Why I must teach about the KKK and North Korea

How current events shape each school year.

I teach Global History to tenth graders in New York State. That means that my tenth graders are mandated to take (and pass) the New York State Global History exam every June. That also means that my teaching is judged based on how well they do on that exam.

Global history is a survey class covering from 1750 to present day. I am not mandated to teach current events, but by omitting pressing concerns and happenings the content becomes disconnected, irrelevant, and static. The study of the social sciences is really the analysis of cause and effect, a thousand times over. If it was a neat time line one could plot on on a college-ruled loose-leaf paper, I would not want my job.

Although stopping to discuss current events is often draining and time-consuming, I continue to begin each school year with current world topics. As the year progresses, I continually engage my students to learn about the world in which they inherit.

I naively began the 2016–2017 school year with the discussion of Syria, Iraq, India and the 2016 presidential election. I did not anticipate that current topics would permeate my teaching more than any other year previous in my twenty-three-year tenure. I could not predict that I would discuss things like executive orders, walls along our borders, and inappropriate sexual discussions made by political candidates. I would never have guessed that I would have immigrant students crying in my suburban classroom about fears of deportation. Nor, would I have told you that I was remotely considering that a student would place a Confederate flag on his truck and taunt other students. Never in a million years, would I have suspected that two students would discuss how they saw Hitler’s nationalism and exclusion as a positive, or that one of those children would go on to inform another student, who was born in Nepal, that foreigners should get out of America. No, I was flabbergasted–that is not how my school or my classroom operates. I was unprepared for the blatant extreme nationalism, racism, xenophobia, victim accusing, Islamophobia, and sexism that the students exhibited.

For the most part, however, I ended 2016–2017 feeling like I was on an extremely important journey with my students. It was my responsibility to give them forums in which they could speak their minds, disagree, fact check and digest this brave new world we are living in. I had to call out a few students, give others safe spaces to discuss unpopular ideas (even when I personally disagreed), and ultimately model integrity, inclusion, and pluralism. I felt lost in a big ocean of civil discourse with adolescents that looked to me for instruction. It was exhausting, compelling, maddening, and inspiring. Mostly, I was tired.

I have three weeks until I begin my journey with a new crop of sophomores. I feel better prepared. However, discussion of current events in living rooms or classrooms opens up cans and cans of worms. Obviously, I am hesitant to digest big issues like racism and threats of nuclear war, but if not me then who will lead my students? Who will give them space and time to read many sources of information in order to synthesize and reach their own conclusions? If I don’t offer topics with a historical lens, who will allow them to make historical connections to today’s problems?

So, I will risk being labeled another “liberal” teacher and try again to show the students there are many sides to all stories. I will demonstrate that all news has the potential be “fake,:” and that sensationalism and yellow journalism are not new. I will have difficult discussions about men named Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and yes, even Trump. That is what I do. I am a social studies teacher.


One thought on “Why I must teach about the KKK and North Korea

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Up ↑

Critical Classrooms, Critical Kids

Challenging the forces that are taking creativity and inspiration out of the classrooms.


Public school teacher and fan of public education. Not a fan of privatization, high-stakes testing, or bad "reform."


Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension

Round the Inkwell

the blog of Carol Burris

Tabby Ren Elle

the Gratitude Journal of a Music Warlord


Destroying education, one student at a time.

Filling the pail

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." - As W. B. Yeats never said


Parenting with FAITH and FUN!

ELA Brave and True

It's Language Arts, Not Language Science.

I Love You but You're Going to Hell

Awkward Conversations about School and Society

little word studio

arts + entertainment blog

The Educators Room

Empowering Teachers as the Experts

The Conversation Room

Ideas worth exploring

From Mage Mind

When a mage is sharing what's on his mind. Business, Motivation, Positive life, Success, Marketing and Good Ideas.

Emeka Ofili

Inspiration and gospels

Daniel Katz, Ph.D.

Supporting public schools and the children they serve

radical eyes for equity

Confronting "our rigid refusal to look at ourselves" (James Baldwin)

Urban Education Mixtape

... A Strong Rhyme to Step To


Inspired by research, refined by practice

Education Rickshaw

International Teaching in Motion

Get Schooled

Your source to discuss and learn about education in Georgia and the nation and share opinions and news with Maureen Downey.

Cloaking Inequity

A blog focused on education and social justice

Growing Children

A teacher’s blog about the art of helping children grow--at home, at school and in the garden.


A Magazine That Delves Into All Things LIFE.


A fine WordPress.com site

In Dianes Kitchen

Recipes showing step by step directions with pictures and gadget reviews

My Best Laid Plans

Where Brokenness and Grace Collide

By: Jamaal A. Bowman

Public Schools Rule!

Corey R. Payne



Two Literacy Teachers Learning and Sharing in the Blended Learning Classroom


Telling all sides of the parenting story

Diary of a Deelexia Mom

Blog about life with amazing kids.


Dedicated to truth-telling for democracy.

Crazy Normal - the Classroom Exposé

An insider's look at education, teaching, parenting and coming of age.

Teacher as guide

Rethinking the purpose of school and the role of the teacher


What's happening with public education in Indianapolis.

Jonathan Camac

Student of Life. Advocate for serious joy in Christ.

Holy and Chic Mama

A motherhood and lifestyle blog

The happy Quitter!

It started when I gave up smoking and went from there!

%d bloggers like this: