Teaching United States History is a challenge in this, the last decade of the 20th Century. My major goal while teaching the self-centered, ethnocentric, almost adults of today is to bring them to the realization that they are an important part of a country that is affected and that affects an ever smaller, ever changing world. By the time these students finish the course it is mandatory that they understand that, as individuals, as citizens of the world, they can and that they must effect change.
Inherent in the large goal is allowing students to discover the importance of reading newspapers, of watching and analyzing television news and documentary programs, and of reading news magazines. In this way students will (hopefully) achieve a global perspective. To achieve a viewing capacity that forces them to view the world from " the richness of diverse historical, cultural, national, ideological and gender perspectives." (Teresa Hudock, Global Pages, August 1989.)
It is astonishing to encounter droves of American sixteen year olds who have never read an editorial, opened a copy of Time or Newsweek, or watched a program such as "Nightline." For this reason I incorporate use of this type of material in the classroom.
Students of today who will be the actors upon the world stage in the 21st Century must develop a view of the United States as part of a larger world, as part of a diverse, complex, interdependent global community. Seminal to this understanding is an understanding of the other countries of the world. When I signed up for this seminar on the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe, I viewed it as a way to help me to understand the Soviet Union more fully so that I could explain the root causes of the continuing (never ending?) Cold War. Students invariably ask, "How did this happen? The U.S.S.R. was our ally!" With the abrupt, unimagined end of the Cold War my confusion (and that of my students) is greater! There is now so much more to understand and then to explain to my students. This fascinating turn of events will underline another concept that I hope to inspire in my students: We live in very exciting times!
To achieve my goal of bringing students to the concept of themselves as important members of a global community I will have to create a desire in the students to learn more about their own country and how it is affected by and how it can affect other parts of the world. Implied in this goal is the task of giving students some knowledge of the other countries of the world. Analyzing other countries' effects upon the United States will lead to achieving the California State Framework's stated goals of democratic understanding and some sense of cultural understanding.
Skills goals are an integral component of any social studies course. Global understanding is impossible to achieve without critical thinking. Students will be required to analyze articles, documents, cartoons, and editorials espousing different viewpoints on a given issue. Looking at the "Cold War" and the end of it gives opportunities for developing syntheses, research, speaking, reading, map reading, and evaluating skills through written work, discussions, and debates on the issues raised.
Models and Skills:
The school year will begin with a global focus. On the board will be numbered portraits of public figures (President Bush, Saddam Hussein, Michael Jackson, Gorbachev, etc.). Students will number their papers with the same amount of numbers as those on the portraits. Then the students will name as many of these figures as possible and then label each as a "hero, villain or fool." Each student will select two figures upon which to write one paragraph giving the reason for the label of hero, villain or fool" that he/she had selected. The class will then share and discuss their opinions/labels.
The question on the board (written while students are writing) "What effect does each of these persons have upon other countries?" The teacher will then ask if there are any people in the world that may see these from a different perspective. The homework assignment will be to select one of the people written about and then to write about that person from a different perspective. Example: If a student has dubbed Saddam Hussein a "Villain" the student will need to write as if he/ she were a person who sees Saddam Hussein as a "fool" or as a "hero ".
"We live in exciting times!" is written on the board. Students will write on this as a warm-up (probably on day 2). Class will discuss this concept, sharing what has been written. These two activities will lead into the ongoing current event assignment. The class will be divided into heterogeneous groups for this activity. Each week (Wednesdays) each person in each group is responsible for one current event. The subject of the current event (from newspaper, magazine or television) is assigned according to the student's identifying number within the group. Example: All number ones are responsible for a local event, number two's for a state event, number three's for a national event and four's for an international event.
This order rotates weekly. The students report to their own group and each week one group presents a "News Broadcast" of their current events to the class. This assignment can be changed week by week to editorials or cartoons or all reports to be on the USSR etcetera once the basic structure is in place. This allows the students to develop a global perspective and to discover that "History" is happening now.
Students are encouraged to keep up on world affairs by an on-going extra credit assignment. Extra current events are always given extra credit. If the current event can be "tied in" or related by the student to what we are studying (everything can be) the extra credit points are doubled. This really forces the students to seek connections, to think!
After the eight weeks review allowed by the framework I plan to introduce the 20th Century by assigning a research project. Each student will peruse the text to find a period in the 20th century that interests him/her. The student will select a year, month, week or a day in that period to write a newspaper about. This has been an effective end of term project in the past. It is such a "turn on" for many students -- really getting them excited about History -- that I have decided to use it early in the year. As we come to the selected time periods in our course the students who have written the newspapers on that particular period become our "experts". They will share what they have unearthed in their research with the class.
According to the framework we should reach the "Cold War" during late February or March. This is when I will utilize the knowledge I have gained at the Institute. An introduction to the unit will be a quick survey of the history and geography of the Soviet Union with emphasis on the 1917 Revolution and Joseph Stalin. To introduce this unit I will use the "perspectives questionaire" developed by Judith Marx. This week's current event assignment will be the USSR or a country of Eastern Europe. (This will involve some explanation and map reading.) By March 1991 the USSR may have been redefined, who knows? Giving students this background information should help them to comprehend the information they will read in their text and in the notes that I will give them concerning the Cold War. This information will also help them to understand why the Cold War has ended. The current events that are studied and discussed (who knows what these events will be in March 1991?) will help all of us to understand the implications of the Cold War and its aftermath.
Other strategies that I will use include students' labeling and coloring blank maps of different areas we study. This helps them to understand what they read about a given area. Videos are used sparingly in my classroom. Some students are very visually orientated so it is to their benefit to show a video to enhance or clarify something in the text. I use documentaries and news broadcasts as well as some feature films. "Reds" comes to mind as a possibility for an intro to the Cold War unit. (I'll need to review it once again before showing it.)
Evaluation of Students' Learning:
During the course of the year I will be constantly evaluating students as I lead discussions, listen to debates and monitor group work. Each piece of students' written work is read and critiqued by me. This takes a tremendous amount of time but it is the only way that I can be sure that they understand what has been presented. There are also tests given at regular intervals to evaluate my teaching. Both objective and essay tests are utilized.