I've spent the better part of a decade following international politics and current events. I've read so many stories, reports, and studies on violence and conflict that nothing really shocks me anymore. I've become accustomed to the brutality that some humans choose to inflict on others. Genocide, war, terrorism, disease, famine. Regardless of which is the hot topic of the news, I've become numb to them.
Though not surprised, I'm still bothered and hurt by these things. The recent attacks on Paris are horrific. They are inexcusable. What my job is now is to help my students make sense of this tragedy, to answer their questions to the best of my ability and point them in the direction of more information.
Examining current events in class can be difficult, particularly when the event is controversial. After you get past the "do I have time" part of the thought process, you get to the "will I lose my job" question. Test season is right around the corner, so you have to decide what amount of time to devote to current events is helpful to your kids. Some will decide that any time away from content is detrimental to their students. I don't fault anyone for making that choice. As for the concern for employment, there's a way to discuss these things while also staying within school and district guidelines. If you stick to the facts you should be OK.
Relevant TEKS - US History 2D and 11A; World History 14 A&B; World Geography 18 B
Religious extremism is part of our social studies curriculum and is something that all religions have to deal with. Islamic extremism has been at the forefront of the discussion in the past 20 years because of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and others.
The statements released by ISIS include language rooted in a historical conflict that is being used to justify violence against innocent people. Terms like "crusader," "imperialist," and "Zionist" are loaded terms that are being used to characterize the west and the actions of western countries in the Middle East. This can be a good place to start with the discussion.
The history of France in the Middle East is also particularly interesting and can be part of the discussion of the "why" of it all. Why France? Those making historical arguments will talk about French colonization of North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, and other places) as well as their interventions in Lebanon and Syria in the mid 1800s.
As far as the motivations of terrorism, Islamic extremists manipulate the Quran to justify their actions. Prior to the attack this past week, there have been other instances and violence associated with the Muslim prohibition against images and art depicting Muhammad. About a week prior to the recent attacks, there was another, smaller shooting in relation to that grievance. The concept of Jihad is also employed by these terrorist groups who seek to frame their actions as a defense of the faith.
You can also discuss this in the context of the presidential election and voting behavior of the American public. George W Bush had higher approval ratings after 9/11. Why? Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz got in social media immediately after the attacks and are part of several elected officials that are now calling for the prevention of refugees from Syria entering the United States because of fear of their connection with ISIS. How could that impact their respective bids for both the Republican party nomination and the US presidency?
Our responsibility as educators is to help our students make sense of a confusing, shocking, scary, and ever changing world. Terrorism is wrong. Attacking defenseless people trying to enjoy their Friday evenings is wrong. Talking about why the attacks happened, the potential impact, and how we prevent something so horrible from ever happening again is a worthwhile use of our time, even if it's just a few minutes.
Questions My Students Asked:
Does Abu Bakr really have that much control over ISIS?
What does ISIS want?
How do they have money?
What strategy should we use against them?
How do we stop the fighting?
I didn't have answers to all of the questions and I didn't pretend to, but the discussion itself was worthwhile and the students enjoyed using this opportunity to work with the news and see history as something more than old people in dusty books. History is alive. They felt that today.
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