Rambo Teaches Social Studies (Part III)

Steinbeck, Friere, and… Kuzco? Oh my.

Part III: The WHAT

(Today’s entry is the third installment in a three part series. Click here to read the first part of the story, and here to read the second).

Two days ago we discussed the WHY behind designing a new course on the developing world. Yesterday we discussed HOW to approach a fully student-centered pedagogy. And today, we’re kicking around a bunch of material and ideas related to just WHAT, exactly, students might expect to encounter in terms of course content.

One of the biggest secrets of a 21st century education is that with the limitless wealth of resources out there for self-guided learning, people really don’t care *how* you learned something — they simply want to see that you’ve learned it, and what you can do with this knowledge once you have it. So whether it’s from graphic novels, textbooks, YouTube videos, non-fiction memoirs, database research, or current event articles, the end result is that learners walk away with a deeper understanding of the case study in question. Think of the fact finding phase of this course (and really, any other course) alike we were dipping a sponge into a vast ocean of content. The goal is to get students comfortable not with any one area of the ocean, but with the muscle memory of dipping itself. And once they’ve become familiar with how to fill their sponges with new information, we’ll work together on documenting where they found what they found, vetting credible sources, and helping to construct a broader and more cohesive narrative of how each of the collected pieces of their research puzzles fit together to tell the story of a culture, a country, or a people in the Developing World.

Because personal stories help give a face to far-off concepts, and compelling human drama (be it factual or inspired by world of fiction set in rich cultural locales) helps students remember and take genuine interest in the deeper issues at play. In short, we’re storytelling. And our goal as content curators is to select diverse, colorful, and compelling stories that will help our learners form deep-seated memories and authentic cultural empathy that can last a lifetime.

With some help from Amazon and Wikipedia to provide a bit of background context, here are just a handful of some of the phenomenal resources that students can tap into along with traditional research and current event articles to help develop deeper understanding and empathy for the people and cultures in the developing world. Stories help students give a face and a name to the far-off nations that they are researching, and creating a course tapestry where we weave together excerpts, passages, scenes and snippets from resources like those listed below can be an incredibly powerful way to bring the study of these people and their cultures to life!

The Moon Is Down (novel) – John Steinbeck (1942)
“Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat.” This compelling, dignified and moving novel was inspired by and based upon the Nazi invasion of neutral Norway. Set in an imaginary European mining town, it shows what happens when a ruthless totalitarian power is up against an occupied democracy with an overwhelming desire to be free.

Things Fall Apart (novel) – Chinua Achebe (1958)

Things Fall Apart is a novel written by Nigerian author China Achebe. Published in 1958, its story chronicles pre-colonial life in the south-eastern part of Nigeria and the arrival of the Europeans during the late nineteenth century. It is seen as the archetypal modern African Novel in English, one of the first to receive global critical acclaim. It is a staple book in schools throughout Africa and is widely read and studied in English-speaking countries around the world.

Pedagogy of the Opressed (non-fiction book) – Paulo Freire (1968)
First published in Portuguese in 1968, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was translated and published in English in 1970. The methodology of the late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire has helped to empower countless impoverished and illiterate people throughout the world. Freire’s work has taken on especial urgency in the United States and Western Europe, where the creation of a permanent underclass among the underprivileged and minorities in cities and urban centers is increasingly accepted as the norm.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (movie) – Paramount (1984)

This prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark sees globetrotting archaeologist Indiana Jones ricocheted into a dangerous adventure in India. With his faithful companion Short Round and nightclub singer Willie Scott, Indy goes in search of the magical Sankara stone, and uncovers an ancient evil which threatens all who come into contact with it. This film was one of the first in history to receive a PG-13 rating, and it remains a flashpoint of cultural controversy due to its depictions of child labor, overly primitive cultures, and erroneously savage native customs.

The Emperor’s New Groove (animated movie) – Disney (2000)
Set in a fictional South American kingdom located high in mountains inspired by Machu Picchu in Peru, a charismatic but selfish young Emperor Kuzco (voiced by David Spade) tries to annex the humble home of a friendly peasant named Pacha (John Goodman) when he is mistakenly transformed into a llama by his devious advisor, Yzma (Eartha Kitt). Together, Kuzco and Pacha must overcome their differences and embark on an adventure to find the good in everyone.

When Did I See You Hungry? (black and white photography book) – Gerard Thomas Straub (2002)
This book is a collection of photographs from the West Indies, Indonesia, India, and Appalachia, and presents a heartbreaking reality about life in poverty and our responsibility to help those who are forced to live on the margins of society. The photographs in this book depict real people—suffering souls whose lives are spent in the harshly cruel prison of poverty. To look into their eyes, eyes that are profoundly human and tragically sad, compels the observer to want to do something to relieve the pain, to end the misery.

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (autobiography) – Immaculée Ilibagiza (2006)

Immaculee Ilibagiza grew up in a country she loved, surrounded by a family she cherished. But in 1994 her idyllic world was ripped apart as Rwanda descended into a bloody genocide. Immaculee’s family was brutally murdered during a killing spree that lasted three months and claimed the lives of nearly a million Rwandans. Incredibly, Immaculee survived the slaughter. For 91 days, she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them.  

The Arrival (graphic novel) – Shaun Tan (2006)

The Arrival is a wordless graphic novel that features an immigrant’s life in an imaginary world that sometimes vaguely resembles our own. Without the use of dialogue or text, Shaun Tan portrays the experience of a father emigrating to a new land. Tan differentiates The Arrival from children’s picture books, explaining that there’s more emphasis on continuity in texts with multiple frames and panels, and that a “graphic novel” text like his more closely resembles a film making process. Tan has said he wanted his book to build a kind of empathy in readers: “In Australia, people don’t stop to imagine what it’s like for some of these refugees. They just see them as a problem once they’re here, without thinking about the bigger picture. I don’t expect the book to change anybody’s opinion about things, but if it at least makes them pause to think, I’ll feel as if I’ve succeeded in something.”

Slumdog Millionaire (movie) – Fox Searchlight (2008)

As 18-year-old Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) answers questions on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” flashbacks show how he got there. Part of a stable of young thieves after their mother dies, Jamal and his brother, Salim, survive on the streets of Mumbai. Salim finds the life of crime agreeable, but Jamal scrapes by with small jobs until landing a spot on the game show. Directed by Danny Boyle, this film won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Picture.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (autobiography) – Malala Yousafzai (2013)

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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