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. Gone.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 201-741-0833, www.prakhina.org
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 email@example.com.
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) wrote,
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, 2015).
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).
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.
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).
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.
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:
I am concerned about climate change and the environment.
The environmental concerns and interests of today’s youth are being adequately addressed by policymakers.
The interests of future generations should be taken into account when environmental policies are made.
Preparing a political speech increased my understanding of how to persuade others through rhetoric.
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.
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?
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. Zavion
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:
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 environment.
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.”
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Social studies has an image problem particularly among students. For decades, students have decried the subject’s lack of relevance to their daily lives and the formulaic, predictable, and often uninspiring ways in which it is presented (Beck, Buehl, & Taboada Barber, 2015; Chiodo & Byford, 2004; Schug, Todd, & Beery, 1984; Zhao & Hoge, 2005). To change this paradigm of disconnection and boredom, social studies teaching and learning needs to be innovative, challenging, inspiring, and ambitious (Grant & Gradwell, 2010; Ucus, 2018) and grapple with topics and concepts that are challenging, compelling, and appropriately controversial (Hess, 2009; Linowes, Ho, & Misco, 2019). In order to create such powerful opportunities, inquiry needs to be at the center of social studies instructional design and delivery.
This article explores how to teach the Nanking Massacre using the Inquiry Design Model in middle school social studies classrooms. Students first explore the topic through diverse perspectives and then demonstrate their understanding(s) through multiple means. Lastly, students are asked to situate the Nanking Massacre by looking at contemporary examples of wartime atrocities and resultant injustices and advocate their position on both accounts.
The Inquiry Design Model (IDM)
The College, Career and Civic Life (C3) for Social Studies State Standards (National Council for the Social Studies, 2013), provides a blueprint for designing and teaching engaging, transformative, and ambitious social studies. At its theoretical and practical core, the C3 Framework moves instruction away from textbook/note-taking to a pedagogy rooted in the ubiquity of inquiry. “[I]nquiry lies at the heart of social studies and that the crafting of questions and the deliberate and thoughtful construction of responses to those questions can inspire deeper and richer teaching and learning” (Grant, Lee, & Swan, 2015, p. 7). The key to doing so lies in the Inquiry Arc. The Inquiry Arc is a series of four dependent, interlocking elements or dimensions: 1) developing questions and planning inquiries; 2) applying discipline concepts and tools; 3) evaluating sources and using evidence; and 4) communicating conclusions and taking informed action. Foundationally, the Inquiry Arc spurs, supports, and sustains teacher-generated and, ultimately, student generated questions and conclusions (Grant, 2013; Swan, Lee, & Grant, 2015).
To this end, Grant, Lee, and Swan (2015) have developed a structured model of inquiry design premised on the Inquiry Arc. The Inquiry Design Model (IDM) is a conceptual template that allows social studies teachers to plan instruction that links together the Inquiry Arc’s four dimensions. By doing so, social studies teaching and learning become processional, relational, and relevant. In the following sections of this article, the C3 Frameworks Inquiry Arc and the accompanying Inquiry Design Model (IDM) are used to explore an unspeakable outcome of Japanese imperialism in the mid-20th century, the Nanking Massacre.
An Overview of the Rise of Japanese Imperialism (1850-1945)
In 1850, Japan was a feudal society with little nationalist fervor. While other Western countries, most notably the United States and Great Britain, were exerting their influence throughout Asia proper, Japan was viewed by such powers as inert and backward, ripe for exploitation. By 1868, the Meiji Restoration, which ended the preceding Tokugawa shogunate, sought to both militarily and economically strengthen Japan, thus affording a measure of security and self-determination. Believing that their security was directly tied to the security of the Asian mainland, by 1881, Japan had both a political and military presence in Korea and would soon turn her sights to China. In 1885, Japan declared war on China for control of the Korean peninsula. Easily pushing the Chinese out of Korea, Japan was flush with imperialistic visions of military and cultural superiority (Hilldrup, 2009; Mann, 2012).
By the early twentieth-century, Japan’s economic base was growing; so, too, was her population. This rapid population growth stretched thin Japan’s natural resources and food supplies, spurring the country’s leaders to look beyond its borders to meet such industrial and domestic demands. Ultranationalist groups now advocated for territorial acquisition, not only to supplement and suffice Japan’s resource needs, but to fulfill her imperial and ideological ambitions of placing Japan squarely at the center of Asian economic and cultural dominance. Imperialism was framed, not only as an economic necessity, but as a cultural obligation to both enrich and enlighten her (inferior) Asian brethren. In an effort to cull essential resources while concomitantly exerting her nationalistic hegemony, Japan would again turn her attention westward towards China, her perceived economic storehouse and perennial cultural subordinate (Beasley, 1987; Facing History and Ourselves, 2019).
The Nanking Massacre
With the exception of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the pillage of Nanking may very well be the most egregious human atrocity in the Asian theatre of the Second World War. Though the city of Nanking did not hold the military importance of Shanghai, with its bustling port and economic vitality it did, by the 1920’s, serve as the seat of China’s newly formed republic.
After their victory in the Battle for Shanghai, the Japanese advanced to Nanking. When Nanking ultimately fell in December, 1937, the Japanese unleashed a torrent of relentless destruction. Buildings, businesses, and homes were robbed then subsequently burned. Spanning a seven-week period, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Chinese – mostly innocent civilians – were brutally and mercilessly raped and/or murdered (Heaver, 2017). Though never fully articulated, it was felt that the atrocities committed by the Japanese sprung from a volatile mix of revenge for the heavy losses suffered during the Battle for Shanghai and an imperialist “us” and “them” dehumanization of a Chinese people and culture perceived to be less refined and, hence, less worthy (Chang, 2011; Li, Sabella, & Liu, 2015).
During this seven-week period – and certainly thereafter – members of the Japanese government and select media were well aware of the events transpiring in Nanking. Yet both the government and media remained silent. For Westerners living in Nanking, the prevailing choices were clear: resist, remain silent, or leave. A small contingent of Western business and religious leaders stayed to help. They ultimately created what became known as the Nanking Safety Zone, a demilitarized area located in the city center. Here, some 250,000 Chinese sought shelter and received medical and provisionary assistance. It was in the letters sent abroad and the personal diary entries made by these individuals that gradually illuminated the range and magnitude of atrocities committed during the Massacre of Nanking (Chang, 2011; Facing History and Ourselves, 2019; Li, Sabella, & Liu, 2015).
With the Japanese surrender in 1945, General Douglas McArthur was charged with establishing what would be known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, a military court designed to seek accountability for Japanese atrocities. Ultimately, 28 Japanese military and civilian leaders were charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including General Iwane Matsui who orchestrated the capture of Nanking. Yet questions remain of who, besides Matsui, should have been tried. Questions of culpability, denial, and wholesale concealment of the truth confounded efforts to provide restitution for and reverence of the thousands of Chinese who lost their lives during the Massacre of Nanking.
The Inquiry Design Model
The Inquiry Design Model (IDM) provides teachers with a template for structuring student learning premised on inquiry, evidence, application, and action. Specifically, the IDM Blueprint includes the following components: the Compelling Question, Supporting Questions, Formative Performance Tasks, Featured Sources, Summative Performance Tasks, including Argument and Extension, and Taking Informed Action. Below is an overview of how middle school teachers can design a unit on the Nanking Massacre using the IDM model of instruction.
Compelling Question: The Compelling Question frames the entire inquiry process. It is broad, accessible, provocative, engaging, and has multiple plausible answers (Grant, 2013; Jourell, Friedman, Thacker, & Fitchett, 2018). As Grant (2013) posits, “there is a big difference between using questions to check for student understanding and using questions that frame a teaching and learning inquiry” (p. 325). “Can Actions be ‘justified’ in a time of war?” demands more than a patent “yes or no” response; it roots resulting answers both in historical context and personal (student) conviction.
Supporting Questions: Such questions emanate from and extend the Compelling Question. They structure learning by providing a scaffold of inquiry whereby questions build in complexity and relevance. Simply, Supporting Questions “tease out” the content-based inquiry strands embedded in and derived from the Compelling Question.
Supporting Question 1: In Japan, how did a “us” and “them” attitude towards the Chinese lead to the Nanking Massacre? To understand the road to the Nanking Massacre is to understand the power of perception: How did the Japanese perceive the Chinese? This question provides the perceptual premise of Japanese attitudes towards the Chinese that “justified,” if you will, the atrocities committed during the Nanking Massacre. Additional questions may ask, “How do we view ‘difference?’” “What makes countries feel “exceptional?”
Supporting Question 2: What were the individual, group, and national responses to the Nanking Massacre? Here, students explore and, ultimately, rationalize or rebuke the actions people, groups, and nations took (or failed to take) during the Nanking Massacre. Sub questions generated may be, “Was silence a means of survival?” “What, really, can be done during wartime?” “What would other nations have gained by rebuking the Nanking Massacre?”
Supporting Question 3: How can justice be achieved for those wronged during wartime? This question asks students to wrestle with the often blurry concept of justice during (and after) wartime, particularly holding individuals accountable for crimes committed in the name of military action. It may also spur feelings of frustration, where justice is seen as elusive and ultimately futile. Additional questions may range from “Do conventional rules apply during war?” to “Should someone be held accountable for simply ‘following orders?”’
Formative Performance Tasks
The IDM Blueprint includes multiple opportunities for teachers to evaluate and students to demonstrate their understanding of social studies content. Formative Performance Tasks allow students to “answer” Supporting Questions, based on the Featured Sources provided, in a variety of engaging, creative ways. Ultimately, Formative Performance Tasks are designed to guide students towards designing a coherent, evidence-based argument and delivering a focused, deliberate action point. The IDM includes both Formative and Summative Performance Tasks, with additional opportunities for Extension activities and Taking Informed Action (Swan et al., 2015).
Formative Performance Task One: Create a political cartoon that depicts Japanese self-proclaimed military and/or cultural superiority over China. Here, students demonstrate their understanding of Japanese perception(s) of “superiority” (either militarily or culturally) over the Chinese by creating their own political cartoon. Teachers need to be explicit in defining, both in content and presentation, what is an “appropriate” cartoon for middle school students.
Formative Performance Task Two: As a Western missionary in Nanking, write a persuasive letter to the American Red Cross depicting what you have witnessed and what their response should be. Referencing material regarding the individual, group, and/or national responses to the Nanking Massacre, students will write a letter to the Red Cross. The letter should include what has been witnessed as well as a detailed and descriptive call to action.
Formative Performance Task Three: Roleplaying as a family member, record a two-minute video in which you argue for the rights of your deceased relatives lost during the Nanking Massacre. Using technology as their medium, students have a degree of creative latitude in designing and delivering their two-minute taped role-play. Students can display an array of emotional responses; create and use backdrops; dress accordingly; and incorporate video and/or music within their recording. Students can use the recording features found on most smartphones as well as simple, accessible video capturing tools such as Screencast,-omatic, Yuja, or Snagit.
(Please reference Appendix A for titles and links to the list of Featured Sources attached to each Formative Performance Task).
Formative Performance Tasks
The IDM Blueprint includes two Summative Performance Tasks: Argument and Extension. The Argument is the culmination of students researching the featured sources and then demonstrating resultant understanding(s) through their Formative Performance Tasks. The Argument is tied directly to the Compelling Question and has students address and answer it. In this example, middle school students are asked to construct an argument – in the form of a petition or a protest poster – that both states their answer to or perspective on the Compelling Question while acknowledging counterarguments to their claim. Correlated to the Argument, the Extension allows students to continue the inquiry process through conducting additional research or by supplementing and/or complimenting the information presented in the Argument. In this case, not only were students asked to create a petition or protest poster regarding their thoughts relevant to the Compelling Question (Argument), they are additionally asked to create a PowerPoint or Prezi that summarizes their conclusions by using a different visual medium (Extension).
Taking Informed Action
A cornerstone to powerful social studies is the ability of students to take informed action premised on research-based inquiry. The key here is that student action is informed. To this end, the IDM model asks students to build knowledge and understanding before engaging in social action (Swan et al., 2015). Taking Informed Action is divided into three segments:
Comprehension: Students are asked to “transfer,” if you will, their new-found understandings into contemporary contexts. Are there contemporary examples where justice during wartime remained (or remains) elusive?
Assess: Here, students search for patterns, look at alternate arguments, and research relevant scenarios that offer additional insight into their chosen topic. In the example provided, students create a list of contemporary injustices and indicate if/how they were or were not resolved.
Action: A seminal strand woven throughout the C3 Framework is the imperative for students to be participatory, to take action. Taking action can be simple or complex. It can be locally or internationally contextualized. It can come in many forms but essentially serves one essential function – allowing students the opportunity to be actively engaged in their own learning by “taking a stand.” For this project, middle schoolers will make a simple presentation to their classmates.
There are events in history that beg not to be forgotten. The atrocities committed by the Japanese army in Nanking allows historians, teachers, and students alike rich and varied opportunities to explore issues of motive, justification, response, and the elusiveness of restitution. The Nanking Massacre also allows students to examine how an “us” and “them” mindset impacted and shaped Japan’s imperialistic actions that led to one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century. We wrestle with the past to better understand our present.
The Inquiry Design Model structures learning by which events in history – celebrated or scorned – can be explored, understood, and contemporarily contextualized. Questions are asked. Research is conducted. Knowledge and understanding are demonstrated. Though the example of the Nanking Massacre is geared for middle school students, the concepts and structures of the Inquiry Arc and the IDM Blueprint can be used within any social studies classroom. Good social studies – inquiry driven and action-based – allows students to scratch their heads in thought, raise their hands in action, and take a stand.
Beasley, W.G. (1987). Japanese imperialism: 1894-1945. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Beck, J.S., Buehl, M.M., & Taboada Barber, A. (2015). Students’ perceptions of reading and learning in social studies: A multimethod approach. Middle Grades Research Journal, 10(2), 1-16.
Chang, I. (2011). The rape of Nanking: The forgotten holocaust of World War II. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Chiodo, J., & Byford, J. (2004). Do they really dislike social studies? A student of middle and high school students. The Journal of Social Studies Research, 28(1), 16-26.
Sitting Bull (c.1830-1890) was named war chief, leader of the entire Lakota nation, a title never before bestowed on anyone. As a leader, Sitting Bull resisted the United States government’s attempt to move the Lakota to reservations for 25 years (Nelson, 2015, pp. 48-52). Sitting Bull clung to his belief that the Lakota were a free people meant to live, hunt, and die on the Great Plains (Nelson, 2015, book cover).
Timeline to Explore:
1. Late 1600s – Lakota live on land now known as Minnesota
2. 1776 – Lakota take Black Hills
3. Late 1700s-early 1800s – Lakota have horses and guns – follow buffalo
4. 1803 – Louisiana Purchase
5. 1832 – Missouri River steamboat travel into Lakota land
6. 1840s – Great Plans natives supply buffalo hides to traders
7. 1845 – Manifest Destiny
8. 1848 – California Gold Rush
9. 1851 – Treaty of Ft. Laramie
10. 1854 – Grattan Fight
11. 1855 (September 3) Blue Water Creek Battle AKA Battle of Ash Hollow
12. 1861-1862 – American Indian Wars
13. 1861-1865 – U.S. Civil War
14. 1862 – Gold discovered in Montana
15. 1862 (August 17) – Lakota Uprising AKA Dakota War of 1862
16. 1863 – Sitting Bull and Hunkpapa band strike temporary truce with Arikara (AKA Rees in North Dakota)
17. 1863-1864 – Gen. John Pope orders Gen. Alfred Sully to establish more forts along Missouri River and eastern Dakotas
18. 1864 (July 28) – Battle of Killdeer Mountain
19. 1864 (September) – Sitting Bull leads Hunkpapa warriors against settler wagons (present-day western North Dakota)
24. 1868 (November 27) – Battle of the Washita River
25. 1875 – Gen. Phillip Sheridan orders buffalo extermination
26. 1875 (December 6) – Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse refuse to sell Black Hills
27. 1876 (June 25) – Battle of Little Big Horn AKA Custer’s Last Stand
28. 1877 Sitting Bull and Hunkpapa band retreat to Canada
29. 1877 (September 5) – Crazy Horse is killed
30. 1881 (July 20) – Sitting Bull surrenders at Ft. Buford, North Dakota
31. 1882 – Congressional commission wants Great Sioux Reservation
32. 1887 – Dawes Act
33. 1888 – Sioux Act
34. 1890s – Ghost Dance Movement
35. 1890 – Sitting Bull assassinated
36. 1890 – Battle of Wounded Knee AKA Massacre at Wounded Knee. The Battle of Wounded Knee is the last battle of the American Indian Wars. …Lakotas are nowdependent on the U.S. government for rations” (Nelson, 2015, pp. 48-52).
Directions: Geographical Context
Work in groups (teacher decides number).
Study maps to gain context about where approximately 600 native nations lived before European contact. Gain further geographical context, regarding this lesson, by analyzing early maps that include native territory now known as Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
Prior Knowledge Inference Activity
With your group, read and discuss the list of 36 events above. Use the graphic organizer to decide how events may be placed into categories. Write your inferences/hypotheses/guesses (from reading the words) in the list. Note that all events, on this timeline, have something to do with land. You are not required to research at this time, though you may research a bit if you wish. Expand the graphic organizer as needed.
Appendix 2: Perspectives and Complexity
It is not enough to simply say the colonists, settlers, and the U.S. government were bad, and the native peoples on the continent were good or vice versa. It is not easy to consider solutions to historical problems. However, gathering evidence to support your ideas is a way to look at different perspectives with a critical eye.
The teacher will place three large pieces of paper on walls around the room. Each paper will have one of these questions from Harvard University’s Project Zero (2017). The strategy is entitled Stories: Uncovering Accounts of Complex Issues: (1) what is the story that is presented? (2) What is left out of the account? (3) What is your story?
Take time to allow groups to read and view the resources provided on this appendix. Some sources are from indigenous perspectives, and others are from settlers’ perspectives. Note that the 1952 docudrama about pioneers, is wrought with explicit biases.
Student groups discuss their ideas – considering members’ different perspectives.
After discussing the issues, events, people, society, cultures, and historical narratives, groups either write directly on the large papers or use sticky notes to respond to the questions with various ideas. It is not necessary for groups to agree, after their discussions. Individuals should be free to offer their own answers to the questions.
A thorough and civil class discussion regarding answers to these questions should follow, so students may share perspectives and ideas, perhaps, unnoticed by others.
Stories: Uncovering Accounts of Complex Issues Consider how accounts of issues, events, people, society, culture, and historical narratives are presented. What has been left out, and how you might want to present the account. What is the story that is presented? [What is the account that is told?] What is the untold story? [What is left out in the account? What other angles are missing in the account?] What is your story? [What is the account that you think should be the one told?] Provide evidence for your ideas.
Description: This is a 1952 black and white film with explicit biases. The background music, costumes, and narration illustrate pioneers as heroes and natives as hostile savages. The film is a relevant teaching tool, though the length is about 20 minutes. Teachers and/or students may wish to show/view the video in shorter increments.
Questions for students to ponder: a. How are the natives portrayed in this film? b. How are the pioneers portrayed? c. Who are named “people” in this film? How do you interpret this? d. How are the following words and phrases used in the context of this story? Silent enemy, savage Indians, unfortunate victims, relentless enemies, land for families and freedom, oppression and discrimination, heritage, hostile, exacting a terrible toll, courage, stamina, strength, determined, muscles, power, will, heartbreak, and ever westward.
Description: The interactive map covers the following themes via a decade-by-decade “snapshot”: o Territorial Expansion—States and territories, territorial claims, and disputed land o Population Growth—Most populous cities o Exploration and Migration—Trail routes o Transportation and Trade—Canals, roads, and railroads o Native Americans—Land cessions, expropriations, and tribal relocation (para. 3).
Description: 1992 film. Producer, Ron Howard. A young man leaves Ireland with his landlord’s daughter dream of owning land at the big give-away in Oklahoma ca. 1893. See archived photos of the event referenced below.
Select the first reference, History Matters, and read it thoroughly. This resource briefly describes the Rudyard Kipling poem, “White Man’s Burden.” The actual poem is also included with this text.
Select the second reference, National Archives. Use the document analysis worksheet, and analyze only the poem. Consider group members’ perspectives and complete the document analysis worksheet together.
Select the third reference, Burke Museum from the University of Washington (State). Within your group, read and discuss the article, Tips for Teaching about Native Peoples.
Select the fourth reference, Ferris University Jim Crowe Museum. Within your group, read and discuss the article, Stereotyping Native Americans.
After discussing the article, complete the Comparison Chart below. You may enlarge the images, type or write inside the third column, or use extra paper for your responses.
E Artist W. H. Childs’ portrayal of the public execution of 38 Dakota Indians at Mankato in 1862. They were Digital ID: (digital file from original print) pga 03790 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.03790 Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-pga-03790 (digital file from original print) Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
Summary: Print shows the residents of Mankato, Minnesota, gathered to watch the execution of thirty-eight Dakota Indians, who stand on a scaffold with nooses around their necks, separated from the community by rows of soldiers. Local newspaper publisher John C. Wise commissioned this print to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the event. After the American victory against the Dakota at the Battle of Wood Lake during the Dakota War of 1862, over three hundred Indians were sentenced for execution, but President Lincoln, after reviewing their cases, commuted the majority of the sentences However, Lincoln ordered the mass hanging of 38 natives, which was the greatest mass hanging in history.
Summary: Advertisement for Ivory soap in 1888, displaying a couple of native Americans and these verses. “We once were factious, fierce, and wild. To peaceful arts unreconciled; Our blankets smeared with grease and stains From buffalo meat and settlers’ veins. From moon to moon unwashed we went; But Ivory Soap came like a ray Of light across our darkened way. And now we’re civil, kind, and good, And keep the laws as people should. We wear our linen, lawn, and lace As well as folks with paler face. And now I take, where’er we go, This cake of Ivory Soap to show What civilized my squaw and me, And made us clean and fair to see.”
Unknown (Photographer). (Circa 1892). Bison skull pile [digital image]. Retrieved from Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library. Derivative works of this file: Bison skull pile edit.jpg
Summary: 1892: bison skulls await industrial processing at Michigan Carbon Works in Rogueville (a suburb of Detroit). Bones were processed to be used for glue, fertilizer, dye/tint/ink, or were burned to create “bone char” which was an important component for sugar refining.
Summary: Left to right: Spotted Tail, Dull Knife (Roaming Noise), Old Man Afraid Of His Horse, Lone Horn, Whistle Elk, Pipe On Head and Slow Bull. – They signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie (or Sioux Treaty of 1868) on their part. Source: truewestmagazine.com
The economic consequences of imperialism in the French and Spanish Caribbean have unwittingly made it the poorest region in the Western Hemisphere. Due to the Caribbean’s relative location to the United States, the flow of people between the French and Spanish Caribbean and United States represents a sizeable population. The majority of Caribbean immigrants have settled, and continue to settle, in the greater New York-New Jersey and Miami metropolitan areas. Approximately 72% of Caribbean immigrants to the United States come from territories and countries including Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba (Zong & Batalova, 2016). French and Spanish territories and countries in the Caribbean have complicated and deeply entrenched relationships with the countries that historically, economically, politically, and socioculturally oppressed their inhabitants. These oppressed people include the islands’ indigenous populations and enslaved peoples of African descent that were brought to the islands as involuntary migrants.
As participants in a globalized economy, it is imperative students in social studies classrooms are provided with opportunities to explore abstract economic concepts associated with imperialism in holistic and concrete ways. Furthermore, these concepts should be explored in a manner that is relevant to students as consumers, and in many cases, reflective of the complex identities of students who are immigrants or children of immigrants from the French and Spanish Caribbean (Ladson-Billings, 2014). Lastly, in today’s evolving educational climate, students need experience applying 21st Century Skills more than ever before. Therefore, the high school curriculum presented in this article offers an amalgamation of the NCSS (2013) C3 Framework Inquiry Arc and Framework for 21St Century Learning (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2015) to scaffold students’ knowledge of how historical patterns of economic imperialism have shaped societies in the French and Spanish Caribbean. Since the nature of education is shifting beneath our feet and becoming more technology-dependent, all aspects of the inquiry based instructional sequence in this article can be accomplished remotely via computer and internet technologies.
The National Council for the Social Studies (2013) recognized the symbiotic relationship between social studies education and 21st Century Themes and Skills in its scholarly rationale for the C3 Framework Standards and Inquiry Arc. Overlapping themes and skills among the C3 Framework (NCSS, 2013) and Framework for 21St Century Learning (2015) include, but are not limited to: civic literacy, global awareness, and economic literacy. Furthermore, many of the “life and career skills listed fall firmly if not exclusively in the social studies: students must be able to work independently, be self-directed learners, interact effectively with others, and work effectively in diverse teams” (NCSS, 2013, p. 82).
In this sequence, students work interdependently in small groups to conduct inquiry into imperialism in the French and Spanish Caribbean, to curate internet-based multimedia resources about economics and imperialism, and to construct a multimedia website with images, videos, and articles to respond to compelling and supporting questions that frame their inquiry. An optional extension activity implores students to investigate the emergence of creole languages as an economic necessity and product of cultural diffusion in the French and Spanish Caribbean.
An Economic Inquiry Arc
This high school economics curriculum is interdisciplinary in nature and designed to follow the NCSS (2013) C3 Framework Inquiry Arc. Students are likely exposed to content presented in this curriculum in world history, economics, sociology, or anthropology courses. The interdisciplinary nature of this curriculum strengthens students’ reading, writing, and information and media literacy skills as they consume and evaluate digital resources. In order to frame the direction of this inquiry in a manner that is relevant and intellectually rigorous, students explore the compelling question (Grant, Swan, & Lee, 2017): What are the consequences of imperialism? Given the present-day economic situation in the Caribbean, the answer to this compelling question is ambiguous and dependent upon what groups you ask and their status in Caribbean society. For example, more affluent residents of French and Spanish regions of the Caribbean may benefit from the historical legacy of imperialism, while residents who live in poverty may belong to social groups that historically and presently have been exploited through oppressive economic policies. Thus, students need to explore the history of economic imperialism in the French and Spanish Caribbean in order to understand why people from different social groups in the region might respond differently to the compelling question.
In order to develop a holistic response to the compelling question in this inquiry, and to guide the content focus, students sequentially tackle the following supporting questions:
1. For what economic reasons did France and Spain establish colonies in the Caribbean?
2. How did imperialism impact daily life in the French and Spanish Caribbean?
3. How has the history of imperialism shaped modern economics in the French and Spanish Caribbean?
These questions support the exploration of economic standards in the C3 Framework related to the interdependent nature of the historical and present-day global economy (D2.Eco.14.9-12; D2.Eco15.9-12). Ultimately, students will be able to determine how economic decisions result in policies with a range of costs and benefits for different social groups (D2.Eco.1.6-8.9-12.). While investigating content-driven answers to the compelling and supporting questions, they are required to evaluate digital resources (D3.1.9-12.; D3.2.9-12.) so they can organize reputable evidence to support their findings (D3.3.9-12.; D3.4.9-12.). Lastly, students communicate conclusions from the instructional sequence through a project-based summative assessment that requires them to construct an informed response to the compelling question with evidence from multiple sources, while also addressing weaknesses in their argument(s) (D4.1.9-12).
21st Century Themes and Skills
The crux of 21st Century learning resides with the notion that there are specific skills students need to master in order to be productive citizens in the world today. In addition to skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration, students must also have a sophisticated knowledge of key subject areas and related interdisciplinary themes. The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2015) acknowledges the importance of the key subjects such as: language arts, world languages, arts, math, economics, science, geography, history, and government and civics.
It is encouraging to note the dominant importance of social studies disciplines in the 21st Century Skills Framework. However, given the importance of global communication and collaboration, social studies students in the United States would benefit from greater exposure to socioeconomic concepts related to world languages. In a social studies context, the dominance of world languages has played a defining, and often oppressive, role in Caribbean imperialism. An exploration of this dynamic will be offered as a socio-linguistic extension for consideration in the summative assessment in this instructional sequence. After all, the presence of creole languages in the Caribbean is a direct result of the economic necessity to facilitate communication among social groups that spoke different languages during colonization.
21st Century Themes
In order to support students in the development of a sophisticated understanding of 21st Century subject areas, an interdisciplinary approach is warranted. The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2015) integrated five interdisciplinary themes into their framework. Two interdisciplinary themes in particular are addressed in this inquiry-based curriculum: Global Awareness, and Financial, Economic, Business, and Entrepreneurial Literacy. Within these two themes, students explore these strands in depth: Financial, Economic, Business, and Entrepreneurial Literacy Understanding the role of the economy in society. Global Awareness Using 21st century skills to understand and address global issues. Learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts. Understanding other nations and cultures, including the use of non-English languages (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2015).
As an explicit outcome of this instructional sequence, students develop an awareness of how global economics has impacted the French and Spanish Caribbean. To accomplish this outcome, students consume and evaluate national and international media sources to learn about Caribbean economics and how it influences different social groups and communities. Finally, an understanding of imperialism from multiple perspectives allows students to recognize how economic policies have shaped the socio-cultural and linguistic landscape in the French and Spanish Caribbean.
Imperialism in the French Caribbean
During the 17th and 18th centuries, France established an economic system of plantation agriculture in the Caribbean colonies of Saint Domingue, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. Plantations focused solely on single-crop production of luxury crops such as sugar cane and coffee. These crops were almost exclusively exported to French markets due to the French exclusif mercantile policy that strictly limited trade between plantations and merchants in major port cities in France (Horan, 2010). Shortly after the arrival of Europeans and enslaved Africans, the biodiversity of flora and fauna were depleted to the extent that it was necessary to import foods to sustain the transplanted population. Thus, throughout the history of plantation agriculture and enslavement in the French Caribbean, malnutrition and starvation were rampant among the enslaved population. Starvation occurred, in part, because greedy plantation owners chose to enhance their wealth rather than buy adequate amounts of food for the enslaved labor force (Horan, 2010).
The Code Noir of 1685 (See Appendix A) governed the treatment of enslaved people in the French Caribbean. The Code Noir provided a legal framework to regulate the life, death, sale, religious practices, and care of enslaved people. For example, enslaved people were required to be baptized as Catholics and were prohibited from working on Sundays and Catholic holidays. Enslaved people were also prohibited from owning legal property and had no legal rights. However, plantation owners were required to cloth and care for enslaved people when they were ill. The Code Noir also governed marriages, burials, punishments, and delineated circumstances when enslaved people could gain their freedom (Buchanan, 2011). As a legal document that regulated the life of enslaved people and free people of color in the French Caribbean, the Code Noir provides an understanding of the laws that regulated the daily lives of people who worked, lived, and were oppressed as a direct result of European economic policies.
Imperialism in the Spanish Caribbean
The Spanish infamously began to colonize the Caribbean when Columbus arrived in 1492 in search of gold. From 1492 until the 1550s, the Spanish were the lone European power with a presence in the Caribbean. The Spanish conquest brought the first enslaved Africans and diseases that decimated the indigenous population. Initially, the Spanish established small towns on the Caribbean islands of Cuba and Hispaniola. These towns served as launching pads for further exploration into the Americas. Once the British, Dutch, and French began establishing colonies in the Caribbean, Spain to take notice of the relative importance of the Caribbean for plantation agriculture and the accumulation of wealth (Bassi, 2020). Under their system of imperialism, the Spanish monarchy regulated all aspects of the plantation economy, including trade, governance, and established laws regulating the lives of people on the islands (Schmieder, 2013).
The daily lives of enslaved people and freed Blacks in the Spanish colonies of Cuba and on the island of Hispaniola were governed by laws, such as the Código Negro Español of 1574. The Spanish laws governing the lives of enslaved and freed Blacks were similar in nature to the Code Noir in French colonies (National Humanities Center, 2006). For example, the Spanish Black Codes and related laws regulated guidelines for punishments, rules for emancipation, standards for food and cloth allowances, rules for religious education, and civil rights for freed people (Schmieder, 2013). Although comparable to the French Code Noir, laws regulating enslaved people in Spanish colonies often permitted marriages without a master’s permission and Spanish laws guiding religious practice were laxer and frequently unenforced. Regardless, both French and Spanish colonies were governed by similar systems of economic imperialism and mercantilism that necessitated the brutal enslavement of people of color for the benefit of European coffers. Furthermore, as students conduct inquiry into the legacy of Caribbean imperial, they will be able to see the vestiges of imperialism in the current economic state of modern Caribbean countries and territories.
The Instructional Sequence
In this instructional sequence, students conduct inquiry into the effects of imperialism in the French and Spanish Caribbean. To accomplish this goal, students work in pairs during vocabulary development and strategic reading activities. Then, pairs of students are combined to form groups of three or four students to conduct research for the creation of a multimedia website with articles, images, and videos they have curated in response to the compelling and supporting questions. All activities in this instructional sequence can be accomplished remotely via Internet-based means of collaboration including email, Google Documents, and through the use of a free Internet-based platform to create the website for the summative assessment.
The following section provides a description of the steps that teachers follow to guide students through this inquiry. In additional to an explanation of the instructional strategies in this sequence, suggestions for resources and ancillary materials are offered. Many of these resources are located in Appendix A at the end of this article. Teachers are encouraged to modify and adapt these materials to suit their needs and the learning needs of their students.
Throughout the instructional sequence, students continuously deepen their knowledge on imperialism and related economic concepts as applied to Caribbean contexts. In addition to information provided in textbooks, there are numerous websites students can visit to begin their exploration of the consequences of imperialism in this region. The World Factbook and BBC Country Profiles are perennial favorites for demographic and economic information about countries. BBC also provides relevant news articles for this instructional sequence. However, considering Martinique and Guadeloupe are domestic territories of France, Caribbean regional news sources provide more tailored and detailed information from within these territories. Plus, regional news from the French and Spanish Caribbean is more likely to be written by people living in these regions. Thus, these outlets provide more representative and accurate perspectives from citizens, as well as economic, social, and historical experts, living within the boundaries of French and Spanish Caribbean countries and territories (see Appendix A). These Internet resources include international and regional resources such as: Caribya!, Caribbean360, CANANEWS, the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC), and Caribbean News Now.
The instructional sequence in this inquiry guides students through three instructional strategies: vocabulary development to build background knowledge, strategic reading to prepare for writing, and a News Writing Workshop (Scholastic, 2020). Throughout the instructional sequence, teachers can conduct informal, formative assessments based on the completion of graphic organizers and writing samples students produce to process content. The multimedia website where students integrate images, videos, and authentic writing serves as a summative assessment where they communicate the conclusions of their inquiry and take action to inform others about the consequences of imperialism in the French and Spanish Caribbean.
This first instructional strategy addresses the supporting question: For what economic reasons did France and Spain establish colonies in the Caribbean? This initial vocabulary development activity can be completed in pairs. To guarantee students accumulate background knowledge in an intentional, structured way, teachers can provide them with a graphic organizer that scaffolds their knowledge and maintains focus on the topic. The suggested graphic organizer in Appendix B requires students to define and apply essential concepts such as: imperialism, mercantilism, colony, territory, plantation agriculture, enslavement, imports, and exports. Based off Marzano’s (2009) steps for vocabulary development, students define each of the terms in the graphic organizer, provide an example in the form of a sentence about the French or Spanish Caribbean, and design an image or symbol for the term. Throughout the inquiry, these terms are be reinforced as students discuss and engage in activities that extend their understanding of the terms as they are applied in Spanish and French Caribbean contexts.
While still in pairs, the second instructional strategy requires students to engage in strategic reading to tackle the supporting question: How did imperialism impact daily life in the French and Spanish Caribbean? Whereas the first instructional strategy focused on vocabulary development to examine the economic rationale and nature of imperialism in the French and Spanish Caribbean, this strategic reading strategy requires students to access and use primary and secondary sources to explore daily life in this region from the perspectives of enslaved people, people of mixedracial heritage, and plantation-owning families. All resources in Appendix A are appropriate for this strategy although some are provided specifically for this activity. For example, New York University Libraries (2020) has a Caribbean Studies Primary Source website that provides several publicly available leads to many French and Spanish Caribbean archives and databases appropriate for students to conduct their research. Additionally, the Code Noir of 1685 and Spanish Black Code of 1574 are listed as important primary sources for students to familiarize themselves with to understand the legal status of enslaved people and freed people of color in the French and Spanish Caribbean. Although some of these resources are in French or Spanish, students can translate many of the databases using a web browser and museum websites frequently provide English language translations. Alternatively, students who speak French and/or Spanish, or students who are learning to speak these languages, should be encouraged to apply their 21st Century multilingual assets to conduct research.
As students gather information in their quest to determine how imperialism impacted daily life in the French and Spanish Caribbean, they can record their notes in the perspective-taking graphic organizer in Appendix C. Students need to explore the daily lives of people living in the French and Spanish Caribbean from three perspectives: enslaved people, freed people of color, and plantation owners. In the graphic organizer, they record a minimum of three pieces of information about daily life for each of these social groups. Students also record information they discover about the role each group fulfilled in the Caribbean economy. After debriefing this activity, pairs of students can be combined into groups of three or four students to equitably distribute required tasks as they brainstorm, design, and create the content for the summative assessment.
In groups of three or four, students create a multimedia website in response to the compelling question: What are the consequences of imperialism? To answer this question, they apply vocabulary from the first instructional strategy with knowledge they gleaned from the second instructional strategy to research and explain the current state of economic development in a country or territory in the French and Spanish Caribbean. In groups, students select the country or territory they want to focus on for this project: Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic, or Cuba. Once they have decided on a country or territory, students assign group members the following roles. If there are four group members, two group members will be assigned the role of curator:
Webmaster – Assists with brainstorming the website, including layout, website name, and tagline. Contributes an opinion-style article and corresponding image or video in response to the third supporting question. Works with the curator(s) to write the editorial-style article that responds to the compelling question. Proofreads and provides feedback for all articles before they are posted on the website.
Curator (2) – Assists with brainstorming for the website, including layout, website name, and tagline. Contributes an opinion-style article and corresponding image or video in response to the third supporting question. Works with the webmaster to write the editorial-style article that responds to the compelling question. Proofreads and provides feedback for all articles before they are posted on the website.
Multimedia Director – Assists with brainstorming the website, including layout, website name, and tagline. Contributes an opinion-style article and corresponding image or video in response to the third supporting question. Selects a political cartoon in response to the compelling question. Proof-reads and provides feedback for all articles before they are posted on the website. Posts content to the website in the agreed-upon layout by all group members.
In order to ensure the project is completed interdependently, the roles described above were designed so all group members are responsible for an equitable amount of writing, editing, and selection of visual content. Once it is completed, the website will contain the following elements:
1. A catchy name for the website.
2. A tagline for the website that reflects the compelling question.
3. A reflective, editorial-style article in response to the compelling question.
4. A political cartoon that is related to imperialism in the French or Spanish Caribbean.
5. Three short opinion-piece style articles in response to the supporting questions.
6. Three corresponding images or links to videos for each of the opinion piece articles. These images or videos may include charts, graphic, or maps.
7. An optional extension article that discusses creole cultures and languages in the French or Spanish Caribbean.
News Writing Workshop
To begin the process of creating their multimedia website, students can record their assigned roles and brainstorm their ideas using the handout provided in Appendix D. Once students have completed Appendix D and received feedback on their plans from the teacher, they can begin researching and writing their articles. Each student is responsible for writing one opinion-style article in response to the supporting question: How has the history of imperialism shaped modern economics in the French and Spanish Caribbean? The teacher should reinforce the importance of researching this question from multiple vantage points in order to support perspective-taking and to ensure the articles are not redundant. This point is reinforced in Appendix D where students must explain how the articles will be written from different perspectives. There are several exemplary resources to guide students through the process of creating news articles. Scholastic (2020) has a News Writing With Scholastic Editors website to guide teachers and students through this process. The ReadWriteThink (2020) website has graphic organizers for creating articles for classroom newspapers and reporting tips for writers. Links to these websites are provided in Appendix A
Once students have written, proof-read, and edited their peers’ articles, they can begin to collaborate on the editorial-style article and related political cartoon in response to the compelling question: What are the consequences of imperialism? For this last element, the multimedia director is responsible for working in tandem with the curator(s) and webmaster to write an editorial style response to the compelling question and select a corresponding political cartoon. The editorial and political cartoon can focus on imperialism in the Caribbean in general or in the country or territory they selected as a focus for their website.
Extension: The Emergence of Creole Languages as an Economic Necessity
For purposes of differentiation, or to enrich this activity, students may be assigned to create additional sections for their website. One option would require students to create an article and image on the birth of new languages in the Caribbean through the process of creolization. Creolization is a term used to explain how syncretic languages, religions, and cultures emerge through necessary contact between groups of people who speak different languages (Baron & Cara, 2011). For this article, students would investigate the phenomenon of creolization and how new Caribbean languages emerged as a result of cultural and economic exchanges that necessitated communication between social groups who spoke different languages. Other related topics for extension articles might include the emergence of new forms of music, dance, religion, and cuisines as a result of cultural diffusion in the Caribbean.
Once the webmaster, curator(s), and multimedia director have written, edited, and polished their articles and curated their multimedia content, they are ready to post their content to a website. There are many freely available websites for posting student-created websites; a top choice for many educators and students is the internet-based platform at www.wix.com (Colorlib, 2020). In this final stage, students widely disseminate the fruits of their economic inquiry in a creative, website format to communicate conclusion and take informed action (NCSS, 2013). As a result of this inquiry and its summative project, students will have acquired a wealth of content knowledge to help them understand the legacy and present-day economic situation in the French and Spanish Caribbean. Along the way, students applied numerous 21st Century Skills to understand and address economic issues, while at the same time worked collaboratively to learn from individuals who represent divergent perspectives in regional economics (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2015).
Baron, R. A. & Cara, A. C. (2011). Creolization as cultural creativity. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
Geggus, D.P. (1993). Sugar and coffee cultivation in Saint Domingue and the shaping of the slave labor force. In I. Berlin & P. D. Morgan (Eds.), Cultivation and culture: Labor and the shaping of slave life in the Americas (pp. 80-83). Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.
Grant, S.G., Swan, K., Lee, J. (2017). Questions that compel and support. Social Education 81(4), pp. 200–203.
Hodson, C. (2007). “A Bondage So Harsh”: Acadian labor in the French Caribbean, 1763-1766. Early American Studies, 5(1), 95-131.
Horan, J. (2010). The colonial famine plot: Slavery, free trade, and empire in the French Atlantic, 1763–1791. International Review of Social History, 55(S18), 103-121
Ladson-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: The remix. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 74-84.
Marzano, R.J. (2009). The art and science of teaching: Six steps to better vocabulary instruction. Educational Leadership, 67(1), 83-84.
National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). (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: Author.
Schmieder, U. (2013). Martinique and Cuba Grande: Commonalities and differences during the periods of slavery, abolition, and post-emancipation. SUNY Research Foundation Review (Fernand Braudel Center), (36)1, 83-112.
A country’s exploitation of another is a defining characteristic of imperialism. Consider how exploitation affects one small subset of human interactions, both historical and contemporary. For example, terms such as economics may involve extracting resources and human labor, politics concerns control and power over others more vulnerable, and social relates to the many ways one country takes measures to change or expunge the original society.
Historians generally consider that the era of American imperialism began with the 1898 Spanish-American War (Odom, 2015) primarily because of its international context. In defeat, Spain relinquished claims on Cuba and ceded sovereignty over Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines (U.S. Department of State, n.d.). The next year, the British writer, Rudyard Kipling, wrote his now famous 1899 poem, “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” Approaching an imperialist point of view, Kipling’s verses, at the time, seemed, to many individuals in the white world, to evoke a transcendent and noble cause (Foster & McChesney, 2003). Subsequently, the phrase “White Man’s Burden” came to symbolize the need for white supremacy over indigenous peoples, particularly black- and brownskinned people, around the world.
The “White Man’s Burden” is a concept used to justify imperialism – the underlying theory being paternalism. Paternalism is the idea that colonized native peoples are like children and cannot properly care for themselves. Thus, the task is for so-called superior races to civilize them (Loewen, 2010; Manner, 1998). Identifying American imperialism a “Burden” validated it as a benevolent cause and in Filipinos’ best interests. “By accident and design – the U.S. recreated the racial climate of North America in Asia” (Van Ells, 1995, p. 621). While race discussions infused late 1800s arguments about annexing the Philippines, the United States eventually did so to continue expansionism. Regarding the imperialism debate, at the time, 1898 U.S. imperialists saw invasions as part of the “mission” of Christian colonialism— originating with the Pilgrims in 1620, while “antiimperialists argued as if America had never been an imperialist power” (d’Errico, 2017, para. 7). After annexation, Americans viewed Filipino resistance to U.S. sovereignty as insolence by uncivilized people, and U.S. forces eventually extinguished Filipino rebels. Invasions of the southern Tagalog provinces of Luzon in the Philippines (Ileto, 2001) closely resemble those of the Arizona and Dakota Native American Territories in North America, just decades before (Van Ells, 1995).
As Van Ells (1995) implies that imperialism tactics were used to dominate native peoples in North American territories early in American history. In this article, I describe some of these events, particularly related to the White Man’s Burden ideology. The University of Washington’s Burke Museum describes tips for teaching about Native Americans. Regarding sensitive terminology, they state, “Native American, Native, American Indian, Indian, First Peoples, and Indigenous are all terms used by both Native and non-Native people. When possible, most Native people prefer being identified by their specific community” (n.d., section 3). Note, some terms are used interchangeably in this narrative, particularly when other writers are quoted.
Impact of American Imperialism on Native Americans
Paul Odom (2015) states, “American imperialism was born as white settlers moved onto land ceded to Native Americans in treaties with Britain” (para. 2). U.S. President James K. Polk’s administration (1845 to 1849) did not formally sanction an imperialistic regime, though systematic invasion of native territories by white settlers and Polk’s campaign to seize much of Mexico’s remaining territory made imperialism evident. “He was a champion of manifest destiny–the belief that the United States was fated to expand across the North American continent” (History, 2019, section 4). Through various means, including the MexicanAmerican War (1846-48), the U.S. acquired territories in what are now known as Texas, California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Montana during Polk’s one-term administration (History, 2019). This great government-backed expansion took a tremendous toll on indigenous peoples in these territories.
Early North American Indigenous Population and Nations
For years, researchers have tried to estimate the native population numbers before European arrival on the continent during the 1400s. One of the earliest estimates came from George Catlin, an artist who traveled the western continent to paint about 600 portraits of native life from 1830 to 1838 (Lord, 1997; Smithsonian Museum of Art, n.d; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, n.d.). Catlin’s diaries claim there were around 16 million natives before 1492. Regarding the number of actual indigenous nations, Hansi Lo Wang (2014) writes about a modern-day mapmaker and part Cherokee, Aaron Carapella, who designed a map of indigenous nations’ locations, which existed before contact with Europeans on the continent. The map contains both the original and commonly known names of some 600 nations. Additionally, though estimates of how long indigenous peoples lived on the land vary, archaeologists have found substantial evidence of human presence more than 12,000 years ago. Some claim that natives may have lived there as long as 40,000 years (Calloway, 2019).
The White Man’s Burden
Each incident, from the beginning, involving U.S. government exploitation of natives for possession of their lands are too numerous to describe here, though the imperialist White Man’s Burden label is certainly fitting in this context. To illustrate George Washington’s shifting dialogue about indigenous nations, I offer two primary sources to compare. First, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas in Austin recently acquired an original letter written by George Washington to John Armstrong on August 24, 1769 discussing the murder of three members of the Mingo nation. The letter describes the killings by whites as “villainy” and “mischief.” Washington vowed the U.S. government would not support “wanton quarrels with the Indians.” However, by May 31, 1779, Washington wrote a letter to General John Sullivan giving him orders for “…total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible” (National Archives, 2018, para. 1). Sullivan’s army marched through Iroquois land, burned around 40 villages, and destroyed all food sources. They left only bare land and timber (Calloway, 2019). These letters illustrate one reason primary sources, including documents deemed dear to our country must be critically analyzed for recurring signs of discrimination and imperialism.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776) eloquently speaks of “all men being created equal.” However, Grievance 27 in the document, sent to Britain’s King George, III, states, “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.” Adrian Jawort (2017) argues the statement summons “…the image of ferocious warriors propelled into action by a tyrannical monarch” (para. 4). Thus, this representation ensured memories and conceptions of the natives’ role in the American Revolution, which they [Americans] believed justified their subsequent treatment of them (Jawort, 2017). It is true that most nations sided with the British during the war, because they hoped a British victory would stop settlers’ persistent intrusion on their lands (Calloway, 2019). Some nations (e.g., from Stockbridge, Oneida, Tuscaroras) fought alongside the American Patriots or tried to adapt to the Anglo Saxton lifestyle (e.g., Cherokees), yet, in time, even they became victims of Americans’ insatiable desire for land (Calloway, 2019). The U.S. government continued to assert their self-proclaimed authority and westward expansion.
There are countless stories about the U.S. government’s power over indigenous nations on the continent – removal by force (e.g., Trail of Tears), land cessions and seizures, starvation/destitution, broken treaties, illegal land deals, incarceration, lawless discrimination, anti-Indian racism, cultural ethnocentrism, trickery, military defeat, establishment of the reservation system, taking their autonomy, and so forth. Imperialism in the name of saving souls, civilizing “backward savages”, God-given rights to progress (The White Man’s Burden) shielded the economic, political, and social gains made by defeating the continent’s original inhabitants. Note that natives were not allowed U.S. citizenship until 1924, and they were not allowed to vote in every state until 1962 (Little, 2019). James Loewen (2007) discusses Cherokee removal as just one example of Americans’ attitudes regarding “…unacculturated aborigines helpless in the ways of progress” (p. 132). Loewen states, “Casting Indian history as a tragedy because Native Americans could or would not acculturate is feelgood history for whites” (2007, p. 131). However, he warns, “…wallowing in the inference that America or whites are bad does not explain the historical complexities of Indian-white relations that dominated our history, particularly between 1622 and 1890” (2007, p. 131). Loewen (2010) argues the inability to know your own history and think critically about historical claims, leaves one powerless to discern truth from fiction. Thus, authentic history learning must include content, critical thinking, and interpretative skills.
In truth, my elementary school learning simply and briefly focused on Cherokees, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Chickasaws, which were known, in early times, as four of the five “civilized tribes.” The fifth nation was the Seminoles (Florida). Evidently, colonists and early federals adopted the term “civilized tribes” to denote the degree to which nations tried to conform to European ways. The term “civilized tribes” (especially in our teaching resources) underscores roots of ethnocentrism (Burke Museum, n.d.; Loewen, 2010).
Lovely stories, from textbooks, about the four nations’ lifestyles framed my miniscule understanding of natives. Yet, Moundville is located only a few miles away. Moundville is the secondlargest site in the United States of the classic Middle Mississippian era (approximately 800-1600), from which various indigenous nations developed and flourished (see Blitz, 2017). Afterwards, more than 30 organized nations lived within the geographic area (Alabama Digital, 2020). For me, no knowledge occurred about the nations or their eventual fates.
With these thoughts in mind, I wish to emphasize two primary purposes for the lesson. First, the lesson is meant to expand students’ interests and motivation to learn about indigenous people and events, outside their immediate states and territories. Second, it is meant to engage features of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) C3 Framework (2013):
1.Developing questions and planning inquiries;
2. Applying disciplinary concepts and tools;
3. Evaluating sources and using evidence; and
4. Communicating conclusions and taking informed action (p. 12).
The lesson follows the C3 Inquiry Design Model (IDM) Blueprint (Grant, Swan, &Lee, 2014) as an organizer. Through involvement in this historical inquiry, students may develop sophisticated thinking about complex history and causation connections (Barton & Levstik, 2004; Beal & Bolick, 2013; Loewen, 2010).
In this lesson, students predominantly focus attention on concepts and questions regarding the Lakota and Dakotas’ long time resistance to the U.S. government. The essential idea is inspired by a trade book entitled, Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of his People by S.D. Nelson (2015), a member of the Standing Rock Nation in the Dakotas. Nelson (2015) writes, “Although of mixed blood, I am a direct descendant of Sitting Bull’s people, who were forced onto a reservation at the end of the nineteenth century” (p. 52). The Burke Museum at the University of Washington in Seattle (n.d.) suggests teachers use books presenting Native perspectives written by Native authors. S.D. Nelson, also an illustrator, combines archived photographs and his own art inspired by nineteenth century Lakota ledger-art drawings (see McKosato, 2018; Nelson, 2015). This teaching-ready lesson, in the next section, targets 5th– 8th graders using the IDM Blueprint, though it may be adapted for other students.
Inquiry Design Model
There is much recorded and archived U.S. history, which illustrates the often-quoted adage, “history belongs to the victor.” Colin G.Calloway (2019) states that indigenous civilizations “were built on something other than colonialism and imperialism” (p.16). They offer “examples of international relations developed from values other than personal possessions or competitive consumption of resources” (p. 15). Indigenous civilizations, living on the land thousands of years, vastly predate America’s entrance into a wider world in the 1500s.
More inclusive histories do not need good guys and bad guys. We can openly discuss causes and effects of exploitation and bias, for instance why the “The White Man’s Burden” ideology or the, currently, much discussed “white savior” mentality (see Ash, 2015; Blow, 2016; Johnson, 2018) still exist. Calloway (2019) argues that “adding Indian America to the map of global history reorients perspectives, generates new narratives, and encourages new interpretations and comparative studies” (p. 15) – he notes, too, that today’s archaeologists are locating and restoring lost histories. Consequently, more archived records, regarding the 600 or so nations, will be available for history and social studies students. Knowledge about “Native Americans as the “savage” stereotype thrived primarily from dated textbooks and popular culture – especially from Western movies and novels” (Loewen, 2007, p. 116). Using our own, updated media, we can help dispel those images and recognize that indigenous people were and still are not one culture – they are many. Further inquiries might introduce students to the nearly 600 contemporary nations within the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, and Hawaii.
National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) (2010). National standards for social studies: A framework for teaching, learning, and assessment. Silver Spring, MD: Author.
National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) (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: Author.
Nelson, S.D. (2015). Sitting Bull: Lakota warrior and defender of his people. New York, NY: Abram.
The ordinary American has never met the ordinary Chinese. But he dislikes him to his bones. -Misunderstanding China (CBS News Special, 1972)
In January 2010, Social Education dedicated its issue to teaching about China. The purpose of this issue – the first since 1985 focused entirely on China (p. 7)1 – called for teachers to move past “outdated assumptions; encourage further study about this important, changing, vast and varied nation; and provide an improved education for students.” The editors’ call for challenging outdated assumptions and Cold War stereotypes intrigued me, and I eagerly read through the issue. With just over 10 years since that issue of Social Education, we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic; a pandemic that has resulted in “racialized fear [manifested] in public discourse” (Dillard, 2020).
Fear tropes surrounding China/Chinese people, and by extension Asian Americans, are historically entrenched, dating back to 19th century immigration and Chinese exclusion. Media discourse has been especially prominent in how these narratives pervade, as content-based resources, i.e. the textbook, often focus on Ancient China and Communist China, with little if any, historicizing in between. In the mid-19th century.
Junk science about people from Asia was used to justify laws leading to exclusion and exploitation of Asian immigrations. It solidified fear and phobia against Chinese people. The “yellow peril” narrative was born. It’s a racist term that plays on the idea that Asian people would disrupt or harm Westerners’ way of life (Dillard, 2020).
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, such racist tropes have resurfaced and pervaded media discourse. Agarwal-Rangath (2013) calls on social studies teachers to connect the past to the present. She notes that “by working to make explicit connections between the past and the present, we provide students with opportunities to see how our society systematically continues to benefit some, while hurting others” (p. 100). Using the Citizens against Government Waste (CAGW) advertisement, The Chinese Professor (2010), this article examines the affect of fear as an imperialist practice, and suggests pedagogical strategies for disrupting racialized and imperialized narratives found in both curricular and media resources.
Affecting Fear as Imperialist Practice
Cold war stereotype: I situate this analysis within Masalski and Levy’s (2010) challenge to move past outdated assumptions and Cold War stereotypes (p. 7). The Cold War necessarily draws on affects of fear and paranoia. Using Masalski and Levy’s (2010) “Cold war stereotype” to understand fear as imperialist practice relies heavily on images of China produced in China during the Cold War, but used frequently in contemporary media and curriculum representations of China in the United States. These images include, but are not limited to propaganda posters, “Cult of Mao” images, Red Guards, etc. As noted in the previous section, in the 19th century, “yellow peril warned of Asiatics racially weakening the national body and justified the exclusion of Asian immigrants” (Leong, 2005, p. 129). During the Cold War, “yellow peril” resurfaced to infuse feelings of fear and concern over the communist threat to democracy and freedom. Today, we see similar acts directed at Asian Americans (see Cho, 2020; Hong, 2020; Tavernise & Oppel, Jr., 2020); or in reference to COVID-19 by right-wing media outlets as the “Wuhan virus” (see Gearan, 2020; Li, 2020), with the U.S. president himself serving to “[stoke] xenophobic panic in a time of crisis” (Lieu, 2020) doubling down with his continued use of “Chinese virus.” For the purposes of the analysis in this article, here the Cold War stereotype replaces yellow peril (or renames it) through an emphasis of Maoist, and Cold War ideology for explaining and understanding contemporary China to Western, democratic audiences, specifically, the United States.
Imperialism: Imperialism can be broadly defined as an act of exerting rule or authority over another. More specifically, however, imperialism is about power, and the means through which one entity names, classifies, categorizes, and studies another. Historically, imperialism has worked to extend categories and classifications named during the period of empire, “directed at extending the dominion of Europe around the globe” (Willinsky, P. 10). These classifications have extended beyond empire. As such, imperialism has become a means through which to see the world; a world dependent upon unequal binaries: East/West; primitive/civilized; irrational/rational.
Said (1978) Orientalism articulates the unequal relationship between the East and the West as a relationship of power. The Westerner exerts this power in the ways in which he shapes and frames the East through Western representation. The “Oriental” does not speak for themselves. Rather, they are described, written about, and “Orientalized” (p. 5) through Western observations. Thus, Orientalism is
Premised upon exteriority, that is on the factthat the Orientalist, poet or scholar, makes the Orient speak, describes the Orient, renders its mysteries plain for and to the West. (pp. 20-21)
In the United States, orientalist thinking is rooted in the history of United States immigration. European immigrants, who imagined the East as “more decadent, exotic, and immoral” (Leong, 2005, p. 7) carried with them these attitudes and ideas of the East.
The United States looked at the East (China) as a manifest destiny (Tchen, 1999; Leong, 2005), which Tchen (1999) explained was “not only a colonizing vision of the frontier, but also an Occidentalist view of extending European American Protestant civilization influenced by European ideas” (p. xvi). The East was a place to impose, through missionary projects especially, Western and Christian “civilization.” The binaries of civilized/primitive became a way of seeing not only the Chinese in China, but also Chinese immigrants in the United States. Additionally, in the United States, “measuring oneself against the exoticized and the alien became a means toward stabilizing, and destabilizing, a sense of belonging and normalcy with a sense of freedom and individuality” (p. xx). We can draw parallels to contemporary media discourse, and by examining representational practices we can make connections to the past explicit (Agarwal-Rangath, 2013), revealing the ways in which imperialist thinking entrenches narratives of a rational and benevolent U.S. to an irrational and devious China.
Fear affect and its commercial appeal: What does a fear affect mean, and what does it do? According to Massumi (2010), fear is “the anticipatory reality in the present of a threatening future” (p. 54), and this perceived future threat is manifested based on past future threats. Applying Massumi’s postulation to the study of China suggests that because in the past China was a potential threat (“yellow peril,” Cold War, communist, threat to democracy), there is an anticipation of a potential threat in the future. Though there are several examples of more contemporary applications of this, including a recent Biden campaign advertisement2, (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmieUrXwKCc&feature=emb_logo) I often use Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) advertisement, The Chinese Professor (2010)3, which provides a robust visual and narrative example of fear affect, as well as offers points of historical inquiry. The Chinese Professor (2010) forefronts the issue of government spending and projects what future we in the United States will realize, if, by 2030, the spending does not stop. The final scene of the commercial illustrates both the fear affect that Massumi (2010) theorizes, as well as the Cold War stereotype – “Of course we owned most of their debt, so now they work for us.” This is followed by a voice over narration: “You can change the future. You have to!”
To affect fear in advertising is not new. Identified as fear appeals, in advertising they involve “some kind of threat of what may happen if one does not buy the product” (Harris, 2009, p. 115). All advertising is intent on selling something. Whether it is a commercial product, politician, or ideology, advertising is meant to be persuasive. Research on the ethicality of using fear appeals has produced mixed results, but some studies illustrate the drawbacks to such an approach, primarily the loss of “credibility of advertisers” and the stirring up of “unnecessary fears and worries among audience members” (LaTour, et. al., 1996, p. 60). Despite these concerns, however, fear appeals are used regularly because they appear to work. Hyman and Tansey (1990) illustrated in their empirical study that viewers remember advertisements that use fear far more than in advertisements that employ humor, warmth, or other emotional appeals (in LaTour et al., 1996, p. 60).
In 1986, CAGW also launched an advertisement, The Deficit Trials 2017 AD. This advertisement depicted an adolescent boy questioning his witness about the $2 trillion debt the United States faced in 1986. The witness asked the boy, “Will you ever be able to forgive us?” (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTSQozWP-rM) This is followed immediately by voice-over narration: “No one really knows what another generation of unchecked federal deficits will bring. But we know this much, you can change the future.” The projected fear in these advertisements is actually quite different, though in both cases, many networks refused to air them because they were too controversial. The fear in 1986 was projected on the debt itself. In the 2010 advertisement, the fear is storied into a narrative of a failing nation, the United States, and as a result of stimulus and spending, this “great nation” sold itself to another country, China. (taken from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/postpolitics/wp/2012/10/22/ad-watch-chinese-professor-going-back-onthe-air/)
When met with criticism over the representations in this commercial, the producer responded, “This ad is about America, it’s not about China” (in Smith, 2010). While this is certainly “about [the United States],” I have to wonder how our historical relationship with, and assumptions about China impact this projection of our future relationship with China. Vukovich (2010) argues that the “use of China as something already known and ready-to-hand saves time” (p. 156). When we consider how representations, in this case, The Chinese Professor, use language and imagery intent on elevating a narrative of U.S. exceptionalism whereby democracy is threated by Maoist autocracy, we can see how fear is used to exert power over the other, i.e. imperialism.
Challenging the Narratives
I regularly use the Chinese Professor (2010) in my courses to prompt intentional discussions Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) about historical marginalization/racialization of Chinese people, and more contemporary discriminatory practices against Asian Americans. In this lesson, students complete a graphic organizer to record responses to the following questions:
What did you see?
What did you hear?
What did you learn?
What do you now know [from watching this]?
The overall aim is to engage in meaningful examination into our own assumptions about belonging, otherness, inclusion, and exclusion.
Students are exposed to not only curricular representations, but also to representations that pervade popular media in what Kellner and Share (2007) argue, “help construct our images and understanding of the world” (in Sensoy, 2010, p. 40). The Chinese Professor (2010) is so compelling for critique because of the layers of text, its intertextuality. What an intertextual analysis does for a representation like this one is to illuminate how the visual and text-based narrative work together to present a future through what is “known” about the past. As a multiple discursive space, this advertisement speaks to the audience through image, sound, spoken narrative, and the written narrative to support the spoken narrative (subtitles). It is important to point out that this commercial was also reformatted for the 2012 election in support of Republican nominee candidate, Ron Paul. Despite the clearly partisan leanings, this commercial is useful in that it articulates layer upon layer of fear and paranoia through similar historical images, and rhetoric, used in the classroom to teach about China.
What do we see? Visually, this commercial is layered with text – both in English and in Chinese – and with images. In the first full frame of the commercial, the audience (viewer) gets a panoramic view of the professor’s lecture hall (Figure 1)
Giving the appearance of hovering over the floor is 全球经济学, Mandarin for Global/World Economics. In English, the audience is “told” through script that it is Beijing, China in 2030 A.D.
Adorning the walls of the lecture all are three images – the famous portrait of Mao Zedong, and two propaganda posters from the Cultural Revolution.
As the commercial progresses and the professor gives his lecture, images fade in and out behind him. These images are intended to represent the United States – the Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, and the American flag. While he speaks, a student of his lecture expands an image on his tablet of a Wall Street sign (Figure 2).
As the professor says, “Of course, we owned most of their debt,” the image of the White House is covered by the Chinese National flag (Figure 3), the White House visible but fading. At this point the professor laughs, his expression somewhat maniacal, and says, “so now they work for us.” The students in his lecture find this very amusing, and laugh at his comment.
What do we hear? The space occupied through sound in this commercial is very significant. In most commercials, aired under the assumption that the particular audience is English proficient, a viewer should be able to close their eyes and listen to the narrative, without the disruptions of the visual. At the start of this commercial, the audience (listener) hears a waspy gong-like sound, and then the sound of footsteps. The professor speaks in Mandarin throughout the one minute and two second space. Woven throughout his speech is the attempted sound of wind, and the Chinese bowed instrument zhonghu (中胡). Twice, the audience hears sounds of laughter– a singular laugh by the professor, and then a reasonably louder set of laughs by a group of people [students]. The advertisement’s concluding statement is a voice-over narration, in English, reminding us, “You can change the future. You have to. Join Citizens Against Government Waste to stop the spending that is bankrupting America.”
Typically, I show this commercial twice. The second time, I have them just listen. Students at times struggle with this because, having watched it once, they “don’t understand Chinese [language].” This is intentionally on my part, because the sounds that circulate in this commercial – the gong, the violin, blowing wind – evoke imagery that can be, quite problematically described as “typically Chinese.”
Engaging Students in Visual/Textual Analysis
The Chinese Professor (2010) occupies multiple discursive spaces, the discourse represented through the written/spoken text, and the discourse represented through visual text. The narrative space is complicated because of the spoken Chinese, and then translated, presumably correctly, into English. When CAGW endorsed Ron Paul in 2012 and reformatted the commercial, the subtitles were altered slightly and some images were added, but the Mandarin remained the same. When I use these two versions with students, they often notice the changes in the images – more direct at pointing out the other Republican nominee’s shortcomings, specifically Governor Rick Perry.
Text (the narrative: The text is significant, but it is with the juxtaposition of the images that pervade the space of this commercial that provide analytical entry points into how the Cold War stereotype is represented and how fear is used a means to exert control over another. Fairclough (2003) explains that “discourses not only represent the world as it is (or rather seen to be), they are also projective, imaginaries, representing possible worlds which are different from the actual world, and tied in to projects to change the world in particular directions” (p. 124). The narratives and visuals are working together to (re)present a particular version of the United States, one in which is perceived out of fear – from the paranoia and fear that was present during the Cold War period. The questions used to frame this lesson allow students movement to record their findings on the graphic organizer, while simultaneously being prompted to not only question their assumptions about China more broadly, but also consider what the implications are of representation like this one to understanding more contemporary issues of discrimination and racism in the United States.
Images (the visual): Images are complex. Meaning made through/by photography (image) is arguably more complicated than narrative text in that it “seems to have a more innocent, and therefore more accurate, relation to visible reality than do other mimetic objects” (Sontag, 1977, p. 6). The innocence, however, is what makes the photograph/image aggressive (p. 7), and potentially problematic. Hall (1997) defines photography as a “representational system, using images on lightsensitive paper to communicate photographic meaning about a particular person, event, or scene” (emphasis added, p. 5). Within this “system” exist objects, which help the audience/viewer derive meaning (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009). Though The Chinese Professor (2010) is not a single photograph, it is systematically representing a person/persons/events in order to communicate a particular meaning.
Sontag (1977) describes how “the picture may distort, but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what it is in the picture” (p. 5). What this suggests is that a reader/audience member/viewer brings to the photograph (or image) an expectation of something similar to what is being viewed. The images that unfold throughout The Chinese Professor (2010) suggest that we in the United States expect economic advancement of the Chinese, and to some extent are “okay” with that. However, the political and social thought of the Chinese – implicit in the images of 1960s China, the Communist flag draped over the White House, and the students captivated by their professor, he himself wearing a traditional Mao suit – remains situated in the Cold War, and thus, a (the) continual threat to democracy. Vukovich (2012) captures this sentiment through scholarship when he argues, “Nor do the complexities and differences of China fare too much better; it is allowed to be an emergent and rising economy, but not so much an emergent society (to put this more conventionally)” (p. 48, emphasis in original).
While The Chinese Professor (2010) was the object of analysis for this article, it is important to note that the strategies I use with students to interrogate this commercial are applicable across a variety of resources. Coupling The Chinese Professor (2010) with clips from television shows and/or film trailers provides students with opportunities to analyze similarities and differences among modes of representation. The aim is for students to begin to see authorship/power in representation, and to use social studies inquiry and dialogue to challenge the marginalization, discrimination, and racism that often goes unchecked in the classroom. Because media (and educational) resources often reinforce national narratives – master narratives (Takaki, 1993/2008) that assume belonging for white people, but is questioned for people of color – it is imperative that we employ critical analysis to both historical and contemporary issues so that students can locate “parallels between injustices of today and yesterday” (Agarwal-Rangnath, 2013, p. 101).
Agarwal-Ragnanth, R. (2013). Social studies, literacy, and social justice in the common core classroom: A guide for teachers. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Masalski, K.W. & Levy, T. (2010). Introduction. Social Education, 74(1), 7.
Massumi, B. (2010). The future birth of the affective fact: The political ontology of threat. In M. Gregg & G.J Seigworth (Eds), The affect theory reader (pp. 52-70). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Said, E.W. (1978). Orientalism. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Sensoy, Ö. (2010). “ICKITY-ACKITY OPEN SESAME”: Learning about the Middle East in images. In B. Subedi (Ed.), Critical global perspectives: Rethinking knowledge about global societies (pp. 39-55). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.
Jeremiah Clabough University of Alabama-Birmingham
The United States has always been conflicted about what its role should be in international affairs. This started early in U.S. history as George Washington warned Americans in his Farewell Address to avoid foreign entanglements. Washington’s Farewell Address provided a vision for the U.S in international diplomacy that shaped a large portion of Americans’ views until the end of the 19th century.
However, the United States could not resist the urge to engage in imperialistic actions like other European nations with the potential of opening foreign economic markets and exploiting the natural resources of a country for profit (Pearcy, 2019).
One notable example of American imperialism is the annexation of the Philippines at the end of the Spanish-American War. These imperialistic actions by the administration of President William McKinley created a political backlash. Many Americans felt the U.S. was betraying its core principles and values. Anti-imperialists found their voice and leadership in William Jennings Bryan.
In this article, I explore William Jennings Bryan’s reasons for protesting U.S. imperialistic practices in regards to the annexation of the Philippines. First, a brief overview of William Jennings Bryan is given. Then, the article shifts to look at the importance of examining political figures’ positions on issues. An analysis of political figures’ policies can help students develop their own political beliefs about public issues. Then, I provide an activity that allows middle school students to see William Jennings Bryan’s objections to the U.S. replicating the imperialistic practices of Western European countries. The steps and resources needed to implement this activity are given.
William Jennings Bryan: The Righteous Champion of Movements
William Jennings Bryan did more than deliver The Cross of Gold speech to advocate for silver as opposed to the use of gold and take part in The Scopes Trial to defend the beliefs of creationism against evolution. He was politically active when the United States was in a time of transition into an industrial power in the back part of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Like all periods of transition in U.S. society, this era created uncertainty by many about the direction of the United States. William Jennings Bryan became the voice for many Americans about the challenges being created as the U.S. underwent these changes. These challenges included how American farmers and the majority of average citizens were left out of the economic gains by manufacturing during the Gilded Age. The changes brought by U.S. industrialization, issues of using silver as currency, and Bryan’s eloquence as a public speaker led him to be the Democratic nominee in the 1896 presidential election. Bryan lost the 1896 presidential election to the Republican nominee William McKinley (Cherny, 1994; Koening, 1971; Kazin, 2006). For many state social studies standards, William Jennings Bryan vanishes from the pages of history after his defeat to McKinley in the 1896 presidential election only to reappear in the guise of a publicity speaker in the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee to argue against the teaching of evolution and to affirm creationism taught in the Bible. However, Bryan was far from quiet in American politics after his defeat in the 1896 presidential election.
Analyzing U.S. Politicians’ Positions on Public Issues
U.S. politicians’ stances on public policies are influenced by their political, social, cultural, economic, religious, geographical, and regional values, biases, and beliefs. These factors impact how people perceive the contours of an issue and then construct public policies to grapple with a contemporary challenge. Politicians’ public policy solutions allow middle school students to contextualize an historical time period by analyzing vexing issues of an era (Oliver & Shaver, 1966).
The examination of politicians’ public policies provides a great learning opportunity for middle school students. The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) advocates for this type of social studies instruction to strengthen K-12 students’ content-area literacy, thinking, and argumentation skills for the social studies disciplines in its C3 Framework (NCSS, 2013). Students are able to analyze politicians’ rhetoric to see how they argue for certain policies. This allows students to see how political parties and their candidates differ on solutions to issues. Additionally, students are able to research how political parties’ beliefs are fluid because of how issues, figures, and events impact, shape, and alter party platforms and values. The ability to analyze political rhetoric is a valuable skill for students to possess as future democratic citizens in order to be able to make informed decisions about political candidates and public policies to support (Engle & Ochoa, 1988). Students need to be able to decode politicians’ subtle arguments and hold them accountable for statements that negatively impact a person’s local community, state, and nation (Clabough & Pearcy, 2018; Pearcy & Clabough, 2018).
Our middle school social studies classroom should be a “laboratory for democracy” where students research and generate solutions to historical and contemporary issues (Clabough & Wooten, 2016). These learning experiences equip our students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be actively involved and informed future democratic citizens. More importantly students can decide for themselves about which political party, candidates, and issues to support; in other words, students are able to develop their own civic identities (Rubin, 2010).
Analyzing the Reasons for William Jennings Bryan’s Arguments against U.S. Imperialism
First, the teacher starts by having middle school students in pairs read the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, which can be accessed at https://www.archives.gov/foundingdocs/declaration-transcript. Pairs read the first two paragraphs of this seminal document that helped to formulate the political principles and beliefs of the United States and then answer the following two supporting questions.
1. According to Jefferson, where do governments derive their power? Use evidence to support your arguments.
2. Based on these two paragraphs, what are the political beliefs of United States? How do you think these values will influence U.S. foreign policy? Use evidence to support your arguments.
These two supporting questions help students grasp many of the core political beliefs of the United States. This background knowledge is important for the next steps of this lesson plan because William Jennings Bryan argued that the McKinley administration and supporters of imperialistic practices in the U.S. violated many of our core political beliefs. These core political beliefs include the ability of a people toward self-determination in their own government and the values of political independence and personal liberty (Glad, 1960; Kosner, 1970; Jessen, 2017).
After students read and answer the two supporting questions about the Declaration of Independence, there is a class discussion. Students add onto their responses based on peers’ comments. The teacher may ask the following extension question. Based on the democratic principles espoused in the Declaration of Independence, how should the United States interact with other countries? This class discussion allows students to learn from their peers. The analysis prompts and extension question help students grasp how principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence should position the United States as an ally to countries espousing democratic ideas and beliefs on a global scale. Again, this step of the activity helps students to see how the core political beliefs of the U.S. stood in contradiction to the imperialistic practices that will be discussed at the end of the 19th century.
Next, students watch a brief Crash Course video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfsfoFqsFk4) to gain background knowledge about how the Spanish American War led to imperialistic actions by the United States. After watching the Crash Course video, students in the same pairs answer the following two supporting questions.
1. Why did U.S. engage in imperialistic actions? Use evidence from the video to support your arguments.
2. Why did some people oppose the U.S. engaging in imperialistic actions? Use evidence from the video to support your arguments.
These two supporting questions help students articulate the reasons that politicians had different beliefs about whether the United States should get involved in imperialistic practices and thus change the ways that it engages in international relations with other countries.
Once the pairs answer these two questions, there is another class discussion. The teacher compiles students’ answers to these two questions on the board and asks the following extension question.
Why did technological changes brought by the Second Industrial Revolution create economic incentives for the U.S. to engage in imperialistic practices abroad?
It is important during this class discussion that the teacher stresses the importance of supporting answers to these questions with evidence from the video. The discussion of these questions helps students grasp how the potential for economic wealth in foreign markets was a driving force for U.S. imperialistic practices. The compilation of answers to these questions allows students to draw on notes from this class discussion for the summative writing prompt.
Students need opportunities to analyze texts that capture historical and contemporary figures’ beliefs and public policies (Journell, 2017). To examine William Jennings Bryan’s beliefs about imperialism, the teacher may use excerpts from his Imperialism: Flag of an Empire speech. This is arguably Bryan’s most well-known speech about his arguments against imperialism. Pairs read excerpts from this speech. Specifically, they look at paragraphs 24-29 from Bryan’s speech (accessible at https://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/williamjennings-bryan-imperialism-speech-text/). After reading these excerpts, students complete the following graphic organizer.
Graphic Organizer for William Jennings Bryan’s Critique of U.S. Imperialism
The questions in this graphic organizer enable students to articulate Bryan’s beliefs about imperialism. Pairs support their answers to these questions by drawing on evidence from the excerpts of Bryan’s speech. The teacher circulates the classroom to help pairs as they are completing this graphic organizer. By completing this graphic organizer, students gain experience analyzing how historical figures frame and rationalize their arguments. Bryan’s interpretation of America’s political identity created conflict because he saw the McKinley administration as betraying the political values and beliefs of the country (Glad, 1960; Kosner, 1970).
After pairs complete the graphic organizer, students share their responses to the three questions, and they add onto their graphic organizer based on peers’ comments. The teacher asks the following supporting question.
How did the American political identity create conflict with engaging in imperialistic actions for Bryan?
Students share their responses to this question. The teacher should point out that one driving conflict throughout U.S. history in foreign diplomacy is that politicians see the role of the U.S. differently. This can clearly be seen with the U.S. not being involved in the League of Nations after World War I, and the Senate almost passing the Bricker Amendment in the 1950s to limit the power of the President to enter diplomatic agreements like those made at the Yalta Conference (Caro, 2003). These examples help students to understand the reasons for politicians’ differing beliefs about public policies connected to U.S. foreign policy.
Next, pairs use all of the information collected at this point to take civic action. They select one of the two following prompts and write a one-page op ed similar to those that appear in The New York Times (Clabough & Wooten, 2016).
Assume the role of a supporter of William Jennings Bryan that has just heard his Imperialism: Flag of an Empire speech. Use evidence from sources examined to articulate Bryan’s arguments and explain his reasons for why the U.S. should not engage in imperialistic actions. You should also explain why U.S. democratic beliefs and imperialism are a contradiction.
Assume the role of a supporter of the McKinley administration’s position on the annexation of the Philippines that has just heard William Jennings Bryan’s Imperialism: Flag of an Empire speech. Use evidence from sources examined to support your arguments on why Bryan is wrong about imperialism and why the U.S. should engage in imperialistic actions. You should also explain why U.S. democratic beliefs and imperialism are not a contradiction.
Regardless of the writing prompt pairs select, this writing activity allows students to use evidence to make persuasive arguments about a public issue in an historical era. Students use evidence to articulate their beliefs about the U.S. foreign policy through examining the questions raised by William Jennings Bryan about imperialism. Students gain experience making persuasive arguments about a public issue, which is a skill that they can apply as future democratic citizens. Democratic citizens must work through the mechanisms of local, state, and federal government to hold politicians accountable for foreign policies that are reflective of American ideals and principles (Levine, 2007).
After pairs write and edit their op-ed piece, they share their work in class. This allows students to hear their peers’ arguments about William Jennings Bryan’s opinions about the reasons that the U.S. should not annex the Philippines. The sharing and discussions about pairs’ op eds allow students to explore imperialism in more depth (Hess & McAvoy, 2015). One supporting question that the teacher may ask to extend the discussion is the following. How can U.S. foreign policy create ripple effects for future interactions with other countries? An examination of this supporting question helps students grasp the long-term ramifications of U.S. action in international diplomacy. The teacher can point out that the U.S. has had to deal with the fallout of some foreign policy decisions for a long time such as the CIA supported coup of Iran in 1953 (Magliocca, Pellegrino, & Adragna, 2019). These discussions help students grasp the importance of the U.S. having a consistent political philosophy in its international diplomacy.
In this article, I discuss how middle school social studies teachers can explore the political contradiction of U.S. democracy engaging in imperialistic actions. Arguably William Jennings Bryan made the most articulate critique of the annexation of the Philippines by the McKinley administration. For Bryan, imperialism violated the morale character of the United States. A country like the United States that was founded upon the principles of political self-determination and personal liberty should not deny these political rights to others (Kosner, 1970; Cherny, 1994). The activity in this article could be modified and replicated to look at the contradiction of other Western European countries’ imperialistic actions.
The most famous cases of imperialism tend to be examples where countries espousing democratic values engaged in non-democratic actions for economic benefit (Pearcy, 2019). Some examples include Great Britain in India, the United States in the Philippines, and Belgium in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Each example provides an opportunity to explore the political identity of a democratic country when it does not engage in a foreign policy espousing democratic values. After analyzing sources about a democratic country’s imperialistic actions, students can research and discuss how World War II served as a catalyst to end many imperialistic regimes. The hypocrisy of democratic countries fighting for freedom from Nazi Germany while preventing political freedoms of their imperialistic holdings abroad led to numerous countries gaining independence at the end of World War II.
Imperialism has been an underexplored topic in social studies education. The recent NCSS accreditation standards place imperialism as a central topic for social studies education (NCSS, 2018). Middle school students need opportunities to analyze a democratic country’s imperialistic actions. These activities provide examples of missed opportunities when citizens do not hold their countries responsible for an anti-democratic foreign policies. Students can also research how imperialistic actions create conflict in an interconnected global world that influence countries’ relationships in the past, present, and potential future (Harshman, 2015; Pearcy, 2019).
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