Friday, February 23, 2018

Aliens 2: The Return for Natural Resources

We've moved from governments to colonization and imperialism.

Colonization (per google):  The action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area; the action of appropriating a place or domain for ones own use

A while back it hit me: basically every alien movie, book, TV show or video game is about colonization.

For instance:

Right around 1:05, we hear the speaker say, "When you invade a place for its resources, you wipe out its indigenous population.  Right now we are being colonized."

And this is what colonization is - whether it's by aliens or people groups.

I told my students they could get extra credit if they posted a trailer in the comments showing an alien movie that depicted colonization.  They can't use one that someone else used in comment above them, and it has to be school appropriate, of course.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Little Dissent

The past two days, I've been called out twice by students.  We've started talking about the purpose of governments, different types of governments, etc...

I teach them that according to Jefferson, a good government is there to protect people and their rights.  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights,, Governments are instituted among Men..."

I generally start off the discussion with some kind of bellwork question.  Sometimes it ends up dominating the lesson.  "Should students and teacher have the same authority?  Why or why not?  What do you think would happen?..."  or maybe "Explain the quote, 'Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'"

Monday's was, "What is the purpose of government?  What does it do?  Do we (human beings/ Americans) need a government?  Why or why not?  What do you think would happen if we didn't have a government?"

We haven't really dug into governments yet, but we've touched upon the concept.  We've been keeping a "Threat List" this year of all the threats facing America.  So we talked about the purpose of government a bit there.  And studying ancient civilizations we looked at government, and law, and why we punish.  Government plays a key role in The Hunger Games - which we've been reading all year.  So a lot of students were regurgitating what they'd learned in some form.  This was nice, you know, because it showed me that they'd learned something.  But here was my favorite response to the question, which was definitely not a regurgitation: 

"The purpose of a government is to protect us.  Our government argues more than it does anything.  I think that we - the Americans - do not need a government because we are supposed to have freedom and all that stuff, but we don't get that.  If you speed, you have to pay the government.  And the government lies to us, and watches us, and spies on its own people.  I do not think the government is necessary.  I don't think it is necessary because they are a bunch of fools and phonies.  I don't think too much would happen if we didn't have a government.  For sure there would be less sexual allegations (against government officials).  I say this because the government is like a reality show - they talk a lot around cameras, but don't do anything behind closed doors."*

There's quite a bit of truth there - even though I wholeheartedly disagree with his conclusion.  There is a lot of posturing talk.  Oftentimes things (sometimes obvious things) don't get done.  Our government doesn't completely trust the people, and the people don't completely trust the government.  And our system is weird, because the people are the government.

And today, when I asked people to compare the ways that The Capitol (from The Hunger Games) takes rights away from its citizens, and ways that The United States secures the rights of it's citizens a student said, "this sounds a lot like propaganda."  And I was so glad to have that kid in class.  And sometimes I wonder, is it?   I spend a lot of time talking about the rights we have in our country - both guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, and others which we maybe take for granted:

Freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly, movement, the right to own weapons... The freedom to complain and ask for things to get better without fear of retribution from our government.  Freedom from torture, or the threat of torture, or other cruel and unusual punishments.  The right to privacy, and freedom of thought...

But we haven't really discussed current situations where other governments protect their citizens and extend rights where ours don't.  Senator Sanders may bring up other countries offering Universal Health Care.  Colin Kaepernick might say police brutality and racial injustice is still a major issue in The United States.  Indiana Rep. Jim Lucas might be concerned that the right to own guns is being chipped away.

We often tiptoe around controversy until the controversy has passed.  We can look back (as we did today) at Fannie Lou Hamer and see the rights that were granted after they had been denied and talk about how great America is.  But Senator Sanders, Colin Kaepernick, and Rep. Lucas are all - from different sides of the aisle - telling us that there's always more work to be done.

My students are right to remind me about that as well.

*lightly and incompletely edited for spelling, grammar, and clarity.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Gilgamesh: Stories, and A Soundtrack

We recently did a close reading of the 10th Tablet of The Epic of Gilgamesh.  Students had to figure out what happened to Gilgamesh's best friend, Enkidu.  (Spoiler alert: he died.)  Then they had to give 4 pieces of evidence from the text showing that he died.  (If you're a kid who didn't do this, you can find it here.)

The problem with close reading is you're in danger of killing a good text.  I love the passage I chose.  I love that we're 4000 years from Gilgamesh, and 6000 miles from Gilgamesh, and still telling the story.

And not only that, but we are telling this story in many of our stories.  In Gilgamesh we see fear, and love.  We see friendship.  We see a person who is faced with dying before they're read - and the desire to live forever.  I've said this before, but much of it reminds me of The Fault in Our Stars.

I went back and reread the story today.  The students know it by now, and it's often worth rereading something after you know what happens.  They knew why Gilgamesh looked haggard, emaciated, and desolate.  They knew why the tavern keeper didn't trust him.  They knew what had happened to Enkidu.  This time, though, we read it with a soundtrack.  I thought it gave it something of a cinematic feel:

I can picture a grimy faced, tired Gilgamesh with ice in his beard, sleeping on a bed of pine needles.  Eating grubs.  Weeping.  Walking up to the massive wooden doors of the tavern, begging a night on his name.  Telling his tale to the skeptical tavern keeper.

If you're hoping for some end-of-the-semester extra credit, you should have read the blog post with an adult.  If you did that, tell them who Utnapishtim is/was.  Then, tell them why Gilgamesh was looking for him, and what you think happened to Gilgamesh.  Write at least a sentence, telling what you think happened to Gilgamesh.  Have the adult you read the blog with sign the paper.  Turn it in tomorrow in the extra credit spot.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Threat List

What are the greatest threats facing the United States today?

We are social studies.  It's everywhere.  The land we live on.  The people we elect to lead us.  The way we use money.  It's what we believe about God or gods, and how we relate to our friends.  It's the culture in the TV shows we enjoy, and the headlines we pick up from... well... wherever we pick them up from.

It makes sense to teach social studies using what's going on in the world.  A respected colleague of  mine has had a lot of success teaching this way.  His students love him.

One of the things he has done in the past is keep a running "QV List."  I've often wanted to try that, but I was never quite sure how to go about it.

So this year, for the first time, I found myself keeping multiple lists with the classes, depending on the topic.  But one list has taken center-stage: The Threat List.

It's a running list of threats facing These United States.  They often have ties (sometime loose ties) to what we're talking about, or will be talking about.  Geography, government, the economy, religion...  Here's the list as it stands today:

In case the images are blocked, it reads:
  • North Korea
  • ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)
  • Disease (None pressing, as Ebola or Zika were recently)
    • Opioid epidemic
  • Forest fires (west)
  • Hurricanes (major ones)
  • Afghanistan
  • Terrorism
    • International (Outside our country)
    • Domestic (Inside our country)
  • Non-terroristic "Lone Wolf" attacks
  • Crumbling infrastructure
  • Russia's misinformation campaign
  • Pollution
I wasn't sure what form this list would take.  It seems like we're adding things I hadn't thought of every other week.  I'm noticing differences in the ways we approach different threats.  Different political tones. While we studied the economy, I wondered about the economic toll these threats placed on our country.  When we study government, I'll be sure to bring up the primary purpose of government: keep it's citizens safe, and protect their rights.

We don't bring up the list everyday, but it has brought something new to the classroom.  I'm hoping that it will be a reminder to my students when they're older that America has always faced threats.  That when they grow up and people talk about how much better, and safer the world was when they were kids, they'll be able to recognize that we always faced threats, we always had problems, but we also worked to overcome and solve them.

And they're at the age where they'll start hearing about these things outside of the classroom.  As they get older, parents are sheltering them less and less.  While we can never be fully mentally prepared for the threats we as a nation face, acknowledging that they are there is a step.

Students can earn extra credit by reading and discussing the blog with an adult.  After you've read and discussed it with them, answer the following questions with that adult on a scrap of paper: What do you think about the list?  Should anything be added?  Should anything be removed?  Sign and date the scrap of paper, and have the adult do the same.  Turn it in tomorrow in the extra credit tray.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Culture to Standard of Living to Economy to Human Capital

There is no perfect path to teaching social studies.

I want to review culture, and the cultural ingredients:

  • food
  • dress
  • religion
  • language
  • standard of living
  • the arts
  • government
  • values
  • customs
  • ethnicity
But I also want to dig deeper into understanding them.  But digging deeper takes time.  Take standard of living, for instance.

To understand that, we've got to understand the economy.

And to understand the economy, we have to know what GDP is.

And when I teach economy, I want to teach human capital, because they tie together so well.

...But now we're many degrees of separation from culture.

So, Monday we're going to fly back to culture, and hope that we don't all forget the lessons on economics.

If you want credit for reading discussing the blog today, find a scrap of paper and define human capital on it.  (We did this today in class.)  If you were absent, and need to make up the points, go to the "human capital" link.  Figure out what human capital is from that.  Write it on a scrap of paper, and turn it in tomorrow.