poor, helpless women and harmless children. These hands — the hands of men, women and children — are placed in rows before the Commissary, who counts them to see the soldiers have not wasted the cartridges. The Commissary is paid a commission of about a penny per pound upon all the rubber he gets; it is, therefore, to his interest to get as much as he can.”

Document C: King Leopold’s Soliloquy is a pamphlet written by Mark Twain (1835-1910) regarding Belgian King’s rule of the Congo Free State. It is a satirical and fictional monologue of Leopold II speaking in his own defense. Source: Mark Twain, King Leopold’s Soliloquy, Boston: The P. R. Warren Co., 1905, Second Edition.
“But enough of trying to tally off his crimes! His list is interminable, we should never get to the end of it. His awful shadow lies across his Congo Free State, and under it is an unoffending nation of 15,000,000 is withering away and swiftly succumbing of their miseries. It is a land of graves; it is The Land of Graves; it is the Congo Free Graveyard. It is a majestic thought: that this, this ghastliest episode in all human history is the work of man alone; one solitary man; just a single individual–Leopold, King of the Belgians. He is personally and solely responsible for all the myriad crimes that have blackened the history of the Congo State. He is the sole master there; he is absolute. He could have prevented the crimes by his mere command;
he could stop them today with a word. He withholds the word. For his pocker’s sake. […] it is a mystery, but we do not wish to look; for he is king, and it hurts us, it troubles us, by ancient and inherited instinct to shame us to see a king degraded to this aspect, and we shrink from hearing the particulars of how it happened. We
shudder and turn away when we come upon them in print.”

Document D: Alice Seeley Harris was a missionary and documentary photographer. Her photos of the Congo were used in lantern lectures presented by the Congo Reform Association in the UK, Europe and America. Seeley Harris used one of the world’s first portable cameras, a Kodak Brownie to document the Congo Free State under the rule of King Leopold II. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Document E: In 1907, a Brussels-based publishing house published An Answer to Mark Twain, a 47-page book written in English in response to Mark Twain’s King Leopold’s Soliloquy (1905). Its author is unknown. Source: An Answer to Mark Twain, Brussels : A. & G. Bulens Bros., 1907.
Two years ago, an infamous libel against the Congo State was published in America under the title of “King Leopold’s Soliloquy” […] According to this book, all the Belgians who are in the Congo under the direction of their King, are nothing but vile murderers shedding the blood of the natives in order to ring rubber out of
them. Every pound of rubber, writes Mark Twain, costs a rape, a mutilation or a life. And the lies and slanders are accumulated […] The natives are illtreated and overtaxed. A lie! The natives are mutilated by the State. A lie! The State provides nothing for the country. A lie! The State establishes a worse form of
slavery right in Africa. A lie!
Truth shines forth in the following pages, which summarily show what the Congo State is — not the hell as depicted by a morbid mind — but a country which twenty years ago was steeped in the most abject barbary and which to—day is born to civilization and progress.
No soliloquy will prevail against the real state of things in the Congo . . . Mark Twain’s sympathy is exclusively extended to the Congo natives. He is not in the least interested in a better understanding between blacks and whites in the United — States, he takes no interest in the people of India who are clamouring for more freedom, nor in the Egyptians who are claiming self-government, nor in the natives of the British colonies.
The fact is, that the Congo Reform Association, of which Mark Twain is the mouth-piece, is not in quest of the happiness or the negroes, but is simply endeavouring, by all possible means, to overthrow the Congo Government, and with this object in view, has set up a fabric of imag-inary crimes and lies, in the hope, by dint of slander, to reach its distinctly revolutionary ends.

Document F: Photographs from An Answer to Mark Twain used to defend Belgium’s colonial policy in the Congo

Carpentry School
Sewing School
Native Teacher
Technical School

A History of Climate Change Science and Denialism

David Carlin

Reposted from the History News Network, 1/5/2020 (

The girl got up to speak before a crowd of global leaders. “Coming here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future. Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market. I am here to speak for all generations to come.” She continued: “I have dreamt of seeing the great herds of wild animals, jungles and rainforests full of birds and butterflies, but now I wonder if they will even exist for my children to see. Did you have to worry about these little things when you were my age? All this is happening before our eyes.” She challenged the
adults in the room: “parents should be able to comfort their children by saying “everything’s going to be alright’, “we’re doing the best we can” and “it’s not the end of the world”. But I don’t think you can say that to us anymore.”

No, these were not Greta Thunberg’s words earlier this year. This appeal came from Severn Suzuki at the Rio Earth Summit back in 1992. In the 27 years since, we have produced more than half of all the greenhouse gas emissions in history.

Reading recent media reports, you could be forgiven for thinking that climate change is a sudden crisis. From the New York Times: “Climate Change Is Accelerating, Bringing World ‘Dangerously Close’ to Irreversible Change.” From the Financial Times: “Climate Change is Reaching a Tipping Point.” If the contents of these articles
have surprised Americans, it reveals far more about the national discourse than then any new climate science. Scientists have understood the greenhouse effect since the 19th century. They have understood the potential for human-caused (anthropogenic)
global warming for decades. Only the fog of denialism has obscured the long-held scientific consensus from the general public.

Who knew what when?

Joseph Fourier was Napoleon’s science adviser. In the early 19th century, he studied the nature of heat transfer and concluded that given the Earth’s distance from the sun, our planet should be far colder than it was. In an 1824 work, Fourier explained that the atmosphere must retain some of Earth’s heat. He speculated that human activities might also impact Earth’s temperature. Just over a decade later, Claude Pouillet theorized that water vapor and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere
trap infrared heat and warm the Earth. In 1859, the Irish physicist John Tyndall demonstrated empirically that certain molecules such as CO2 and methane absorb infrared radiation. More of these molecules meant more warming. Building on
Tyndall’s work, Sweden’s Svante Arrhenius investigated the connection between atmospheric CO2 and the Earth’s climate. Arrhenius devised mathematical rules for the relationship. In doing so, he produced the first climate model. He also recognized that humans had the potential to change Earth’s climate, writing “the enormous combustion of coal by our industrial establishments suffices to increase the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air to a perceptible degree.”

Later scientific work supported Arrhenius’ main conclusions and led to major advancements in climate science and forecasting. While Arrhenius’ findings were discussed and debated in the first half of the 20th century, global emissions rose. After WWII, emission growth accelerated and began to raise concerns in the scientific community. During the 1950s, American scientists made a series of
troubling discoveries. Oceanographer Roger Reveille showed that the oceans had a limited capacity to absorb CO2 . Furthermore, CO2 lingered in the atmosphere for far longer than expected, allowing it to accumulate over time. At the Mauna Loa observatory, Charles David Keeling conclusively showed that atmospheric CO2
concentrations were rising. Before John F. Kennedy took office, many scientists were already warning that current emissions trends had the potential to drastically alter the climate within decades. Reveille described the global emissions trajectory as an
uncontrolled and unprecedented “large-scale geophysical experiment.”

In 1965, President Johnson received a report from his science advisory committee on climate change. The report’s introduction explained that “pollutants have altered on a global scale the carbon dioxide content of the air.” The scientists explained that they “can conclude with fair assurance that at the present time, fossil fuels are the only source of CO2 being added to the ocean-atmosphere-biosphere system.” The report then discussed the hazards posed by climate change including melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and ocean acidity. The conclusion from the available data was that by the year 2000, atmospheric CO2 would be 25% higher than preindustrial levels, at 350 parts per million.

The report was accurate except for one detail. Humanity increased its emissions faster than expected and by 2000, CO2 concentrations were measured at 370 parts per million, nearly 33% above pre-industrial levels.

Policymakers in the Nixon Administration also took notice of the mounting scientific evidence. Adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote to Nixon that it was “pretty clearly agreed” that CO2 levels would rise by 25% by 2000. The long-term implications of this could be dire, with rising temperatures and rising sea levels, “goodbye New York. Goodbye Washington, for that matter,” Moynihan wrote. Nixon himself pushed NATO to study the impacts of climate change. In 1969, NATO established the Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society (CCMS) partly to explore environmental threats.

The Clinching Evidence

By the 1970s, the scientific community had long understood the greenhouse effect. With increasing accuracy, they could model the relationship between atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and Earth’s temperature. They knew that CO2 concentrations were rising, and human activities were the likely cause. The only thing they lacked was conclusive empirical evidence that global temperature was rising. Some researchers had begun to notice an upward trend in temperature
records, but global temperature is affected by many factors. The scientific method is an inherently conservative process. Scientists do not “confirm” their hypothesis, but instead rule out alternative and “null” hypotheses. Despite the strong evidence and
logic for anthropogenic global warming, researchers needed to see the signal (warming) emerge clearly from the noise (natural variability). Given short-term temperature variability, that signal would take time to fully emerge. Meanwhile, as research continued, other alarming findings were published.

Scientists knew that CO2 was not the only greenhouse gases humans had put into the
atmosphere. During the 1970s, research by James Lovelock revealed that levels of human-produced chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were rapidly rising. Used as refrigerants and propellants, CFCs were 10,000 times as effective as CO2 in trapping heat. Later, scientists discovered CFCs also destroy the ozone layer.

In 1979, at the behest of America’s National Academy of Sciences, MIT meteorologist Jule Charney convened a dozen leading climate scientists to study CO2 and climate. Using increasingly sophisticated climate models, the scientists refined estimates for the scale and speed of global warming. The Charney Report’s forward stated, “we now have incontrovertible evidence that the atmosphere is indeed changing and that we ourselves contribute to that change.” The report “estimate[d] the most probable global warming for a doubling of CO2 to be near 3°C.” Forty years later, newer observations and more powerful models have supported that original estimate. The researchers also forecasted CO2 levels would double by the mid21st century. The report’s expected rate of warming agreed with numbers posited by John Sawyer of the UK’s Meteorological Office in a 1972 article in Nature. Sawyer projected warming of 0.6°C by 2000, which also proved remarkably accurate.

Shortly after the release of the Charney Report, many American politicians began to
oppose environmental action. The Reagan Administration worked to roll back environmental regulations. Obeying a radical free-market ideology, they gutted the Environmental Protection Agency and ignored scientific concerns about acid rain, ozone depletion, and climate change.

However, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts had already meaningfully improved air and water quality. Other nations had followed suit with similar anti-pollution policies. Interestingly, the success of these regulations made it easier for researchers to observe global warming trends. Many of the aerosol had the unintended effect of blocking incoming solar radiation. As a result, they had masked some of the emissions-driven greenhouse effect. As concentrations of these pollutants fell, a clear warming trend emerged. Scientists also corroborated ground temperature observations with satellite measurements. In addition, historical ice cores also provided independent evidence of the CO2 temperature relationship.

Sounding the Alarm

Despite his Midwestern reserve, James Hansen brought a stark message to Washington on a sweltering June day in 1988. “The evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.” Hansen led NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies(GISS) and was one of the world’s foremost climate modelers. In his Congressional testimony, he explained that NASA was 99% certain that the
observed temperature changes were not natural variation. The next day, the New York Times ran the headline “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate.” Hansen’s powerful testimony made it clear to politicians and the public where the scientists stood on climate change.

Also in 1988, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World
Meteorological Organization (WMO) created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC). The IPCC was created to study both the physical science of climate change and the numerous effects of the changes. To do that, the IPCC evaluates global research on climate change, adaptation, mitigation, and impacts. Thousands of leading scientists contribute to IPCC assessment reports as authors and reviewers. IPCC reports represent the largest scientific endeavor in human history and showcase the scientific process at its very best. The work is rigorous, interdisciplinary, and cutting edge.

While the IPCC has contributed massively to our understanding of our changing world, its core message has remained largely unchanged for three decades. The First Assessment Report (FAR) in 1990 stated “emissions resulting from human activities are substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases.” Since then, the dangers have only grown closer and clearer with each report. New reports not only forecast hazards but describe the present chaos too. As the 2018 Special Report (SR15) explained: “we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.

Wasted Time

As this story has shown, climate science is not a new discipline and the scientific consensus on climate change is far older than many people think. Ironically, the history of climate denialism is far shorter. Indeed, a 1968 Stanford University study
that reported “significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000 and these could bring about climatic changes,” was funded by the American Petroleum Institute. During the 1970s, fossil fuel companies conducted research demonstrating that CO2 emissions would likely increase global temperature. Only with political changes in the 1980s did climate denialism take

Not only is climate denialism relatively new, but it is uniquely American. No other Western nation has anywhere near America’s level of climate change skepticism. The epidemic of denialism has many causes:

 The result of a concerted effort by fossil fuel interests to confuse the American public on the science of climate change

 free-market ideologues that refuse to accept a role for regulation

 The media’s misguided notion of fairness and equal time for all views

 the popular erosion of trust in experts

 Because the consequences of climate change are enormous and terrifying.

Yet, you can no more reject anthropogenic climate change than you can reject gravity or magnetism. The laws of physics operate independently of human belief.

However, many who bear blame for our current predicament do not deny the science. For decades, global leaders have greeted dire forecasts with rounds of empty promises. James Hansen has been frustrated the lack of progress since his 1988
testimony. “All we’ve done is agree there’s a problem…we haven’t acknowledged what is required to solve it.” The costs of dealing with climate change are only increasing. Economic harms may run into the trillions. According to the IPCC’s SR15, to avoid some of climate change’s most devastating effects, global temperature rise should be kept to below 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. That would likely require a
reduction in emissions to half of 2010 levels by 2030, and to net-zero emissions by 2050. Had the world embarked on that path after Hansen’s spoke
on Capitol Hill, it would have required annual emissions reductions of less than 2%. Now, according to the latest IPCC report, the same goal requires annual reductions of nearly 8%. 1.5°C appears to be slipping out of reach.

We have known about the causes of climate change for a long time. We have known about its impacts of climate change for a long time. And we have known about the solution to climate change for a long time. An academic review earlier this year demonstrated the impressive accuracy of climate models from the 1970s. This is no longer a scientific issue. While science can continue to forecast with greater geographic and temporal precision, the biggest unknown remains our action. What we choose today will shape the future.

The Truth about Holocaust and Stalinist Repression

Annual Student Literary Award
Ludmila Prakhina

People of the world,
Rise up for a minute
And awaken yourselves
And ask yourselves
Have I done everything I could?
For my children, grandchildren
And great grandchildren
That they never forget and
Always remember.

January 27, 2005 was marked as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day adopted by UN General Assembly. ”

To commemorate this day and honor innocent victims of the Nazi genocide and Stalinist repression during the era of Cult of Personality, the Prakhin Foundation established The Annual Literary Award “Truth about the Holocaust and Stalinist Repression” for the best literary work revealing the tragedy of that period.

The First Annual Literary Award Ceremony took place on January 27, 2008 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Living Memorial of the Holocaust in New York City. “We used to do the ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage during 10 years, but in the last three years we have held it at Bergen Community College to make it more convenient for local adults and students to attend. Center for Peace, Justice and Reconciliation and its Office of Multicultural Affairs in Bergen Community College
were among the event’s co-sponsors. To involve young people, who should learn about the history of our ancestors and give them the green light and an opportunity to make a significant contribution by carrying the legacy through future generations we established new development of the Prakhin Foundation “Yang Generation Always Remember(YGAR ) and Annual Student Literary Award in 2010.

The “Young Generation Always Remembers” mission is not only to repay a debt to the previous generations who perished and to those who survived through the horrors of those terrible years, but also, to help our youth to get to know their history and role models, because they give children of all ages a sense of the basic need of belonging, a sense of their place in the world.

The Gala-concert “New generation always remembers – Past, Present, Future” will recognizes the achievements of talented children who participate or would like to participate in charity work.

In addition, this event is an important communication platform between generations by fusing together the wisdom and memory of the older generation with the talents and energy of the young generation for a brighter future. We invite aspiring performers of all ages, students from schools, academies, or youth organizations to
participate in our Gala-concert. Since 2010 we received more than 250 submissions from middle and high school students. Teachers and students are using the curriculum resources of “Holocaust and Genocide” and “Stalin and his Repressive Regime” created by the Prakhin Foundation in conjunction with the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education. We strongly believe that young generations need to be aware of THESE dark times in HUMAN history. If people forget, history tends to repeat itself.

This year we received fifty-seven submissions from several NJ schools, Weehawken HS, Bayonne HS, Englewood HS, Passaic Academies HS, Fair Lawn HS, Summit HS, and North Bergen HS. Teachers and students have studied the very serious issue of
“Truth about Holocaust and Stalinist Repressions” and produced outstanding art, prose, and poetry. We appreciate all of them who submitted their creative work and sent everyone a certificate directly to the school or presented during Award Ceremony. We are grateful to all the teachers for their educational efforts.

Examples of entries that received awards are:
 Diana Mendoza, Bayonne HS student for the art piece: Children on the fence
 Amy Arogue Irigoyen, North Bergen HS student, for the art piece Murder Factory
 Sabrina Fong, Weehawken High School for the poem The Holocaust
 Gabriel Matthew Luyun, Fair Lawn HS student for the article Stalin’s Genocide That Few Remember
 Ayla Teke, Passaic County Technical HS, for the poem Holocaust and Stalin

This year’s invited guests to our awards program were Tekla Bekesha, director of Preili (Latvia) history museum, Nora Shnepste, Latvian high school principal, Pastor Klaus Peter Rex from Germany, Sami Staigmann, survivor and educator, Bernard Storch, veteran War II, and Frank Malkin survivor.

Our Foundation and YGAR continues to reach out to young writers, artists, musicians, and students alike by involving high schools, colleges, and universities in teaching students about human values, such as compassion, awareness, and forgiveness. We continue to encourage students to submit their work reflecting the Holocaust and Stalinist Repression in efforts to preserve the memories of our ancestors and inspire awareness among our youth.

Letter from Students “Yang Generation Always Remember”
Erica Linnik, Fair Lawn HS student, YGAR development of Prakhin Literary Foundation

Dear friends,
As time progresses, the necessity of preserving the history of those before us that experienced the truth of the Holocaust and Stalinist Repression grows stronger. The number of these witnesses grows less and less as time passes, and we cannot let their
memories and wisdom perish with them. The lessons of those before our time only grows more relevant in our changing world, where the generation of our youth must understand the dangers of a fascist regime and the destructive nature of ignorance. Anti-Semitism and other discriminatory acts are still present today, and by
promoting awareness among our youth, we can work towards a peaceful future. With every passing year, the challenge of keeping alive the memory of victims from the Holocaust and Stalinist regime grows more complex, and the necessity of preserving tolerance more urgent. However, with active students around the globe, such a difficult goal can be steadily achieved.

With the gracious aid of teachers and the establishment of our organization, we all take one step towards an enlightened future by remembering and learning from our not-so-distant past. A mistake as large as the atrocities of the Nazi and Stalinist regime repeated once more in our society risks turning into a habit. Such habits must be uprooted from our world through education and by never forgetting what those before us have experienced.

Although the hardships that the victims of the Holocaust and the Stalinist Regime are nearly impossible to completely comprehend for those that did not witness them, it is the duty of the youth to preserve the memories and teachings of their ancestors. To allow the suffering and pain from the Holocaust and the Stalinist Repression to be
forgotten is dangerous, for we then run the risk of allowing such atrocities to reoccur once more.

The Annual Award Ceremony grants awards to young writers and artists that produce work under the subject of the Holocaust and Stalinist Repression. The awards granted to our young writers and artists both honor the memories of those
who have perished before us and also serve as validations of hope for a promising future.

An example of a talented recipient is Daniel Mezhiborsky, who received an award for his poem “Gone.”
My sister –
Where is my sister?

We stepped off the railcar like they said
We waited in the long line and smelled the smoke
My mom cried.
My arms ached.
And the people all were quiet.
Where is my sister?
She is here. I can see her.
I hold her hand. She is shaking.
The line is narrowing
And I see the man in the white coat.
My sister’s crying
And I stop to hold her.
“Bewegung.” Move, the guard says.
Our mother’s behind us as we step up to the man.
He points to one of the lines behind him.

Where’s my sister? I feel her hand.
We walk carefully to where the man pointed
And my sister’s shaking calmed.
But then, a shout – and another hand pulling on my sister’s arm.

I didn’t have time to scream before he had her
Before the guard took her away.
But make no mistake. It came soon after.
I screamed like I have never screamed before.
I looked to see my sister –

On her face I saw the most excruciating of expressions,
The most cursed of looks,
The most painful of cries.
In her eyes I saw fear,

I saw confusion,
I saw sorrow,
I saw pure terror.
But then the crowd closed around them
And I was left standing alone.
The world around me moved, but I stood still.

The pang of uselessness, the surge of anguish that
flooded me…
I felt my soul Crumble.
My knees weakened.
I fell.

Daniel Mezhiborsky was an award recipient from the 13th Annual Award Ceremony. The next Annual Award Ceremony will be held on January 28, 2021 and the deadline for all submissions is on December 30, 2020.

Next year’s Award Ceremony will be held on January 28, 2021. The submission deadline for all types of works is on December 30, 2020.
Contact information: Phone: 201-741-0833,

Connecting Humanitarianism to the Next Generation – the Rise of Humanitarian Educators

Amanda McCorkindale

Dr. Amanda McCorkindale is a New York State certified social studies who now teaches in the Humanitarian Education and Conflict Resolution Institute at Manchester University in the United Kingdom. This was originally published in the
University of Manchester blog.

How do we engage with the next generation effectively when trying to tackle and understand humanitarian responses?

Are we relying on their innate ability to evolve towards being a ‘humanitarian’ based on engagement through charity fundraisers?

Do humanitarian organizations have a responsibility towards educating young people?

These questions have been at the forefront of my mind since I trained as a secondary Social Studies teacher in the United States over twelve years ago. During my time as a teacher in the U.S., Scotland and England I was fascinated by what motivated young people to engage with charities and humanitarian endeavors. I found time and again that students were eager and enthusiastic to participate with humanitarian initiatives, and they were far from apathetic, but too often they failed to understand how their efforts were helping or to see the wider picture. This led me to the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI) where I went on to study a PhD jointly with the Manchester Institute of Education at the University of Manchester into humanitarian education.

Throughout this research I found that students did want to engage with humanitarian topics and help their local and global communities and that their enthusiasm was at times boundless. Key themes from this research have gone on to
form HCRI’s brand new CPD unit in Humanitarian Education, which explores how we can engage young people with humanitarian topics through key pedagogical and humanitarian methods.

One key theme that developed from my research was how young people engage with ‘the other’, the concept where an individual is perceived by the group as not belonging. I found throughout the interviews, observations, and endless document analysis that students engaged with through feelings of empathy and ‘feeling with’ the other. Building on this, using student voice, agency and empowerment educators can help engage students towards empathizing with the people and organizations they are trying to help or develop a greater understanding of the humanitarian
response they are studying. Creating a lasting connection for students that will resonate with them for years to come.

What does it mean to be a Humanitarian Educator? A core finding within my research was the role of humanitarian educators — humanitarians who are working as educators, whether this is in a classroom or informally through youth work. One of the pillars of this approach is exploring the ways in which the core humanitarian
principles may be internalized by educators and reflected within their teaching practices, ultimately being humanitarians working within the educational field.

Humanitarian organizations have been producing resources to aid this transition and there have been recent movements coming from the International Federation of the Red Cross to ‘operationalize’ the principles (Beeckman, 2016) or to ‘teach humanity’ through Project Humanity. These approaches provide the groundwork towards being a humanitarian educator and this rising trend within humanitarianism. This is something that sparked my interested in developing a short online program to help guide educators and practitioners in humanitarian education.

Recognizing the qualities of being a humanitarian educator and internalizing them, will help you to gain a better understanding of how to engage young people with these topics and support you when teaching, what are at times, challenging topics. The online University of Manchester Humanitarian Education Continuing Professional Development helps educators identify how best to approach current humanitarian events and responses to best reflect the humanitarian principles as well as encourage students to empathize with others.

The world is currently having to adapt their educational perspectives in response to the global pandemic of Covid-19. The importance of education and understanding the role of humanitarianism and understanding the human connection to ‘the other,’ is more important now than it has ever been before.

If you’re interested in having the skills and methods to educate and support students to engage with these topics in a meaningful way, contact Amanda McCorkindale at

Youth Voices and Agency in Democratic Education

Julie Anne Taylor

I’ve learned you are never too small to make a
difference. And if a few children can get headlines
all over the world just by not going to school, then
imagine what we could all do together if we really
wanted to. But to do that, we have to speak clearly,
no matter how uncomfortable that may be.

(Thunberg, 2018, n.p.)

Inspired by the Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, middle and high school students around the world are participating in school strikes on Fridays to draw attention to global warming and to call for policy changes. In light of this movement, high school students in Detroit wrote political speeches on environmental issues, two of which were sent to their congresswoman in the United States House of Representatives. To raise funds as well as awareness of environmental matters, the students also participated in an art-based, service-learning project in the community. Concerned about environmental issues, today’s
youth value participatory, democratic learning experiences. This article examines teaching practices that encourage youth voices and agency.

The theoretical framework of this study was shaped by Deweyan ideas of democracy and education (Dewey, 1916/2012). John Dewey argued that democracy requires the participation of all people in defining the values that govern social life (Dewey, 1937). Recognizing the importance of educational institutions, he advocated for democratic methods in social relationships. The work of Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy (2015) also influenced this article; they concluded that engaging students in political deliberation is fundamental to civic education. Students must learn how to persuade with evidence, grapple with diverse perspectives, and participate in decision-making. Preparing students for participation in democratic life requires the cultivation of skills and dispositions (Fay & Levinson, 2019; Hansen, Levesque, Valant
& Quintero, 2018).

At the core of the guiding framework for social studies education in the United States is the Inquiry Arc, which calls for students to communicate conclusions and to take informed action (National Council for the Social Studies, 2013). The framework is designed to promote the skills and competencies that active and engaged citizens require. When youth believe that their voices are being heard, school experiences become more meaningful and relevant (Quaglia & Corso, 2014). Student-voice initiatives foster youth agency and leadership (Mitra, 2008). Dewey (1916/2012)

A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of
associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. The extension in space of the number of individuals who participate in an interest so that each has to refer to his own action to that of others, and to consider the action of others to give point and direction to his own, is equivalent to the breaking down of those barriers of class, race, and national territory which kept men from perceiving the full import of their activity.
(p. 94).

This study’s uniqueness lies in its interdisciplinary approach to civic engagement.
Through artistic design and persuasive writing, students applied their knowledge of global and local environmental issues. They communicated artfully to effect change. Pedagogically, the methods in this action-research study were constructivist. Learners transferred knowledge as they created relevant products (Pellegrino, 2015; Zhao, 2015). By emphasizing critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving, deeper learning supports student agency and collaboration (Bellanca, 2015; Trilling,

The School and students

The 28 students, who participated in this IRB approved study, attended a public secondary school in Detroit. The school is the only all-boys, public school in the state of Michigan. At the time of the study, about 165 students were enrolled. The
majority of the students were eligible for the National School Lunch Program. About 98.5% of the young men were African American. The school has a college preparatory focus.

The participants in this study were engaged in an enrichment program that is the outcome of a long-term partnership between the school and a
regional university. The program explores project and inquiry-based learning as well as arts integration in the social studies. Offered through the school’s World History and Geography course during the 2018-2019 academic year, the program examined the human impacts on the environment and democratic practices for realizing change. The student participants spanned three grade levels. Five students were in the twelfth grade, 22 were in the eleventh grade, and one was in the tenth grade.
Parental and student permissions were given to include first names and photographs in this article.

The two-fold project

To increase their knowledge of how humans are affecting the environment, the students engaged in a videoconferencing series on environmental topics with the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, the Lee Richardson Zoo, Zion National Park, the Buffalo Zoo, the Denver Botanic Gardens, and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Canada. In addition to participating in interactive lectures and viewing videos, the young men conducted research to learn about environmental issues such as climate change, plastic pollution, the extinction and endangerment of animals, and water quality. Thirteen students built upon their knowledge of human impacts by
participating in guided tours of the Huron River watershed. To communicate their ideas, the students designed mugs with persuasive, environmental messages for local use, and they wrote speeches for their congresswoman in the U.S. House of Representatives. The experiential project taught students about civil discourse and civic engagement.

Persuasive design and civic engagement in the community

Before designing mugs with environmental messages, the students analyzed eight green, political posters from Siegel and Morris’ (2010) collection, Green Patriot Posters: Images for a New Activism. Created by contemporary and international graphic designers, the posters were selected because of their foci on diverse and current environmental issues as well as their use of persuasive techniques. Designed for a global audience, the Green Patriot Posters collection was inspired by the work of New Deal artists, who were employed by the Works Progress Administration in
the United States during the Great Depression and World War II.

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) were used to engage students in discussions (Yenamine, 2013). VTS is based on three questions: a) What’s going on in this picture?; b) What do you see that makes you say that?; and c) What more can you find?. Additionally, questions from the Poster Analysis Worksheet of the National Archives and Records Administration (n.d.) fostered critical analysis: a) Who do you think is the intended audience? and b) Why was it created? The students examined the meaning and impact of colors and symbols. While identifying written and visual messages, they considered the artists’ intentions. They also evaluated the overall effectiveness of the posters.

The analysis of green art led to an exchange of ideas about politics, the environment, and free artistic expression. In discussions, the students commented on the dramatic image of an inverted human figure with smoke-stack legs in Frédéric Tacer’s (2007) poster, Global Warming (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Global Warming, Frédéric Tacer, 2007,
Courtesy of the artist

The poster sparked conversations about industrial
carbon emissions, climate change, and rising water levels. The students recognized and pondered Will Etling’s (2010) adoption and modification of the Black Power fist in Sustain (Figure 2); Etling’s green fist is clenching a carrot.

Figure 2. Sustain Figure, Will Etling, 2010 Courtesy of the artist

With his message, “Push a pedal for the planet,” Jason Hardy (2009) offered the students a fitting example of alliteration in his poster, Let’s Ride (Figure 3).

Let’s Ride, Jason Hardy, 2009
Courtesy of the artist

Individually or in pairs, the students selected environmental topics of particular concern or interest. In addition to drawing images with colored pencils, they wrote relevant messages. As they were drawing and writing, the students kept their
primary audience in mind: adult customers at a popular, local café. They concluded that their customers would probably use the mugs at home or
at work. To scaffold the students’ artistic work, stencils were made available.

The drawings were uploaded to and edited on a retail corporation’s photography site for production as mugs. Each student’s drawing was rendered on a mug for him to keep. Six drawings were selected by educators based on the quality of the artwork and the persuasiveness of the messages. Multiple copies of mugs with those designs were produced for sale at the café for fundraising purposes. The state chapter of the Sierra Club, to support the fundraiser, posted images of the drawings and mugs to its website. Profits from the sale of the mugs were used to purchase peach trees and lilies for the school.

Creating environmental mugs taught students how to influence people in the local
community through design. With the funds raised by the sale of their products, the young men “greened” their school. When students are empowered to shape their school environments, they gain a sense of ownership (Mitra, 2008). The students agreed that fruit trees should be planted because they yield food; they wanted the produce to be available to students as well as people in the local community. They opted to plant lilies because of their hardiness and tendency to multiply. During
and after the planting of the trees and flowers, the students made comments which suggested an increased connection to the school setting. “We are making this place look nice,” said one young man. “The flowers brighten the school,” observed
another. “The cafeteria will make something good to eat with the peaches,” stated a third student.

After the greening of the school grounds, the students were ready for the next level: the use of complex language and data to influence policymaking at the national level. Thunberg’s (2018, 2019) work on the global stage served as their inspiration for political speechwriting. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Thunberg was the recipient of the Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award. She was named one of the most influential people by Time magazine, which featured her on its cover in 2019.

Persuasion through political speechwriting at the national level

“The political orator is concerned with the future: it is about things to be done hereafter that he advises, for or against,” observed Aristotle (350 B.C.E./2015, p. 14). In this study, the students embraced democratic praxis by composing and delivering political speeches on environmental issues of their choice. The format for their speeches was Monroe’s (1935/1943) Motivated Sequence (MMS). MMS includes the following steps: “1) getting attention; 2) showing the need: describing
problem; 3) satisfying the need: presenting the solution; 4) visualizing the results; and 5) requesting action or approval” (p. 94).

The students considered persuasion through oratory (Leith, 2012). Effective speechwriters often use vivid language, repetition, alliteration, active verbs, short sentences, transitions, compelling quotations, metaphors, and rhetorical questions
(Lehrman, 2010). When appropriate, they integrate humor. Speakers determine when to pause for effect, project their voices, and make eye contact (Leith, 2012). Model texts for the speechwriting assignments included Thunberg’s (2018) speech on
climate change at the United Nations Climate Change COP24 Conference, which the students viewed and examined in the form of a transcript, as well as a four-minute excerpt of Thunberg’s (2019) speech to leaders of the European Union, which the
students viewed only.

To respect different styles of working, the young men had the option of crafting their speeches independently or in small groups. The students, who opted to work collaboratively, selected their own groups. Prior to writing, the young men completed a template. Monroe’s (1935/1943) Motivated Sequence was slightly modified to add an impactful closing statement or clincher.

To find evidence for their own speeches, the students visited websites such as those of NASA (2019), the United States Geological Survey (2019), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (n.d.). They also culled information on
sustainability and data from books by Margaret Robertson (2017) and Leslie Paul Thiele (2016). In their speeches, the students integrated evidence, and they related stories about how environmental issues adversely affect people today. They identified how governments could take action to protect the environment. Using a portable public address system, the young men delivered their speeches before their classmates and educators (Figure 4). The independently prepared speeches were
comparable in quality to those crafted in groups.

Figure 5. A student delivers a speech on climate change

Selected by educators, written copies of two speeches were sent to a U.S. congresswoman. With an encouraging letter, the representative responded;
she addressed environmental issues in Detroit, and she urged the students to continue to be civically engaged. Her letter was read to the class by student
volunteers. Copies were posted in the media center and front office, not far from the desks of the administrative staff and educators, who were using the students’ environmental mugs.


Action research is a systematic and participatory process to gain understanding of issues or problems (Stringer, 2014). Action research challenges educators to be methodical and reflective in examinations of innovative teaching and learning
practices (Mills, 2011). Through data gathering and inquiry, educators gain insights that can lead to positive changes (Mertler, 2014; Mills, 2011). In this action-research study, mixed-methods were employed. Suitable for interdisciplinary investigations, the mixed-methods approach invites diverse perspectives and viewpoints (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). Inquiry through mixed methods offers insights into complex phenomena; the methods capture additional data that lead to deeper understandings of context (Greene, 2007).

An optional and anonymous eight-item survey, with an embedded design, was administered in hard copy when the program concluded. The survey was designed to capture students’ concerns and voices on the environment. In addition, the survey was written to measure the students’ sense of their own preparedness to communicate effectively through political speechwriting and design. Of the 28 participants, 21 opted to complete the surveys, yielding a 75% response rate. The students were invited to write comments after each of the following five Likert-scale items:

  1. I am concerned about climate change and the environment.
  2. The environmental concerns and interests of today’s youth are being adequately
    addressed by policymakers.
  3. The interests of future generations should be taken into account when environmental policies are made.
  4. Preparing a political speech increased my understanding of how to persuade others
    through rhetoric.
  5. By designing and selling mugs for Earth Day, our class raised awareness of environmental issues in the community.

The following open-ended, sixth and seventh items on the survey were designed to promote reflection on the service-learning aspect of the environmental mug project. The eighth item invited comments.

  1. This year, you and your classmates designed Earth Day mugs to raise money for fruit trees and flowers. You also wrote political speeches. What are other ways you could
    raise awareness of environmental issues and/or live sustainably?
  2. What did you learn about the human impact on the environment?

The students’ responses on the surveys were entered into a cloud-based tool, SurveyMonkey, for data analysis. The congresswoman’s letter, in response to the students’ speeches, arrived after the surveys had been distributed. For this reason, the students were asked to share their thoughts in a discussion of her letter, and field notes were taken. In addition to an analysis of the students’ designs and speeches, the conclusions in this study were supported by the field notes and observations.


The findings of this action-research study indicate that high school students are concerned about the environment. They believe that the interests of
young and future generations should matter, and they find value and relevance in art-based, service learning and political speechwriting. With the statement, I am concerned about climate change and the environment, 85.71% of the respondents
strongly agreed (76.19%) or agreed (9.52%). About 14% were neutral. In their comments, multiple students wrote about the urgency of the climate change crisis. One student stated, “The earth is getting worse each day, and we can change that.”
Another wrote, “Fixing [climate change] as soon as possible should be a top priority.”

The students’ responses to the item, The environmental concerns and interests of today’s youth are being adequately addressed by policymakers, were mixed. Granted, these survey responses were collected before the congresswoman’s letter arrived. Over 47% of the students indicated that they were neutral. About a third of the students either disagreed (23.81%) or strongly disagreed (9.52%). About 19% agreed. A student wrote, “I believe that some lawmakers consider the youth in their decisions. Not everyone.” Another commented on the importance of youth activism in politics: “If more youth take action, the concerns and interests will be addressed.”

Most students thought that the interests of future generations should be taken into account when environmental policies are made—over 76% either strongly agreed (57.14%) or agreed (19.05%). About 19% were neutral, and one student disagreed
(4.76%). A student wrote, “We should leave a good, healthy plant for our children.” Another stated, “These decisions determine our kids’ future.”

Preparing speeches honed the students’ communication skills. With the statement,
Preparing a political speech increased my understanding of how to persuade others through rhetoric, 85.72% of the students either strongly agreed (42.86%) or agreed (42.86%). Two students (9.52%) were neutral, and one disagreed (4.76%). One student wrote, “Preparing a political speech helped me improve my writing.”

In their speeches, the students wrote about climate change, air and water quality, and the threat of plastic pollution to wildlife. To gain the audience’s attention, some students told stories. In a speech on plastic pollution, a small group of students began by integrating a story that they had read in the news: “Recently a whale washed up on a beach. The whale died due to the 48 pounds of plastic found in its stomach in Sicily.” Adhering to Monroe’s (1935/1943) Motivated Sequence, they offered evidence of the scale of plastic pollution. In their clincher, they respectfully dared their
classmates, “We challenge you guys to recycle each piece of plastic you use and see.”

In another speech, a student wrote and spoke skillfully about air pollution and global warming. He recommended the adoption of solar, wind, and geothermal power. His introduction and clincher conveyed urgency:

Air Pollution and Global Warming

Air pollution is destroying our planet faster
than we know it.
There are different kinds of air pollution.
Some come from natural resources, but most of it comes from humans.
When we release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, they raise the earth’s temperature.

We release them by burning fossil fuels.
Gasses cause the climate to change.
If the air pollution continues to get worse, we will have more smog.
Smog reduces visibility and has serious health effects.
Smog is a type of severe air pollution.
It can be very dangerous to breathe in too much smog.

According to NASA, the planet’s temperature has risen about 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1 degree Celsius) since the late 19th century.

The most basic way to reduce air pollution is to move away from fossil fuels and use
more alternative energies like solar, wind, and geothermal.
It is impossible to explain all the actual damage caused by all forms of air pollution.
It’s up to us to protect this planet because it’s burning down quicker than we think.

The students were delighted and surprised to receive a response to their speeches from their congresswoman. No student had ever received correspondence from an elected official. With its official heading and words of encouragement, the letter made the students realize that their ideas and concerns mattered. Because the letter arrived after the administration of the surveys, the students were verbally asked what they thought about the letter. They shared comments such as, “I am honored,”
“I’m shocked,” and “It’s awesome.” One student stated, “She is from here, so she understands.”

On the survey, 95.24% of the students strongly agreed (47.62%) or agreed (47.62%) that their class had raised awareness of environmental issues in the community by designing and selling mugs for Earth Day. One student (4.76%) was neutral. This finding should be understood in light of the students’ awareness of the promotion of the fundraiser and its purpose by the café, the school, university faculty, and the Sierra Club. The students knew that images of their environmental mugs were circulating on social media, and the mugs were prominently displayed in the café. They noted that people had purchased the mugs because of their messages, which were primarily about climate change, pollution, and water quality (Figures 5 and 6)

The students shared useful ideas about other ways to raise awareness of environmental issues and/or live sustainably. They recommended using social media, YouTube, the radio, and television. “We could start trends that take care of our environment. Ex. #Cleanup. #Stop the pollution,” suggested a student. Others wrote about recycling, reducing consumption, and picking up trash. They
suggested holding additional fundraisers. One student proposed establishing a charity whose mission would be to educate and to manage environmental projects.

When asked what they had learned about the human impact on the environment, the students responded that their awareness of how human affect the environment had increased. They commented on the potential to make positive changes. One student wrote, “I learned (about) our effect on this planet, and it opened my eyes.”
Another commented, “The human impact on life tells me that people should do better.”

Discussion and Implications

Making art is a way to respond to and participate in events (Kerson, 2009). In democratic societies, through designs in public spaces, artists express diverse social and political perspectives (Triantafillou, 2009; Freedman, 2003). When it has a persuasive purpose, art can powerfully influence thoughts and behaviors (Welch, 2013). Handmade, accessible designs appeal to viewers (MacPhee, 2010). The creation and sale of environmental mugs afforded students the opportunity to
communicate through design and to take informed action.

Two students created designs to raise awareness of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan; many pipes in the city have not been replaced yet Next to his drawing of the Flint water tower, one young man wrote, “Pay attention to warning signs, even when they don’t seem important.” The students have been directly affected by issues of water quality. Due to high levels of lead and other toxins, the water fountains in most schools in Detroit have been shut off (Nir, 2018). Water, in five-gallon jugs, is delivered and dispensed at stations in the schools. Additionally, air pollution
has been linked to poor lung function among asthmatic children, the majority of whom are African American (Lewis, Robins, Dvonch, Keeler, Yip, Menzt…Hill, 2005).

In discussions, the students related international issues of environmental degradation to their firsthand experiences. “…citizenship education should not
only focus on young people as isolated individuals but on young people-in-relationship and on the social, economic, cultural and political conditions of their lives,”
wrote Gert J.J. Biesta (2011, p. 15).

Meaning, ownership, and creativity are important elements of democratic education
(Laguardia & Pearl, 2005). The young men, who were involved in the design of environmental mugs, took an entrepreneurial, product-oriented approach to the greening of their school (Zhao, 2015) (Figures 7 and 8). Service-learning increases
students’ sense of agency and responsibility (Butin, 2010; Cipolle, 2010; Furco, 2002; Webster, 2007). Through this experiential form of civic education, students apply classroom learning to the real world (Carter, 1997).

The art of persuasion, rhetoric is a practical skill in a democracy. Monroe’s (1935/1943) Motivated Sequence has been successfully used by professional speechwriters in United States politics (Lehrman, 2010). The format is suitable for
classroom use because it engages students in the process of inquiry. Students learn content as they utilize complex, presentational language (Zwiers, 2014). The classroom becomes a forum for the exchange of ideas in light of the common good
(Beyer, 1996). The students, in this project, considered how rhetoric is used to influence and to achieve goals. At a time when public argument is often vituperative, their speeches were evidence based, rational, and civil (Duffy, 2019). In a speech on climate change, students drew attention to the extent to which individuals and industries pollute. They described the effects of global warming:

Climate Change

Good afternoon, our names are Dorean, Marcel, and Donivan, and we attend
(school’s name). The problem with the planet earth is global warming and the
deterioration of the ozone layer.

People today pollute the environment like it’s a new trend; everybody does it. Not too
many people think about the consequences of their actions.

According to Sea Stewards, there are about 14 billion pounds of waste that get dumped into the oceans annually. Americans generate 10.5 million tons of plastic waste a year, but only recycle 1-2% of it. That shows how much people care about the

Car exhaust, factories, and production plants all have one thing in common: They
each release harmful gasses that erode our atmosphere. With our atmosphere’s deterioration, the radiation from the sun is seeping onto our planet, causing global warming.

Global warming will likely increase the intensity of meteorological activity, such as
hurricanes, which cause flooding and storm damage, as well as other forms of extreme weather, such as severe, prolonged drought.

With those dangers lingering and waiting to happen, we need to cut back on pollution and gas-powered machinery.
Marcell, Donivan, and Dorean

While writing their speeches, the students considered how adhering to ethical standards in rhetoric promotes inclusivity and dialogue (Duffy, 2019). Studying issues such as climate change fostered a global perspective. Focused on the
welfare of people and nature, the students weighed and communicated responsible actions (National Geographic Society, 2018). Problem-solving, on the basis of evidence and reason, is integral to democratic education (Pearl & Knight, 1999; Terry
& Gallavan, 2005). Knowledge of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence and rhetorical devices prepares students to write persuasively as well as to recognize how politicians and community leaders seek to influence the thoughts and behaviors of their audiences.

Shawn Ginwright (2009, p. 18) wrote, “Robust and healthy democratic life requires
debate, contestation, and participation, all of which signal social well-being.” In addition to engaging students in art-based service learning and political
speechwriting, social studies educators could facilitate student involvement in other forms of democratic action such as debates and simulations. Public deliberation of political issues by an informed citizenry is essential in a democracy (Hess & McAvoy, 2015). Constructive, experiential learning has the potential to foster civic-mindedness and political intentionality (Levine, 2012; Levinson, 2012a).

Democratic praxis could narrow the “civic empowerment gap” that affects political
participation by African American, Latinx, and lowincome youth in the United States (Levinson, 2012b, p. 32). In light of structural, socioeconomic inequalities, Kevin Clay and Beth Rubin (2019) advocate for critically relevant civics (CRC). In CRC, students examine and build upon their lived experiences in society, and they utilize community resources (Clay & Rubin, 2019). As they engage in informal learning outside the classroom, they reflect on social change (Clay & Rubin, 2019).


Visual art and rhetoric are powerful forms of communication that foster youth expression and agency. Innovative uses of these forms to advance civic engagement and global competence merit consideration by educators. Through creative design and speech, the students in this study engaged in the “practice of identification with
public issues” that is vital to citizenship (Biesta, 2011, p. 13). One young man wrote, “Humans have a huge impact on the environment. We harm the earth. We can really change that, if we come together.”


Aristotle (350 B.C.E./2015). Rhetoric. Trans. W. Rhys Roberts. Fairhope, AL: Mockingbird Classics Publishing.

Bellanca, J. (2015). Introduction: Advancing a new agenda. In J.A. Bellanca (Ed.), Deeper learning: Beyond 21st century skills (pp. 1-18). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Beyer, L.E. (1996). Creating democratic classrooms: The struggle to integrate theory and practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Biesta, G.J.J. (2011). Learning democracy in school and society: Education, lifelong learning, and the politics of citizenship. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Butin, D.W. (2010). Service-learning in theory and practice. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Carter, G.R. (1997). Service-learning in curriculum reform. In J. Schine & K.J. Rehage (Eds.), Ninety-sixth yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (pp. 69–78). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Cipolle, S.B. (2010). Service-learning and social justice. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Clay, K.L., and Rubin, B.C. (2019). “I look deep into this stuff because it’s a part of me”: Toward a critically relevant civics education. Theory & Research in Social Education, 1-21.

Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Dewey, J. (1916/2012). Democracy and education. Lexington, KY: Simon and Brown Publishers.

Dewey, J. (1937). Democracy and educational administration. School and Society, 45, 457-467.

Duffy, J. (2019). Provocations of virtue: Rhetoric, ethics, and the teaching of writing. Louisville, CO: University Press of Colorado.

Etling, W. (2010). Sustain. In Siegel, D., & Morris, E. (Eds.), Green patriot posters: Images for a new activism. New York, NY: Metropolis Books.

Fay, J., & Levinson, M. (2019). Schools of, by, and for the people: Both impossible and necessary. In M. Levison & J. Fay (Eds.), Democratic discord in schools: Cases and commentaries in educational ethics (pp. 1-11). Cambridge: Harvard UP.

Freedman, K. (2003). Teaching visual culture: Curriculum, aesthetics, and the social life of art. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Furco, A. (2002). Is service-learning really better than community service? In A. Furco & S.H. Billig (Eds.), Service-learning: The essence of the pedagogy (pp. 23–50). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Ginwright, S.A. (2009). Black youth rising. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Greene, J.C. (2007). Mixed methods in social inquiry. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hardy, J. (2009). In Siegel, D., & Morris, E. (Eds.), Green patriot posters: Images for a
new activism. New York, NY: Metropol
is Books.

Hansen, M., Levesque, E., Valant, J., & Quintero, D. (2018). The 2018 Brown Center report on American education: How well are American students learning? The Brookings Institute. Retrieved from

Hess, D., & McAvoy, P. (2015). The political classroom: Evidence and ethics in democratic education. New York, NY: Routledge. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (n.d.). Global warming of 1.5°C. Retrieved from

Kerson, S. (2010). [Untitled chapter]. In J. MacPhee (Ed.)., Paper politics: Socially engaged printmaking today (p. 64). Oakland, CA: PM Press.

Laguardia, A., & Pearl, A. (2005). Democratic education: Goals, principles, and requirements. In A. Pearl & C.R. Pryor (Eds.), Democratic practices in education: Implications for teacher education (pp. 9–30). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Lehrman, R. (2010). The political speechwriter’s companion. Washington, DC: CQ Press.

Leith, S. (2012). Words like loaded pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Levine, P. (2012). Education for a civil society. In D.E. Campbell, M. Levinson, & F.M. Hess (Eds.), Making civics count: Citizenship education for a new generation (pp. 37-56). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Levinson, M. (2012a). Diversity and civic education. In D.E. Campbell, M. Levinson, & F.M. Hess (Eds.), Making civics count: Citizenship education for a new generation (pp. 89-114). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Levinson, M. (2012b). No citizen left behind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lewis, T.C., Robins, T.G., Dvonch, T., Keeler, G., Yip, F.Y., Menzt, G.B.,…Hill, Y. (2005). Air pollution-associated changes in lung function among asthmatic children in Detroit. Environmental Health Perspectives, 113(8). Retrieved from

MacPhee, J. (2010). Politics on paper. In J. MacPhee (Ed.), Paper politics: Socially engaged printmaking today (pp. 6–10). Oakland, CA: PM Press.

Mertler, C. A. (2014). Action research: Improving schools and empowering educators (4th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Mills, G. E. (2011). Action research: A guide for the teacher researcher (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Mitra, D.L. (2008). Student voice in school reform. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Monroe, A. (1935/1943). Monroe’s principles of speech. Chicago, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company.

NASA. (2019). Global climate change: Vital signs of the planet. Retrieved from

National Archives and Records Administration. (n.d.). Poster Analysis Worksheet. Retrieved from

National Council for the Social Studies (2013). The college, career, and civic life (C3) framework for social studies state standards: Guidance for enhancing the rigor of K-12 civics, economics, geography, and history. Silver Spring, MD.

National Geographic Society (2018). National geographic learning framework. Retrieved from

Nir, S.M. (2018, November 15). Not far from Flint, contamination has left Detroit school taps dry. The New York Times. Retrieved from contamination.html

Pearl, A., & Knight, T. (1999). The democratic classroom: Theory to inform practice. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Pellegrino, J.W. (2015). Forward: Beyond the rhetoric. In J.A. Bellanca (Ed.), Deeper learning: Beyond 21st century skills (pp. xv–xxiv). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Quaglia, R.J., & Corso, M.J. (2014). Student voice: The instrument of change. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Robertson, M. (2017). Sustainability: Principles and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Siegel, D., & Morris, E. (2010). Green patriot posters: Images for a new activism. New York, NY: Metropolis Books.

Stringer, E.T. (2014). Action research (4th ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.

Tacer, F. (2007). Global warming. In Siegel, D., & Morris, E. (Eds.), Green patriot posters: Images for a new activism. New York, NY: Metropolis Books.

Terry, K.W., & Gallavan, N.P. (2005). Democratic practices in education and curriculum. In A. Pearl & C.R. Pryor (Eds.), Democratic practices in education: Implications for teacher education (pp. 101–110). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Thiele, L.P. (2016). Sustainability (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.

Thunberg, G. (2019, April 16). Our house is falling apart. Strasbourg, Germany. Reuters. Retrieved from

Thunberg, G. (2018, Dec. 4). Untitled speech to the United Nations. United Nations Climate Change COP24 Conference. Katowice, Poland. Retrieved from

Triantafillou, E. (2009). All the instruments agree. In J. MacPhee (Ed.), Paper politics: Socially engaged printmaking today (pp. 20–25). Oakland, CA: PM Press.

Trilling, B. (2015). Road maps to deeper learning. In J.A. Bellanca (Ed.), Deeper learning: Beyond 21st century skills (pp. 177-204). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

United States Geological Survey. (2019). Water resources. Retrieved from

Webster, N. (2007). Enriching school connection and learning in African American youth: The impact of a service-learning feasibility project in inner-city Philadelphia. In S.B. Gelmon & S.H. Billig (Eds.), Service learning: From passion to objectivity (pp. 159–176). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Welch, D. (2013). Propaganda: Power and persuasion. London, UK: The British Library.

Yenawine, P. (2013). Visual thinking strategies: Using art to deepen learning across school disciplines. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Zhao, Y. (2015). Paradigm shift: Educating creative and entrepreneurial students. In J.A. Bellanca (Ed.). In J.A. Bellanca (Ed.), Deeper learning: Beyond 21st century skills (pp. 83-108). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Zwiers, J. (2014). Building academic language: Meeting Common Core Standards across disciplines (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: JosseyBass.

Axis of Evil or the Great Satan? Untangling the U.S./Iranian Relationship

Anthony Pellegrino, James Fichera, and Megan Walden

In 2002, President George W. Bush referred to the Islamic Republic of Iran as being part of an “Axis of Evil”; an assertion which resulted in Iranian officials’ condemnation and a retort that the United States was “the Great Satan.” Clearly, at the time, there was caustic antipathy between these two nations, each of whom played a significant role in the persistently delicate affairs of the Middle East in
the wake of the Cold War. Relatedly, each also exercised imperialistic tendencies in the region through proxy conflicts and engaging in opposing alliances, causing increased animosity and distrust. But how did the relationship devolve to that point?
How has the relationship fared since? What are the prospects for the future of this region given that both nations have deep geopolitical interests and often opposing ideologies?

As social studies teachers in the U.S., we have considered these questions as important in our roles to help learners understand the complex world
in which we live and the role of the U.S. in it. We have also recognized that addressing abstract and dynamic concepts surrounding international affairs
is especially challenging for teachers and students. With that in mind, we assert that by applying practices related to historical thinking in concert with employing principles of foreign relations, students can come to understand how events,
ideologies, and circumstances have led us to the current state of affairs. Moreover, we believe that this integrated approach can help students learn to take informed civic action based on analysis of evidence and understanding perspective.

To that end, we present an Inquiry Design Model (IDM) lesson to encourage students to grapple with the strained yet indispensable relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran as a means to understand contemporary foreign policy matters more broadly. In this two-day lesson, students will think historically about tensions between these two nations since the early Cold War and deliberate
about foreign policy postures to determine which best addresses the relationship. As a transition to the lesson, we present readers a primer on recent history between the U.S. and Iran followed by a brief overview of prevalent foreign policy stances and pedagogical perspectives that will be considered in the lesson activities.

Recent U.S./Iranian Relations: A Primer

To understand the complex relationship between the United States and Iran, one must look to the past for clarification. Today’s association begins during the tumultuous years of the Cold War when American and British intelligence effectively
overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran. This was in part because of an oil nationalization program undertaken by Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq and by perceptions that his government was becoming more closely
aligned with the Soviet Union (Leebaert, 2003). After installing the pro-U.S. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the following two and a half decades brought America and Iran together into a new political partnership. Iran gained a powerful ally and for the U.S., an indispensable partner in the Middle East. During those years, Iran’s future would be determined without the consent or consideration of the Iranian people as Pahlavi initiated Iran’s conversion to a modern, secular nation.

Along with modernization, Iran’s energy policies moved in concordance scientifically when a U.S.-sponsored nuclear program began there in 1957. The “Atoms for Peace” initiative, whose stated mission included making available “peaceful, civilian nuclear technologies in the hope that they wouldn’t pursue military nuclear programs” (Inskeep, 2015, para. 6), provided a reactor for civilian purposes. Furthermore, Pahlavi signaled his espousal of Western ideological philosophies in
1962 by vowing to eschew communist influence with the understanding of continued support for his regime from the U.S. and its allies (New York Times, 2012). The following “White Revolution” ushered in a campaign of modernizing industrialization bolstered by massive oil revenues. Although these initiatives benefited many Iranians, rampant corruption accorded Iran’s elite colossal
rewards. Combined with other economic complications, this led to an emerging opposition. Amongst them were Shi’a clergy whose influence was being eroded by secular reforms. As arrest, torture, and murder of opposition forces became defining features of Pahlavi’s regime, he dissolved Iran’s two political parties. Nevertheless, America maintained political ties with the Shah, which did pay some dividends. As a U.S. ally, Iran, for example, chose not to participate in OPEC’s oil embargo following 1973’s Yom Kippur War (Myre, 2013). Thereafter, the U.S. indicated its interest in
furthering Iran’s nuclear program by allowing the purchase of a nuclear reactor and materials for itsoperation (New York Times, 2012).

Accompanying emerging economic issues and dismissal of calls for democratic reforms, Iranians erupted into revolt. Growing protests were answered with brutal reprisals, inciting further protests. Among those hostile to Pahlavi was cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. His antagonistic denunciations had made him the most prominent face of the regime’s opposition. Khomeini’s return from exile in early 1979, precipitated by the Shah’s fleeing of Iran, gave rise to the Islamic Republic. With anti-American sentiment also running deep, huge protests were staged outside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Relations deteriorated as dozens of
diplomats were taken hostage in reaction to news of Pahlavi’s asylum claim in the U.S. Even after the release of the hostages, negotiated by President Carter, but not executed until his successor, Ronald Reagan came into office, a new era of tense relations between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic was underway.

Early in his rule, Khomeini mothballed Iran’s nuclear program, partly out of apathy to programs undertaken by the Shah, but also declaring it contrary to the teachings of Islam (Leebaert, 2003). To defend those same teachings, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah were created. Their commitment to promoting popular revolution in the region however, was not entirely welcomed by Iran’s neighbors. Anticipating plans for exporting those ideas, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein attempted to weaken Khomeini’s hand by preemptively launching an attack on Iran in 1980.
This decision ignited a decade-long conflict that would include the use of chemical weapons and result in massive casualties.

Further complications arose from clandestine U.S. operations providing aid to Iran’s
religious and geopolitical rival, Iraq. Later, Hezbollah-backed bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and of American military personnel elsewhere in Lebanon in 1983 only mired the U.S. further in the crisis. Additionally, Iranian-backed forces opposing Israel in Lebanon and Palestinian territories pushed the U.S. and Iran further apart on nearly all issues in the region. After denouncing Iran as a “state sponsor of terror”, Iranian-supported organizations took more American hostages late in White House officials reacted, despite an arms embargo, by secretly selling weapons to Iran
to secure their release while channeling resulting funds to anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua, thus prompting the firestorm of controversy known as the Iran-Contra Affair (Byrne, 2017).

As Hussein pursued his own nuclear program, Khomeini secretly restarted Iran’s.
Henceforth, the U.S. would actively seek to impede these efforts. As hostilities continued, America and Iran became embroiled in a phase of the conflict known as the “Tanker War” when Iraqi and Iranian forces targeted oil vessels. Iran soon expanded targets to include ships of Iraqi supporters Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (Ishaan, 2015). In the ensuing campaign, an American naval vessel was attacked
by Iranian forces and another was struck by an Iranian mine. American retaliations struck several ships and oil platforms, but hostilities took a tragic turn when an Iranian passenger jet was mistakenly shot down. Despite this intensifying violence, the conflict would not escalate any further. This wearisome and fruitless war finally came to a conclusion in 1988. Less than a year later Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who famously defied and denounced the United States as “the Great Satan,” died.

The next year, Saddam Hussein, who was recently aided in an effort to keep Iran in check, became motivated to invade neighboring Kuwait. When the ultimatum to leave went unheeded, the ensuing Gulf War resulted in a decisive military victory for the U.S. and coalition forces, but became a political quagmire. Iran remained officially neutral in the conflict, but their nuclear ambitions and persistent involvement in regional proxy wars ensured their relationship remained contentious. In a rare instance however, U.S. and Iranian interests aligned following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Taliban in Afghanistan had long been an enemy of Iran, but only more recently were they and al Qaeda of primary concern to the U.S. Iranians assisted U.S. efforts in Afghanistan by providing intelligence to seemingly improve their relationship (Sharp, 2004).

This brief thaw in relations was short-lived once President Bush denounced Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil” in his State of the Union Address four months later. By year’s end, disclosure of active nuclear facilities in Iran seemed to confirm many U.S. officials’ worst fears. Despite denials for decades, many remain convinced that Tehran’s intention is weapons development with the United States’ staunch ally, Israel, as a target. This currently remains another vexing issue and additional basis for the differing diplomatic postures the U.S. may take in the future, ranging from coercion to containment to engagement as noted by U.S.-Iran relations scholar Mark Gasiorowski (CSPAN, American History TV, 2019). Present relations between the United States and Iran remain a diplomatic minefield fraught with uncertainty,
inflated rhetoric, and direct attacks on military and economic assets. The basis for this lesson begins with the 2002 State of the Union address and allows students to gain a sense of the complexity in the history entangled in this relationship as they
consider ways to manage it moving forward.

Pedagogical Framework

The pedagogical basis for this lesson is drawn from a combination of historical thinking and fundamental foreign relation practices. Historical thinking allows us to situate the relationship between the U.S. and Iran in its recent historical context while providing space for learners to challenge traditional narratives of the role the U.S. plays in its geopolitical relationships. In 2011, history education scholar Keith Barton distilled components of historical thinking into tenets of perspective, interpretation of evidence, and agency. Together, these complementary ideas informed the way this lesson draws upon the study of the past. According to Barton (2011), students learn about the past through examining a person, event, or
phenomena using multiple perspectives. In so doing, students must analyze a variety of sources and question how each may support or challenge their understanding of a traditional narrative. In the process, students must also interpret evidence in sources based on audience, context, and intent; thus, requiring further corroboration to best understand the subject (Drake & Nelson, 2005). Finally, Barton (2011) advocates that when students utilize any historical source in these ways they develop agency and the notion that every piece of evidence holds some power to foster understanding. Agency manifests in how they recognize the role each source plays to inform the whole. Certain texts may have more value than others, but in order to gain the
deepest possible understanding, one must consider all available evidence as useful. Through recognizing the agency in evidence and in one’s ability to interpret evidence a democratization of the process begins to occur since it is no longer one
perspective that dominates the voice of all others. In this lesson for example, recognizing the perspectives of Iranians in concert with those we most often hear from the U.S. is critical to the process. Further, when students gain the knowledge
and skills necessary to recognize agency in the sources they use to learn, they also foster their ability to see how their own roles as investigators gives them power to form evidence-based interpretations (Doolittle, Hicks, & Ewing, 2004).

Foreign Policy Postures

In terms of these tenets of historical thinking, examining fundamental stances related to foreign policy postures offers students the opportunity to consider the ways individuals with varying perspectives and experiences use historical evidence to make inferences and evaluations that guide decisions. In 2019, Mark Gasiorowski offered three general postures of foreign policy aimed at bringing fundamental change to Iran, or at least restricting Iran’s “objectionable behavior.” All three
postures have been employed at various times in the relationship between these two nations (C-SPAN, American History TV, 2019). For us, they served as a framework around which we developed this lesson that asks students to determine foreign policy objectives and actions the U.S. may take in its relationship with Iran.

The first of these positions is engagement, whereby the United States enters into a dialogue with Iran and others, if need be. The aim is to come to a mutual agreement that will encourage restraint on the part of Iran. The second stance is coercion.
By these means, the United States attempts to change Iran’s behaviors through the use of aggressive actions such as use of military force, economic sanctions, or other threatening measures in an effort to forcefully intimidate, and curtail undesirable conduct from Iran. The last posture, containment, is notably the only one not seeking to enact fundamental changes upon Iran. Instead, this stance aims at constraining Iran’s undesirable actions but with no realistic expectations of realizing any consequential changes as the other two postures seek to achieve.

Lesson Overview

This lesson provides students the opportunity to understand these fundamental
approaches to foreign policy by studying the example of U.S./Iranian relations through an inquiry process as articulated through the C3 Framework by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). Ultimately, students will draw upon historical and contemporary evidence to help determine which foreign policy posture is most appropriate to address tensions between the U.S. and Iran and present their recommendations to the President of the United States. We have developed a website to house resources and additional detail to execute this lesson (Axis of Evil or the Great Satan? Untangling the U.S./Iranian Relationship Since 1953).

Grounded in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the momentous “axis of evil” sentiment expressed in the 2002 State of the Union speech by President George W. Bush, this lesson calls on learners to ultimately devise a presidential advisory document to help forge a foreign policy path with Iran. In keeping with Dimension 1 of the C3 Framework, which focuses on developing and parsing compelling questions, this lesson is guided by provocative statements
made by both sides in this relationship: President Bush including Iran in the “axis of evil” and Iranian leadership referring to the U.S. as “the Great Satan.” Together, these comments underscore the divide between these two nations and allow students
the opportunity to examine evidence and foreign policy perspectives on the nature of this geopolitical relationship (NCSS, 2013).

From the introductory question, the first activities draw on Dimensions 2 and 3 of the C3 Framework, which call on learners to use disciplinary tools and concepts as well as evaluate sources and evidence (NCSS, 2013). Students begin by watching an excerpt from the 2002 State of the Union speech that introduced the idea that an “axis of evil” of nations actively sought to undermine democratic values across the globe. Working backwards from the speech and a brief discussion of the context and its message (15-20 minutes), learners will gather into small groups to assemble and annotate a timeline with pivotal events that have occurred between the U.S. and Iran since the 1953 coup d’état, which saw the U.S. and Britain support the ouster of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, creating considerable animosity between
Iran and the U.S. (30-40 minutes). A completed task will include placement of each event in chronological order, inclusion of a brief summary of the event, and a statement regarding how the event changed the relationship between these two nations.

Next, four-person student groups will be provided two sources that offer differing
perspectives on the animosity between these nations (20-30 minutes). The first is a resource articulating examples of Iran acting nefariously in foreign affairs. The second describes Iranian reactions to the “axis of evil” comment from President Bush. Student groups will use this material to inform their position on whether Iran belongs in an axis of evil or whether the U.S. is unfairly targeting Iran as a “bad actor” on the world stage. In the spirit of a structured academic controversy model, teachers may leverage the group makeup to ask that individual members concentrate on only one source and share their expertise with others, who, in turn,
share information from their source. The deliberation on these perspectives will inform their final task of advising the president on the path forward for U.S. relations.

Day two begins with the penultimate activity in this lesson. To begin this day, student groups will pivot to general foreign policy considerations by exploring the fundamental foreign policy postures of coercion, containment, and diplomacy (20
minutes). To better understand the differences between these postures, each student will complete a Frayer model graphic organizer for each posture,
which calls on students to include characteristics, examples, and non-examples of each concept.

The summative performance task consists of two parts. The first asks each group to imagine themselves as a presidential advisory team meeting just after the 2002 State of the Union Speech and the backlash that has come from Iran. This activity includes completing an online simulation (found on the lesson website) that walks students through ramifications of each posture. Students will use the graphic organizers they previously completed to inform the choices they make in this activity. From that perspective, and the information they have gathered from the previous class, they are to draft an artifact advising the president of the most appropriate foreign policy posture to take (30-40 minutes). As an extension to their work as a presidential advisory team, their final task is to find a more recent event involving the U.S. and Iran to analyze. Each group will revisit their advisory document in light of this new event to determine which posture was ultimately chosen and how it has fared in recent decades. Students can also revise their posture to chart a new path forward in
U.S./Iranian relations in light of the recent developments they find (20-30 minutes). The IDM Blueprint lesson plan is provided in the following sections.


In this lesson, we have attempted to provide an opportunity for learners to explore the complexities of the intersection of history and foreign affairs through the example of the relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. We believe that this particular relationship epitomizes certain unique
challenges as well as enduring features of foreign affairs. In the context of the Cold War, the U.S. engaged in covert operations that contributed to the emergence of the Shah. One can draw a direct line between the autocratic tendencies exhibited by the
Shah’s regime and the 1979 Islamic Revolution that sought to shed all Western influence. The 1980s saw the U.S. pivot toward Iran’s neighbor and enemy, Iraq, even when that meant supporting its tyrannical leader, Saddam Hussein. Through the
1990s, crippling economic sanctions and calls for regime change from the U.S. led to increased tensions even among Iranians who have protested their own government in increasingly vocal ways (BBC News, 2020). In the early twenty-first century, Iran felt the pressure of the vast U.S. military who now had many thousands of troops
stationed to their east in Afghanistan, and to their west, in Iraq. Yet, even with the antagonistic sentiments vehemently expressed from both sides since the Revolution and the events of September 11, 2001, each nation understood the geopolitical
importance of the Middle East and their respective roles in the region.

More recently however, tensions have again raised the possibility of more open conflict between the U.S. and Iran. Accusations of Iran’s involvement in attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq were followed by a U.S. airstrike on January 2, 2020, which killed Qassem Soleimani, a top general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (Al Jazeera, 2020). This event was followed closely by thus far unheeded calls for the U.S. to ease economic sanctions on Iran during the 2020 global pandemic (The Guardian, 2020). Both events in this new decade portend a future with continued interactions
between both nations, some of which may be overtly or covertly positive, but more are likely to reflect deep-seated animosity and distrust.

Exploring the ways these two nations have coexisted offers students the chance to understand perspective and complexity in foreign affairs, and to apply fundamental approaches to geopolitical relationships in an authentic inquiry. Whether students decide Iran belongs as part of an “Axis of Evil” or that the United States resembles “the Great Satan”, this lesson requires learners to try to untangle the historical context and overall messiness that is foreign affairs as a means to better understand the relationships we have with our allies, enemies, and those who fall somewhere in between. In doing so, we believe students will be better able to understand the importance of foreign relations and more likely to engage in informed civic action.


Al Jazeera, (2020, January 3). Who was Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s IRGC’s Quds Force leader? Al Jazeera. Retrieved from

Barton, K. C. (2011). History: From learning narratives to thinking historically. In W. B. Russell, (Ed.), Contemporary Social Studies: An Essential Reader (pp. 109-139). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

BBC News (2020, January 16). Iran protests: Who are the opposition in the country? BBC News. Retrieved from

Byrne, M. (2017). Iran-Contra: Reagan’s scandal and the unchecked abuse of presidential power. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

C-SPAN, American History TV (2019). U.S.- Iranian Relations featuring Professor Mark
Retrieved from

Doolittle, P., Hicks, D., & Ewing, T. (2004). Historical inquiry: understanding the past.
Historical inquiry: Scaffolding wise practices in the history classroom.
Retrieved from

Drake, F. D., & Nelson, L. R. (2005). Engagement in teaching history: Theory and practices for middle and secondary teachers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

The Guardian (2020, April 6). Former world officials call on U.S. to ease Iran sanctions to fight covid-19. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Inskeep, S. (2015, September 18). Born in the USA: How America created Iran’s nuclear program. Retrieved from

Ishaan, T. (2015, April 2). The key moments in the long history of U.S.-Iran tensions. Washington Post. Retrieved from

Leebaert, D. (2003). The fifty-year wound: How America’s cold war victory shapes our world. Boston, MA: Back Bay Books.

Myre, G. (2013, October 16). The 1973 Arab oil embargo: The old rules no longer apply. National Public Radio. Retrieved from

NCSS. (2013). The college, career, and civic life framework for social studies state standards: Guidance for enhancing the rigor of K-12 civics, economics, geography, and history. Silver Spring, MD: Author.

New York Times. (2012, April 7). Iran, the United
States and a political seesaw.
Retrieved from

Sharp, J. (2004, October 28). The U.S. and Iran part IV – hostile relations. Public Radio International. Retrieved from