Voices From Beyond the Dark

Our claim is:


The Four Rivers schoolwide targets this project addresses:

These are the targets and assessments for this expedition.

In their Social Studies class, 11th graders at Four Rivers study World History through the lens of human rights. They grapple with a long list of questions and central to their inquiry is the question of how a democratic government that serves its people can transform to become an authoritarian dictatorship or disintegrate into civil disorder - and how citizens work to restore, reclaim or restablish democracy. Working with the concept of the cycle illustrated in the graphic below, students create an identity map.

They start with naming the characteristics of the United States: how do we describe the identity of our country? They then move to mapping their own identity, naming the qualities and characteristics that are intrinsic to how they see themselves. They map their "universe of obligation", beginning with themselves in the middle and moving outward to include those closest to them and then farther out to the outermost rings where they list people or things to which they feel obligation, but not as strongly. And then there are all the people and things that are not on the map at all. The thought experiment that follows asks students to imagine how they can expand their universe of obligation. Who or what is missing? What would have to change to make the universe of obligation more encompassing? This is a concept they return to repeatedly.

Students learn about the conditions that led to World War I and about the transformation of the Weimar Republic into the Nazi regime. After reading the graphic novel, "Maus", by Art Spiegleman, students research those who worked to resist the atrocities of Hitler's government and, using primary sources, they craft a monologue in the voice of a person who took action.They study conflict on the African continent, including the genocidal conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi and read the book "Strength in What Remains" by Tracy Kidder. This book tells the story of Deo, who flees genocide in Burundi and ends up homeless in Central Park, NYC. Returning to the idea of the unverse of oligation, students think about how an expanded universe of obligation might help us to avoid these types of situations and conflicts. They explore the idea of shelter as a metaphor, connected to the concept of an expanded universe of obligation.

Throughout the year, students create and tend a blog on any issue they choose, so long as it has to do with something connected to the issues they are discussiing and learning about in their history class. Here is an example of a blog created by a student who focused on the scarcity of clean water in developing countries.

Post 1, Post 2, Post 3

Next, students learn about the revolution in South Africa and the inception of the Truth and Reconciliation practices used in the wake of Nelson Mandela's transition to power. They read case studies and tranfer their learning to new contexts in writing about restorative justice as they imagine that practice happening in other places or situations.

Students are asked to choose a topic from world history to research and write about. It is the culminating writing assignment and in their papers they tranfer all the understandings they have developed over the year to a new and unfamiliar context. Students describe this paper as quite challenging! The semester ends with a peformance that is presented in this portfolio under High Quality Work, claim 3.

We made the claim that our students connect what they are learning to events and issues happening in the world beyond the classroom and consider multiple perspectives and positions. This is all they do in their Modern World History class! They grapple with complex conflicts in which there are many stakeholders with conflicting needs and values, and work to understand how societies devolve and evolve. They learn to think about the positive impact we can have by expanding our universe of obligation to include people we will never meet and who have no direct relevance to our daily lives. They for sure come away with the understanding that Hitler wasn't a fluke, genocide is an on-going contemporary problem, and that we all hold a piece of the responsibility to tend and safeguard democracy.

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