How Do You Teach About Race?

“The perversity of racism is not inherent in the nature of human beings. We are not racist; we become racist just as we may stop being that way.”     – Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Heart, 1997

This past year I found myself thinking differently about my identity.  The change would occur whenever I was completing the “race” category/prompt you find on official forms.  You know what I am referring to (check out the image to the right). Additionally, my school system began to provide cultural competence training that framed diversity largely in racial terms but without addressing what race is. This seemed to be a significant disconnect.  How can you talk about something without defining or explaining it?

Combined, these two factors started a distinct change in my behavior from what had been the norm for over 3 decades.  Instead of checking “White” on these forms,  I began selecting “I do not wish to provide this information” or an option with similar wording.  I must admit, however, that this action is contingent on an important variable –  whether or not the document had defined their categories of race (see below). Defining terms/concepts is indeed an important if we want to engage with them effectively and with depth.  In this case it is especially significant as race is a “hot button” topic and not an objective category across this planet.

Rather, how we conceive of race is informed in part by history, societal factors,  and context. For example, look at samples from these early 21st century census surveys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is going on in each of these and why can’t they all have the same items?

Also, our own understanding about race is informed by our personal learning network and how race is taught in schools.  To explore the topic of teaching about race I propose this key question, “Is there  genetic/biological evidence for the argument that there are multiple races of humans?” With that let’s take a look at some ideas, resources, and suggested follow up questions you can use with your community.

 

Race is not a Myth

People who claim that race is a myth must explain themselves a bit further.  Social constructs are real in that they impact people’s actions and beliefs as well as government’s policies and practices.  For example, the fluidity of race as a construct  and political/economic/social category has existed in the US since the late 18th century.  “Every U.S. census since the first one in 1790 has included questions about racial identity, reflecting the central role of race in American history from the era of slavery to current headlines about racial profiling and inequality. But the ways in which race is asked about and classified have changed from census to census, as the politics and science of race have fluctuated. And efforts to measure the multiracial population are still evolving.”  Indeed, the 2020 census may offer “more examples of the origins that fall under each racial/ethnic category… That census will also drop the word “Negro” from what had been the “Black, African American, or Negro” response option.”

Like culture, and gender, and ethnicity, how we conceive of race can yield an all too real set of pre-conceived notions and beliefs that are seen as “natural” or scientific.  These packaged sets of qualities become static, essentialized, and expected traits about a group.  This process of “othering” reduces a group’s range of variety to an oversimplified point on a spectrum.  Checkout how the recent film Get Out conveyed this psycho-anthropological phenomenon.

 

John Willinsky’s fantastic work Learning to Divide the World: Education at Empire’s End narrates the impact empires had on the racial social constructs that persist. The imperial experiments produced a classification designed to order humans in a hierarchy of development.  The European Enlightenment’s drive to categorize the world manifested a science of race that “offered the most monstrous of imperialism’s lessons… the scientific constitution of races in the West brought greater force and significance of difference to the naming of the other. It further ordered European interests in dividing the world to its advantage.”

Human zoos brought this continuum to life in the 19th, and 20th centuries at the Worlds Fair and similar regional exhibitions in London, Paris, Milan, and New York and beyond. In their most “instructive” role, human zoos would present various groups on a trajectory ranging from primitive/savage to advanced/civilized.

Dissenting voices about the taxonomy of race were rare.  However, in 1791 Johann Gottfeid von Herder  wrote “There are neither four or five races. All mankind are only one.” (emphasis is Herder’s).  Over 150 years later after the killing of World War II, UNESCO’s 1951  statement on race is explicit: “Scientists have reached the general agreement in recognizing that mankind is one: that all men belong to the same species, Homo Sapiens.”  

But I wonder how many people would currently agree with or know about this statement?  What is informing their concept of race?  Shouldn’t race be taught using the consensus of contemporary scientific communities?

The opportunity to inform and provide people with a useful base and conceptual framework is a necessary and powerful tool.   As Freire notes (in the opening quote) humans can change. Education can facilitate that change.

 

Where to Find Answers

This is an important section of this blog post. These past few weeks my colleague and I explored the VA curriculum frameworks in science and social studies looking for explanations about how to teach about race.  Neither of us found any explicit direction in our content field on what students should learn about or how to engage with “race.”    Instead, the world history curriculum related it to slavery (race being a factor or not) and the U.S. history course implied its use in Standard 8 of the 2015 revisions.

The student will apply social science skills to understand how the nation grew and changed from the end of Reconstruction through the early twentieth century by d) analyzing the impact of prejudice and discrimination, including “Jim Crow” laws, the responses of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, and the practice of eugenics in Virginia

(We believe similar gaps of intentional usage for race exist in IB and AP equivalent classes.  But a more exhaustive effort will be needed to confirm this lack of intentionality).

So, where is one to find tools, information, and resources that can be used with students and colleagues to teach about race?  As a start, I have included some influential documentaries and journal articles below.  I do hope these items spark further inquiry and inspiration. Please, keep me posted of what you find.

 

Journals/Articles

 

Documentaries

  • 13th – Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans. (2016).

 

  • The Chinese Exclusion Act – A new film by Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu and scheduled to appear on PBS American Experience in 2017.

 

 

  •  LA 92  – A look at the events that led up to the 1992 uprising in Los Angeles following the Rodney King beating by the police. (2017)

 

  • Shoah Claude Lanzmann’s epic documentary recounts the story of the Holocaust through interviews with witnesses – perpetrators as well as survivors. (1985)

 

 

The UN SDGs 

The UN goals provide so much educational value.  They are, in essence,  a 21st century curriculum.  Unbridled by disciplines, the UN SDGs are accessible by all fields of study and celebrates relevance where some educators, parents, and students offer limited expressions for the “Why?” of education.

Over  century ago in 1900 in London at the Pan-African Convention, W.E.B. Du Bois  gave a closing statement titled “To the Nations of the World” .  Du Bois states that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color Image result for du boisline, the question of how far differences of race-which show themselves chiefly in the color of skin and the texture of the hair-will hereafter be made the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization.”  The problem clearly continues in the 21st century in varying forms – structures of power, ignorance, hate, identity politics etc.   Thankfully race has not gone unnoticed on the global stage.

Goal 10 of the UN SDGs addresses race as  a list of categories that as Du Bois noted, deny “the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization.” Taken on its own, or in conjunction with other SDG, Goal 10 demands that race be part of the learning experiences we provide for students and part of the discussions we have in order to take action.

Goal 10 calls for reducing inequalities in income as well as those based on age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status within a country. The Goal also addresses inequalities among countries, including those related to representation, migration and development assistance.

 

For the UN SDG to be a relevant part of students’ learning, connections to the topic must be explicit and intentional.  Moreover, the UN SDGs  lend themselves to grade level through the project based learning, inquiry, blended learning, and problem based learning models.  Checkout the video below for a summary of goal 10.

 

Your Action Items – Ask these Questions

I feel that this blog post is, sadly, timely.  These past few days I came across two stories that involved racially motivated attacks and killings.  Maybe a better way to put it is that the assaults were motivated by ignorance.  One significant aspect of each story is how “race” is framed.

Please know that I am not stating that education is the solution to all problems. But, I do believe that how we teach something is significant.  Currently, we seem to discredit race as concept necessary for students to understand both scientifically and socially.

By not explicitly teaching about race as a flawed and limited social construct that has no scientific backing, then we are not even trying to address the limited understanding and world views that exist.  This can, at worst, lead to violent behavior and dismiss the topic to another generation to content with – see Du Bois above.

To close, I offer these questions for you to consider  as a way to start talking and teaching  about race in the 21st century in your community.  Doing so may lead to some of the most significant conclusions and “a-ha” moments your students  and colleagues will have  both now and in the future.

  1. To what extent and in what ways do your local, state, or programmatic curriculum/standards address race?
  2. If your school provides professional learning on inter-cultural competency or diversity training, how do they present race?
  3. How does your community (students, colleagues, parents, administration, school board) think and act regarding topics related to race?
  4. When and how do students have the opportunity to learn about and engage with race?
  5. What perspectives and resources inform you and your community about race?
  6. To what extent is race a taboo topic in your school?
  7. In interviews, can the people you hire explain their understanding of concepts like  – gender, ethnicity, class, and race?

 

 

 

The Global Concerns Classroom: Civic Education that Turns the World Around

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day.  My 2013 post framed Dr. King not merely as an American citizen, but rather as a global citizen… a concept that is widely used today in education and beyond.  In a 1979, Harry Belafonte performed the song  “Turn the World Around” on the Muppet show emphasizing the power of knowing, not otherizing, people and recognizing the agency and positive results that engagement can foster.   Watch the video below and enjoy!

 

How great is that?

In preparation for the segment, “designers at The Muppet Workshop did background research on African masks, to serve as the chorus. While these would be patterned very closely on real African masks, Jim Henson was very particular about selecting the final designs, since as Belafonte recalled, “he didn’t want to cause offense by choosing masks that would have some religious or national significance.”

Well done Mr. Henson.  And although some people may dismiss this as political correctness, an error in application of that term, I consider this understanding to be an example of global citizenship in practice.

So, what about today in 2016? Currently, there are a range of global citizen programs available for educators, schools, and communities to select GCC_logo_Colorfrom in order to bolster the global education experiences students have.  One program that stands out and should be explored by you  is “Global Concerns Classroom.” In their own words:

Global Concerns Classroom (GCC) is an innovative global education program that seeks to raise awareness of current international humanitarian issues in U.S. youth and to empower them to take meaningful action. Through dynamic resources, student engagement programs, and professional development for educators, GCC prepares youth to gain the knowledge and skills needed to be globally competent for the 21st century.

Very compelling indeed!  At a conference this past November, I had the pleasure of meeting  GCC Education Officer, Margi Bhatt.  We reconnected in the new year and discussed GCC and global education.  Margi’s insights about GCC’s  vision, resources, and her own work are provided below.  Be sure to connect with her and explore how GCC can contribute to your school and class.

 

1) Tell us about how you got involved in GCC.

After finishing my Master’s at Teachers College in International Education Development, I was eagerly seeking a position at an education NGO in New York City that not only captured my interest but whose mission I could believe in. Concern Worldwide’s reputation was well-known at Teachers College and when I saw there was an opportunity to work in the domestic education side of it through the Global Concerns Classroom program, I jumped at the opportunity! Luckily, the fit was great and I was hired for the job! I’ve been here for almost a year and half now.Margi

2) What are some of the successes of GCC and what is ahead for 2016?

GCC has been active since 2001, though it has taken on many faces since its conception. One of the strongest aspects of GCC is the content it provides teachers and students through standards-aligned curricula and our global issue guides. Because GCC sits under the greater INGO Concern Worldwide, we have access to up-to-date material on global issues. We source our information directly from our teams in the field so we can best capture what’s happening around the world and make it accessible for the US classroom.

All our resources are completely free of charge as well and as streamlined, easy to implement as possible for our teachers. Having been teachers ourselves, team GCC is always teacher-conscious and we hear great things from our participating teachers about the resources we provide, which gives us pride in our work! You can read more about our approach to programming on our website!

The last two years, we’ve focused our yearlong programming on Innovations in Global Health and Global Climate Impact. The yearlong program includes standards-aligned curriculum in the fall (5-6 lessons, 50 minutes each), Global Youth Summit in the winter, Community Action Plan and a Showcase event the spring, followed by the overseas field visit opportunity in the summer.

For the 2016-17 school year, we will turn our focus to Humanitarian Emergencies. Our curriculum will cover both manmade and natural disasters and how humanitarian organizations like Concern Worldwide respond in times of crisis. The lessons will include information about the humanitarian landscape and emphasize the importance of coordination. Our Global Youth Summit in the winter will give students the opportunity to put all this to the test through a simulated emergency scenario.  We are very excited for what’s to come!

 

3) What makes your program unique in the space of global citizenship education?

 Besides the fact that all our resources and program participation is completely free of charge, one very unique factorGcc unit of the GCC program is the annual overseas field visit. After participating in the various components of our program throughout the school year, students who are deeply interested in the global issues they’ve learned about are invited by their teachers to apply for a field visit opportunity.

Chosen students (and their teachers!) spend a week visiting Concern Worldwide programs in the field, with previous trips to Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia. This experience is hugely impactful for students as they are able to complicate and deepen their understanding of development work. You can read about our students’ experience last summer in Ethiopia on the GCC Blog!

Student alumni of our field visits have gone on to explore college degrees and career tracks in this field, citing their GCC/Concern experience as an inspiration. Teachers who participate in the visit find they are better equipped to talk about global citizenship topics in the classrooms back home and are more motivated to include global concepts in the topics they teach. We are thrilled to be able to provide such a special opportunity for our students and teachers!

 

4) What resources do you have for teachers?

 We have ten global issue guides focusing on major humanitarian and development issues in various countries, seven standards-aligned, ready-to-go unit plans (5-6 lessons, 50 minutes each), student narrated videos, and classroom posters to help teachers get the conversation started. Most recently, we’ve added an issue guide and unit plan on Climate Change in Niger. Our Water poster is very popular!

All of our resources are available on our website for free in PDF downloadable format. Teachers can also request hard copies of our issue guides for their classroom library. In 2015, we received dozens of requests from teachers all over the world, impacting hundreds of students.

In addition, teachers are welcome to request any other needs they may have for teaching global issues in the classroom and we do our best to provide guidance and additional resources.

 (sample video from GCC)

5) Are you seeing more schools in the USA making a move toward global education?

Yes, definitely! We are continually hearing from teachers all over the US seeking resources on global topics. Most recently, I’ve noticed a trend at the state-level for creating a global citizenship certification program for high school students. A lot of times, it’s the teachers themselves who are leading these campaigns to make global education a priority and to create incentives for their students to take part. States like Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and others are at various levels for making the certification program a reality. With these programs in effect, we hope that our resources will help fill any gaps teachers and administrators experience in their need for curriculum. Very exciting to see global education trending, especially since, from my conversations with teachers and students, it’s what they want to be teaching and learning!

 

6) How can schools get involved with GCC?

Currently, our yearlong program is available to high schoolers in NYC, Chicago, and Boston metro-areas. Any educator that fits those two criteria (geography and grade-level) are welcome to register on our website for next year’s program on Humanitarian Emergencies. Once registered, teachers will receive further information on the details of the programming, including curriculum and dates for events.

For those who don’t quite fit the bill, we have amazing online resources, PDF-downloadable and for free! If you’re a teacher looking to teach about global issues, you will find global issue guides per topic and by country on our site. In addition, there are 5-6 lesson (50 minutes each) unit plans on topics like Climate Change, Child Survival, hungerDisplacement, Education, HIV and AIDS, Hunger, and Water. There are also student-narrated videos to play in the classroom, as well as classroom posters to get the conversation started!

If teachers have other needs related to teaching global issues, we are always ready to receive requests and provide whatever resources and assistance!

 

 7) It has been a pleasure.  What final words do you have for readers?

Having worked with teachers the last couple of years on global citizenship education through GCC, I see first-hand the demand on teachers from all sides – administrators, students, guardians, and peers. It can be challenging in such a shifting educational environment to continue to provide great learning for students with energy and without losing sight of what is at stake – after all, the next generation of leaders are in the classrooms today!

In the last two years, I’ve also seen amazing teachers who are so dedicated to their work, which inspires me continuously to provide them with the most effective and streamlined tools to make their jobs easier. I will never forget last fall in Chicago, when a teacher came up to me after our professional development session – she hugged me and explained that she’s been looking for something like the GCC program for her students and she’s so thrilled that she’s found it!

Global citizenship education is quickly becoming essential to better prepare students for the 21st-century and to generally provide them with critical perspective on global issues. I am happy to be a part of the work that is making this happen!

To keep updated on all we’re doing at GCC, follow us on social media, where we’re constantly updating on the latest big thing and providing additional resources for teachers! You can find us on Facebook at Global Concerns Classroom, on Twitter @concerngcc, and Instagram at GlobalConcernsClassroom. Be sure to also check out our blog, where we post on international awareness days – an easy way to bring current events and global issues into your classroom!

Thank you Margi.  It has been a pleasure.  I look forward to staying in touch and seeing the continued impact GCC will have on global education.

Whoa ho, so is life!

The 411 on 9-11: The Master(mind) Narrative

The posting of this blog, one may think, is poorly timed.  Weeks too late as last month schools marked two global events which use in their moniker “9-11.” Still, both events, assuming classes are taught chronologically, will be relevant later in the school year, and therefore educators can learn from this post. Read on…

The other other 9-11?

The other other 9-11?

In September some students in the USA were taught about the USA’s supported military coup which overthrew Chilean President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. “Because of CIA covert intervention in Chile, and the repressive character of General Pinochet’s rule, the coup became the most notorious military takeover in the annals of Latin American history.” The death of Allende yielded to the dictatorship of Augosoto Pinochet until 1990. US foreign policy in Latin America included supporting the policies of anti-democratic regimes.  According to the Washington Post, Pinochet’s brutal resume includes  the death of “at least 3,197 people and tortured about 29,000.”

Likewise, last month most schools in the US were taught that, twenty-eight years later, two passenger airliners were flown  by members of al-Qaeda, mostly from Saudi Arabia, into the iconic World Trade Center “Twin Towers” in New York City and one into the Pentagon near Washington D.C.  Nearly 3,000 people perished in the attacks, about 12% of the casualties were from outside of the USA. One outcome of the attacks was a proclaimed “War on Terror”  leading the US along a road which is  “in theory, an endless war –- a war that approaches something closer to a way of life.” It is important to remember the origin of the attackers.   Al Qaeda’s formation is traced back to the  late 1980’s, “As Soviet troops withdraw from Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden and other Arab fighters from the US-backed Mujahideen movement form “al-Qaeda”, which in Arabic means “the base”.” 

The number of educational resources that have been created about the 9-11 attacks in 2001 is prolific. My previous blog post here focused on educational resources’ attention to the “why” and “what” of the 9-11 of 2001. This year, I want to examine the narrative that has been created in educational and media sources around the concept of the 9-11 “Mastermind”.  I argue that the educational resources are deficient in this area because of the fact that they incorrectly identify Osama Bin Laden as the “Mastermind”  of 9-11.  The “Mastermind” label, branded on Bin Laden, is presented as a  fact, an unchallengeable truth that is replicated and perpetuated in schools vis-a-vis “authoritative” curriculum materials.  Strangely enough, this Bin Laden-Mastermind connection exists despite ample evidence from multiple sources (presented below) that the Mastermind of the 9-11 attacks was Khalid Sheik Muhammad (KSM). The absurdity of KSM’s absence in 9-11 educational curriculum materials is magnified by the fact KSM is currently on trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for being the Mastermind of 9-11!


 9-11 Resources

So, what is being celebrated by publishers and media as authoritative best practices for and content resources for  9-11?  A sample of materials is below. Are they in your department office or library? If so, I hope examine the narrative promoted by them and the evidence they emphasize.

  • New York Regent’s Exam Review Guide has no mention of Khalid Sheik Muhammad! Their entry for Osama Bin Laden supports the Bin Laden “Master Mind” claim: “Osama bin Laden: Saudi Arabian multimillionaire and leader of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda. He is responsible for numerous terrorist attacks on the United States including the destruction of the World Trade Center.

 

  •  Social Studies Services:  Their binder consists of a range of materials, lessons, and sources to be used in class and is “suitable for assemblies.” The resource is an impressive collection and aspires to laudable goals: “Relying on open-ended inquiry, activities also prompt students to interpret photographs, video footage, and oral histories; and to document their findings by means such as Google Earth and a timeline.” Samples can be seen here.   The most promising resource is the “Student Handout: Activity2 Timelines pp 28-33.  Osama Bin Laden is mentioned over a dozen times and Timothy McVeigh once. But they fall short of mentioning KSM even once.
  • Hippocampus:  This is an amazing site.  “HippoCampus.org is a free, core academic web site that delivers rich multimedia content–videos, animations, and simulations–on general education subjects to middle-school and high-school teachers and college professors, and their students, free of charge.”  Their History selections, despite not having a World History offering, boasts regular and AP level content.  9-11 is housed in the “Bush and Obama” unit under two sections:”Reaction to 9/11″ and “Domestic Response to 9/11”.  KSM is absent.  Bin Laden gets a photo opportunity.

Hippocampus 2

  • The History Channel:  The have extensive resources – videos, interactives, timelines, photos- on 9-11. The Osama Bin Laden  entry identifies him as the mastermind, “On this day in 2011, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, is killed by U.S. forces during a raid on his compound hideout in Pakistan.  Search History.com’s website for Khalid Sheik Muhammad and you get  ZERO results.  Search “Ice Road Truckers” or “Swamp People” and you get over 28,000 results…for each of them! Oh History channel, how you are misnamed!
  • CNN:  Think about it. When did you realize CNN’s reporting moved from news coverage to info-tainment.  I think it was the late 90’s, but that is just a guess.  Their timeline of 9-11, updated on 9-11-2013, has no reference to KSM!  Bin Laden is still identified as the “mastermind”, “This terrorist attack on the United States is orchestrated by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.”  However, most ridiculously, CNN still lists the Dec 2001 Bin Laden Confession Tape as a viable part of the narrative “December 13, 2001 – The U.S. government releases a tape in which Osama bin Laden takes responsibility for the attacks.”  They fail to mention that this tape came under heavy scrutiny from international media and research organizations.
  • Digital History: This online US History survey course has an impressive backing of sponsors.  The goal of the project  is also This Web site was designed and developed to support the teaching of American History in K-12 schools and colleges and is supported by the College of Education at the University of Houston. Overall this is an impressive project with some expanded features. However, the final unit”The 21st Century” includes a quiz on 9-11.  Looking at question 3 below, you should figure out where I am going with this:

3. The mastermind behind the terrorist attack was

a. Timothy McVeigh                    b. Saddam Hussein                     c. Osama Bin Laden

I emailed them about this, but never received a response. What a surprise.

KSM, the Mastermind of 9-11, 2001

I lay it out there, Khalid Sheik Muhammad is the master mind of  9-11. Osama Bin Laden is not the mastermind behind 9-11.  Therefore, any educational material, standards, test, curriculum, etc, that professes Bin Laden is, needs to explain its stance KSM-w-620x349against the sources below.  As you review them, please remember, I am arguing that the narrative about the 9-11 Mastermind found in current curriculum resources are faulty,  misleading, numbing, and a gross dis-service to the students, teachers, and education profession.

I offer evidence that questions  and contradicts those resources.  Review them yourself.  Come to your own conclusion. Let me know what you think.

  • The New Yorker Magazine:   In 2010, groups protested the idea of putting KSM on trial in NYC (remember that?).  “Greg Manning, whose wife, Laura, was severely burned in the World Trade Center attacks, stood before the crowd and said, “Thousands are already dead because of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s choices…There’s a place for the courts, but not for the mastermind of 9/11.”
  • The Daily News: Maybe the title says it all “Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, 9/11 mastermind, allowed to build vacuum in CIA prison.”  Maybe not.   But it is hard to ignore this claim written in July 2013.  Too new? Read on…
  • 2007 Military Tribunal Transcript: I guess we forget that these documents are, at least theoretically, our possessions.  Regardless, this 2007 transcript offers a bit to read about KSM and his role in 9-11.  He, and his personal representative, profess “I hereby admit and affirm without duress… I was responsible for the  9/11 operation A to Z”
  • Wikilieaks:  This memo of “Combatant Status Review” of September 4, 2006  signed by Rear Admiral Harry Harris Jr. is telling. that KSM was the Mastermind of 9-11.   Page 5… “Detainee was the mastermind of the 11September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”  Read for yourself.
  • 9-11 Commission Report:  I guess this is the smoking gun, if there is to be one.  The US committee  announced, in 2002, that KSM was the mastermind of 9-11. The group was “an independent, bipartisan commission created by congressional legislation and the signature of President George W. Bush in late 2002, is chartered to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks. The Commission is also mandated to provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks.”  They explicitly state “No one exemplifies the model of the terrorist entrepreneur more clearly than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.”

 

The Atlantic  Monthly ran this title in 2012″How the FBI, CIA, and Pakistani intelligence worked together — or didn’t — in the global hunt for the mastermind behind September 11, 2001″… Everything the Americans could rustle up pointed to Karachi. Every source and bit of information said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was operating out of the capital of Pakistan’s Wild West…

So, where does that leave the us?  Survey your colleagues. Ask them who is Khalid Sheikh Mohammad?  Ask them who is the “Mastermind of 9-11”?  Review the material you use and the narrative about 9-11.  Weigh the evidence and ask why is KSM not in the narratives, standards,  and curriculum materials for high school students.

 

I would like to end by noting another type of narrative around 9-11.   Both TED videos detail attempts at creating meaningful interpretations of what happened on 9-11.  It is important that these messages are in the public sphere, the collective conscious.  Take a look and see how they impact your view of 9-11.  These voices, emphasizing a social historical approach,  remind us that world events and globalization networks are never one-way avenues of “Them” causing harm to “Us.”

Enjoy.

Photography, War, and Worldview: Where DBQs and Media Literacy Meet

I recently visited the Corcoran Gallery of Art located in Washington D.C. to see the exhibit “WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath” on view until September 29th.  The exhibit is on tour, organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  Its overview description states:

“Images recorded by more than 280 photographers, from 28 nations, span 6 continents and more than 165 years, from the Mexican-American War in the mid-1800s to present-day conflicts. Iconic photographs as well as previously unknown images are featured, taken by military photographers, commercial photographers (portrait and photojournalist), amateurs, and artists. The exhibition examines the relationship between war and photography, exploring the types of photographs created during wartime, as well as by whom and for whom. Images are arranged to show the progression of war: from the acts that instigate armed conflict to “the fight,” to victory and defeat, and photos that memorialize a war, its combatants, and its victims. Portraits of servicemen, military and political leaders, and civilians are a consistent presence.”

I urge you to attend this exhibit if it comes close to you.  If that isn’t possible, watch the promo video below, read the BBC report, and/or take a virtual tour online.

The exhibit was fantastic. It stimulated a mix of emotional and intellectual responses: beautiful, sad, horrifying, motivating, agitating, challenging, clarifying… The combination was something I wasn’t expecting.  One section of the tour was overwhelming and I had to leave it for a moment to recenter.  The exhibit. I thought, was leaving its mark upon me.

Numerous images continue to reverberate in my mind and remain vivid memories. This was my favorite picture –   A wristwatch frozen in time, 11:02 a.m.  marking the explosion of the Nagasaki Bomb on August 9, 1945. It was found under a mile from the explosion’s epicenter. Chilling.

Nagasaki watch

 

So how does this relate to  teaching and education.  This exhibit, and others like it,  represents  the heart of social studies/history education – it helps form an individual’s world view.  I firmly believe  that a major purpose of learning about the past (history), the humanities, and social sciences to be an existential enterprise.  The existential practices  students engage with include:

  • conceptual learning
  • questioning
  • researching their interests
  • reflecting and investigating personal and social beliefs and conclusions
  • developing new information and processes
  • seeking new experiences

The ultimate goal of this model of teaching and learning is the construction of a personal worldview (which will change overtime).

That is a powerful educational outcome!  (And a definite characteristic of 21st century learning). What other fields claim this as an objective?

Let’s explore a little further using contemporary education parlance,.”WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath” provides the opportunity for students to engage with content and demonstrate critical/creative thinking by combining media literacy and document based questions.  (whew!) Let’s explore these two ideas:

1) Medial Literacy:The ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, and COMMUNICATE information in a variety of forms-is interdisciplinary by nature. Media literacy represents a necessary, inevitable, and realistic response to the complex, ever-changing electronic environment and communication cornucopia that surround us.

To become a successful student, responsible citizen, productive worker, or competent and conscientious consumer, individuals need to develop expertise with the increasingly sophisticated information and entertainment media that address us on a multi-sensory level, affecting the way we think, feel, and behave.

The Center for Media Literacy has numerous resources and opportunities. I think this image does a great job explaining the concept too.

medialit_infographic

 

2) Document Based Questions (DBQ):  Are typically an essay or series of short-answer questions that is constructed by students using one’s own knowledge combined with support from several provided sources.

AP courses use them stating, “the DBQ typically requires students to relate the documents to a historical period or theme and thus to focus on major periods and issues. For this reason, outside knowledge — information gained from materials other than the documents — is very important and must be incorporated into your essay if the highest scores are to be earned.”  Similarly, IB history courses also use DBQs.  The suggested strategy for students analyzing DBQs is the OPVL approach (Origin -Purpose – Value – Limitations).

However, DBQs are not just for students in advanced courses.  Notably, the Regents Exam uses them. Their approach, less analytical than the IB, focuses on preparation and structure stressing “Before actually writing the DBQ essay, one should analyze the task and organize the information that they wish to include in the essay response…carefully read the historical context and the task. Look for clues that will help identify which historical era(s) the DBQ is focusing on, and the information required to thoroughly address the task.”

The DBQ Project co founders Chip Brady and Phil Roden  (now in their 13th year) state “we believe that all students can develop high-level critical thinking skills if they have consistent instruction and a chance to practice. Our engaging questions and use of primary and secondary sources give students the opportunity to investigate history from a variety of perspectives.  Our flexible pedagogy supports discussion and debate as students clarify their own ideas and write evidence-based arguments.”

The DBQ Project provides outstanding resources and professional development. In my experience they have been a model of effective history education.

The DBQ resources and approaches have become common curriculum features.  Organizations have regularly include them in their curriculum materials. But is is also a good strategy for students and teachers to create their own.

Some guidelines are here and here and here.  A Prezi about the process is below.


World View

One  observation I have about DBQs is that they rarely, at least in my experience, utilize contemporary pworldview1hotography.  I imagine this is partly due to perceived content restrictions. However, consider the larger claims voiced by whatever content standards you use.  Using photographs like the ones in  “WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath”   have students explore their understanding  of big ideas and concepts. These skills, in turn, help students construct their world view.  In other words, the DBQ approach can be used as a meta-cognitive task. Teachers may already do this. If you do please let me know….

In the end I believe this existential objective should be an explicit  and intentional part  of the DBQ process used in social studies and history classes. Set the bar high for your students and make your DBQs relevant with contemporary images.  Considering the current realities of war and conflict, media literacy is a skill which needs attention.  The photos at the Corcoran exhibit will leave a profound impact on students and expose them to realities of war hidden from them in mainstream media. I hope you try this exercise at least once this school year.

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, I lived in the ghetto
I’ve lived all over this town

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey
I ain’t got time for that now

The song’s full lyrics are here

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Early American Republic’s Encounters with the “Muslim World” – Yes, they happened!

Recent events in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and across the geo-cultural region we call the “Muslim World” has the high potential to reinforce two limited, over-simplified world views:

  1. A Binary Us-Them Mentality
  2. A totalizing “Othering” of a group

Performing a simple search of recent headlines  uncovers dramatic labels “Mayhem in the Middle East”, “Islamic Anger”,  and, of course, Newsweek’s ridiculous cover – “Muslim Rage” – which yielded an abundance of retorts (i.e. Salon  and The International Business Times).

Fortunately, addressing these can be done in classrooms on a daily basis. In fact, addressing both of these cosmologies, I argue, is essential for any high school program that embraces paradigms of 21stcentury education and/or global awareness. However, despite these “en vogue” educational monikers, there is no guarantee that social constructs regarding “identity” and “culture” are addressed with sufficient depth and rigor.  Doing so would empower students to engage media coverage. Doing so would be an indicator that contemporary education takes serious the claim “college and career readiness.”

In a recent blog post Daniel Martin Varisco, professor of anthropology at Hofstra University, addresses the constructed  “Muslim” problem: “There is a problem with labeling here. Just because the protesters are “Muslim” in principle does not mean they represent the vast majority of Muslims in these countries. A very small minority is taking advantage of an out-of-control situation to power play.”

Newsweek’s cover is evidence that Edward Said’s Oreintalism is alive and well. Click here to hear Said in a 4 part video.

 

I have found these three instructional approaches to be effective, engaging  starting points for students to understand world views and reflect on their own:

  • Defining “Social Construct” – I contend this is a key term missing from every curriculum  and program standards  I have seen.
  • Emphasize complexity by refusing binary explanations and either/or options. (This includes how we teach the Cold War, for example.)
  • Define “Culture” as a fluid, changing, complex set of meanings that are created and not as a natural, essentialized package of actions and beliefs.

So, back to the Muslim World, what opportunities do teachers of US History surveys have to promote complexity and variety this early in the school year. Across the board, US History textbooks don’t mention US-Muslim relationships as part of the early American curriculum – instead focusing on US relations with UK, France, and Native Americans. Typically, US relations with the Muslim world is framed as a 20th century phenomenon manifesting from the achieved “super power” status that put the US in the  backyards of  nations worldwide.

Likewise, teachers may not be aware of the growing scholarship in this field.  Below, I offer 5 events/ideas/people that highlight  US-Muslim encounters between 1776-1830.  Check to see if your textbooks include these items and leave a comment with the book title and publisher so we can applaud their globalizing efforts.

a) American Independence:    In 1777, Morocco became the first country whose head of state, Sultan Muhammad III,  publicly recognized the new, independent  United States of America.  A decade later, Thomas Barclay, the American consul in France, arrived in Morocco in 1786 and negotiated the “Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship”. The agreement was signed later that year in Europe by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and ratified by Congress in July 1787. Thomas Ogot, in General History of Africa, concludes that the treaty “has withstood transatlantic stresses and strains for more than 220 years, making it the keystone of the longest unbroken treaty relationship in United States history.”

b) 1796 US Treaty with Tripoli: An obscure treaty that addressed US naval and trade relations across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean.  Article 11, below, is an interesting statement to research and discuss:  “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

It is important to contextualize President Adams’ 1797 Treaty. Article 11 is especially ripe for debate. Click here for President Obama’s reference to it.

c)Muslim Slaves: Gordon Wood in his 2009 work Empire of Liberty states “He (George Washington) expressed toleration for all religions, including the religion of Muslims and Jews… there were not many Muslims in America a the time of Washington’s inauguration – perhaps only a small community of Moroccans in Charleston, SC.” A report by the Arab American National Museum  in Dearborn, MI writes: According to some estimates, between the 1600s and the mid-1800s, 30% of African American slaves were Muslim and many spoke Arabic.

d) The Tripolitan War:  The young American navy fought the Ottoman Empire’s outlying regions Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis.  But the American Marines who landed on “the shores of Tripoli”  also allied themselves with Muslim factions that opposed the ruling class and leadership. Historian Max Boot, displaying great historical relativism, writes: “It is tempting to compare the Barbary States to  modern Islamist states that preach jihad…it is a temptation best resisted. The rulers of the Ottoman Empire and its North Africa tributaries were not particularly xenophobic nor especially fundamentalist… they were uncommonly cosmopolitan and tolerant… offering more protection than did many European states to flourishing Jewish communities.” The Savage Wars of Peace

e) King Andrew’s Foreign Policy: Known for his Indian Removal, rugged individual democracy, and broadening Presidential power, US History survey courses routinely overlook Jackson’s greatest foreign policy accomplishment. His 1830 treaty with the Ottoman Empire elevated American prestige in the eyes of the Turks to the level held by Europe.  The Treaty of Navigation and Commerce  allowed the US to trade in the Black Sea, deal arms to the Ottoman Empire, sell Lowell, MA cotton in Damascus, and led to profitable trade on the Arabian Peninsula. An American port in Istanbul constructed the world’s largest battleship at the time, the 934 ton Mahmud.  Overall, the treaty is considered to be a major turning point in American global power and influence.

Complicating accepted framework regarding US – Muslim relations, or any accepted categories of thought, is a powerful enterprise.  This can be accomplished in the most unlikely of places, the history of early American Republic. I hope this listing helps and if all else fails, read Orientalism , Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, and Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present.