About the Course

Course Description

Rwanda, 1994

This course, focused on the global community since the end of the Cold War, is organized, in part, around the photojournalism of James Nachtwey, the preeminent war photographer of our time.  The photographs he has taken throughout his 40 year
career have had immediate and lasting impact.  His cover story in The New York Times Magazine focused attention on the humanitarian crisis in Somalia that had been largely ignored by mainstream media.  His photographs of the horrors in Rwanda helped put a human face on a tragedy so many were unwilling to call genocide.  He has said that, through his photographs, he bears witness to events which “should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.” Through the use of some of his
photographs as well as contemporary resources such as those offered by the Choices curriculum developed at Brown, this course will be a powerful way for students to tackle the issues that confront us as a global community.  

There can be nothing be more important to the education of future global citizens than instilling the disposition to see others as they see themselves by provoking inquiry, engendering compassion, and inspiring change.  The units provided in this curriculum will be organized around four basic themes:
•        New World [dis]Order of the 1990s: Nationalism, War, & Genocide
•        America After 9-11: The Single Story of Afghanistan, Pakistan, & Iraq
•        Frustration & Hope of “The Arab Spring”
•        Globalization

Given the provocative subject matter of the course, compelling questions will be raised that will require research and analysis, fostering a multitude of information literacy and critical thinking skills.  The multiple perspectives inherent in discussion of these topics will sharpen presentation, discussion, and leadership skills.  Therefore, everything connected to this course, such as the reading materials, activities, assignments, and assessments, will all reflect the Common Core Standards, particularly those for History/Social Studies, Informational Text reading Writing and Speaking and Listening. 

Still from the film ‘War Photographer’ (Documentary, Switzerland 2001)

Most of the units will begin with one of James Nachtwey’s images.  The photographs used to begin the discussion would lead to inquiry and the development of curriculum around specific issues.  The “What do you see?” questions that begin an exploration of each photograph would naturally evolve into: “Why am I seeing this?,” “How did this happen?,” and, hopefully, “How can this be prevented?”  Thus, images would be the starting point for an inquiry based curriculum. 

The approach will be interdisciplinary.  For example in the unit “After 9-11” when
students study the historic roots and the current challenges of the situation in Afghanistan, they will read one of Khaled Hosseini’s books, either Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns; discuss possible exit strategies and their geopolitical ramifications using the CHOICES curriculum, The US in Afghanistan, and debate our exits from Iraq and Afghanistan using the Great Decisions materials produced by the Foreign Policy Association.  Including Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist as part of the exploration of the role of Pakistan in the complex web of events triggered by 9-11 helps students make deeper connections to some of the ramifications of the “War on Terror.”


Now more than ever, teachers need to provide context and understanding of the world in which we live so that future citizens will be able to grapple with the complexity of the issues which face us.  Having taught in four schools in four states over the past 30 years, I have found it increasingly problematic that most high school programs of study spend so little time on the current global situation.  American history courses seem to struggle to get past Vietnam; world history courses seem lucky to get to the Cold War.  Yet, how can we expect our future citizens to make intelligent voting decisions, let alone survive in a world that is now so interconnected, when they have virtually no understanding of contemporary global events?  Including currents events when there is time does not sufficiently allow for teaching the complexity of the challenges that face us now.  Not only do we need to teach more about the global community in which we live, but we have to teach about it in a way that will foster 21st century skills and a disposition to care about being active global citizens.  

Assumptions Underlying the Curriculum

This course is based on three observations that I have had as a result of my 30 or so years teaching English and Social Studies, both separately and together.

1. Most high school curricula spend too little time on the contemporary global situation. American history courses seem to struggle to get past Vietnam; world history courses seem lucky to get to the Cold War. Beyond the time constraints, there are also the difficulties involved in teaching about the dynamic and complex events of the contemporary global situation. Materials have to researched and updated constantly, political points of view have to be balanced and, even more challenging, teachers and students have to understand that there are no “correct” answers that can be found in a textbook.

2. An interdisciplinary approach to content is dynamic and fosters a different engagement in the material. So many possibilities arise when disciplines are merged; students can be “hooked” through more avenues – history, literature, philosophy, art, music – and understanding deepens as a result. High order thinking skills of analysis and synthesis are naturally embedded as students and teachers make connections across disciplines that are traditionally kept separate.

3. Art is a seductive and provocative entry point to difficult material. Classroom conversation begins with “what do you see?” No one has to know anything to participate.  The Learning to Look method developed by the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College helps teachers develop skills to lead conversations about works of art with their students. Never having had any experience with art or art history, I had never before thought about using art in my curriculum.