Feb 3, 2008

And they're off !

Let the teaching begin! The class turns out to be gov't not econ. They're starting foreign policy and the teacher gave them some choice in what to work on. The areas that got the most votes were terrorism slash the war on terror; immigration; and health and the environment. (The others were nuclear nonproliferation, something else I can't remember, and Iraq, which came in last. Students today get barraged with Iraq the Global Warming, and the vote count was a clear plea for "not more about Iraq, please, anything but Iraq.")

So we're putting together a 2week foreign policy unit on terrorism. That's certainly not my own favorite topic - how icky, really. But there's loads of interesting stuff there, and it's a great chance to teach controversy and deliberation. In our training program we've been talking about teaching controversial material and teaching about controversies, and what are the limits on First Amendment protection for teacher speech on controversial matters. It seems there's little protection for 'academic freedom' and teacher free speech against complaints by parents or disciplinary action by the principal or school district. The courts see teachers as deliverers of chosen curriculum and when the principal or the school district is unhappy with what you say in class, the first amendment isn't a protection. Anyways, despite that, we hear that the city school district is actually dying to get more teaching of controversy into the social studies classroom. Students dig it, and it's a valued part of building democracy - deliberation, learning to disagree with an idea without attacking the person, studying a complicated topic and finding strong reasons to support your opinion, etc.

So here we are in terrorism for a couple weeks. It's not a unit my cooperating teacher has taught before. The upside is she's responsive to their interest. The workload side is we can't just open the foreign policy drawer of the file cabinet and pull out the time-honored finely-honed folder on terrorism and off we go. She has some materials, including a really good Choices unit, but it still means a fair amount of prep - at least for me.

We started this past week with what turned out to be a good discush about Afghanistan and the US covert supporting of the Mujahideen against the Soviets. The covertness added a cool wrinkle to the topic: since even most of Congress didn't know about it, yet were approving the secret funding for it, to what extent was it or was it not US foreign policy? Most of the students were into it. Yay!

This coming week we'll start with how to define terrorism. A Palestinian strapping dynamite to his chest in the West Bank, clearly. Klan lynchings, sure. But how about Sherman's March to the Sea? or the fire-bombing of Dresden or Tokyo? or the Mujahideen's rebellion? These'll be good for the students to wrestle with.

And I'll be practicing assessing their small group work and their participation in discussions realtime, and monitoring who I call on and who talks how much, and how well have I gotten to know not just the outgoing kids but all the kids even the ones who expect to never speak in class in 4 years of school.

ps -- Through the power of abbreviations, the agenda for my class on testing and assessment in college last week was to include "group anal and discussion". Group anal?! Whoa. WHOA! I don't really know what to picture for that, but I'm sure it's more than I signed up for.


littlehorn said...

You should talk about Irgun too. Try to make the point that terrorism goes across religious boundaries and nationalities.

Jerry N-K said...

good point. I'd intended to include the case of Baruch Goldstein shooting up the tomb of the patriarch in 1994. I was there in '05 and can talk about what it's like now and show the students a couple photos - the ridiculous wall down the center of the building, and how, chillingly, his grave is something of a shrine for ultrahardliners who see him as a martyr.

David said...

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!