Exploring Global Connections International Relations with Andrea Diaz

The history curriculum at Rivers challenges students to go beyond just knowing dates, names and events from the past. It encourages them to analyze the past from different perspectives, to think critically about the ways in which societies evolved, and to make connections between the past, present, and future.

To accomplish that, courses are carefully crafted and arranged to provide a logical growth path for student learning. “Student learning should proceed on a continuum that builds skills progressively and leads students into deeper and deeper levels of complexity,” says Andrea Diaz, chair of the history department.

In the Upper School, that growth path begins in 9th grade with a course in world history that focuses primarily on the past 200 years. The course is not taught chronologically, however. Rather, students study history through the lens of different thematic units such as wealth and poverty, violence and conflict, and the function of religion/ethics in the human experience.

It’s an approach, says Diaz, that makes the material more engaging for students and more effective for making connections between the past and present. It also makes it easier to understand the complexities of various socio-political issues. Finally, it provides context and a framework for understanding the courses students will take in later years.

History department chair Andrea Diaz makes current events central to her class on International Relations.

After completing United States History in the 10th grade, students in grades 11 and 12 can choose from several AP courses as well as an array of trimester electives. Diaz teaches three of these electives: International Relations; Cities: The History of Metropolitan Culture; and Modern Latin America.

In her International Relations elective, Diaz stretches students' understanding of the dynamics that shape the relationships between nations. She teaches students about the four fundamental theories of international relations--realism, constructivism, liberalism, and radicalism--and then helps them apply the theories to current events so that “we can understand what is motivating different countries to do the things they do.”

“Students come to see that international affairs are complex and that finding solutions to global problems is not easy. They come to appreciate the importance of compromise, diplomacy, and cross-cultural understanding,” says Diaz. “It also makes them appropriately skeptical of those who suggest there are easy solutions to these complicated problems.”

I love teaching at Rivers because of the tremendous amount of freedom teachers have to make courses engaging and relevant. Creativity and innovation is strongly supported at both the institutional and departmental level." — Andrea Diaz, history department chair

Diaz ensures the course is tied tightly to current events by giving students a bi-weekly assignment to select a news story that is relevant to the study of international relations and present an oral summary of what the article is about. Students must choose a different area of the globe for each report - Southeast Asia one week, Africa the next, Western Europe the next. The exercise gives students the chance to engage in deep discussions about countries, such as Russia and North Korea and France, whose relationships with the U.S are in the media that surrounds them every day.

One significant new asset that Diaz and all the teachers at Rivers have at their disposal this year is the Center for Community and Civic Engagement, directed by the former chair of the history department, Dr. Amy Enright. Equipped with a video conferencing system and driven by its mission to teach students how to become knowledgeable, engaged citizens in the world, the center provides the potential for exciting new learning opportunities.

“The center will help us strengthen the connection between history and current events, and it will create new opportunities for our students to talk directly with experts in various topics located around the world,” says Diaz. “The center will help bring to life even more vividly for students the concept that past is prologue.”

Photos by John Hurley

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The Rivers School