Category Archives: genocide

"I don’t know either"

Today I think we had a breakthrough in one of my classes. We are about a week into our PBL unit on genocide. I changed up the driving question from “Why do people hate?” to “Why do people tolerate hate?” I really want students to focus on the lack of action by the world to stop genocide in the last century and move them to DO SOMETHING about it.

South Sudan Slaves

We started off the first day with one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan as a guest who shared his story with us. The next day we talked about the scandal at Penn State and how no one intervened to help the victims. Then I introduced the driving question and we looked at this slideshow and students generated their own essential questions in groups. I told students that they would make mini-documentaries as their final product but it was going to be up to them to decide on what to do with them and to find their audience.

We spent the next few days researching. I got some pushback from some students that they did not know what “to do.” So against my goals of student-centered approach I created a template (again) to help guide them in their research.

But… we talked about my goals and purpose of the class moving from teacher directed and centered to student-centered. I told them that worksheets are the opposite of creativity.

One of my students spoke up and said that the problem was not with the research but that they did not know what their videos are supposed to look like.

I paused and responded, “I don’t know either.”

You should have seen the look on their faces. I mean how can the teacher not know what he wants for the final project.

I told them if I told them what I wanted that is exactly what they would do. But I wanted them to be creative and come up with their own ideas. I wanted them to make a video with a message for the world, not for me. Slowly I could see the lights go one. I think we turned a corner in class today. I think they are starting to understand what this class can be like if they take control and guide it instead of me….

To be continued…


Getting ready to start a new PBL project on genocide building off from the imperialism project that we will be completing this week where we asked the question “What if _____ ruled the world?” Students studied imperialism and then will write a creative essay exploring how the world would be different today if a culture other than Europe dominated.

I would like to share my outline of my next project and beg ask you all for some feedback. First of all we will discuss slavery, the beginning of racism, imperialism, and genocide. For an entry event I am working on having a couple of different groups come in to present what it is like to be a victim of genocide. I am working with a local group of Native American educators, refugees, and a pastor who is one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. I would like students to interview refugees and explore the history behind the conflicts.

Kosovo refugees from United Nations Photo

Their final presentations will be short documentary videos about the refugees. Today I got the idea of introducing Kiva to my students. Then I thought that students could have a premiere showing of their documentaries and charge admission to raise money to donate to Kiva. I am excited about this concept except for one thing: it is all my idea. I really would rather that it came from my students. So I am trying to think of a way to introduce the big concepts to students that might allow them to come to similar ideas themselves. I don’t want to force it on them either in a fake way.

My conundrum is how to do this in an authentic way. I want to tell them about Kiva because most/all have probably never heard of the concept. I also will be planning the visits of our guests and outlining documentaries as the final product. I may try to end my input there and see what students will come up with on their own. Maybe something even better than my ideas!

I know that at least one class is ready for action because a girl made a comment this week that my class is negative and depressing because of all of the negative aspects of history we have looked at so far. I definitely sense that they are ready to do something positive to make a difference in the world.

Finally my driving question for this project needs some work. I originally had the driving question of “Why do people hate?” but am not sure that is specific enough to genocide. I have also considered “Where does racism or hate come from?” but still feel like that is too specific.

So now it is your turn. How would you introduce these ideas to students with enough freedom for them to make up their own minds about what to do with it? Also can you suggest a better driving question or do you like some variation of mine?

What do you know about the history of the Congo?

I have been doing a lot of reading this summer preparing for my World History class this fall. Here is what I have read so far:

As you can see it was focused on indigenous peoples, imperialism, and the effects of it. I also watched the excellent documentary The Canary Effect.

But my most recent book has been the most disturbing to me. How much do you know about the killing that happened in the Congo from 1890-1920? Conservative estimates put the number of Africans killed at least 10 million or over half of the population. 

I must confess that I knew nothing about this before I started reading King Leopold’s Ghost . Everyone knows about the Holocaust but this history is mostly ignored. This book disturbed me on many levels: the cruelty of the Europeans toward Africans, the racism, brutality, torture, rape, and forced labor. But this book also presents “heroes” who fought against the evil acts of the Europeans. But even the “good guys” are flawed often criticizing the Belgians but ignoring the same imperialistic acts being perpetrated by their own country (Britain and the United States) against other indigenous peoples around the world. The Africans are not totally innocent either as many of them worked as soldiers for the Europeans committing terrible crimes against their own people or neighboring tribes. It was also very disturbing to me that I had never heard of these events before and I know that most Americans know nothing about it.
Africans cut off hands of people murdered to prove that they did not “waste” ammunition on animals by Gastev
I find myself a bit depressed by this book (but I highly recommend it). The more I research and learn about the history of the world I find it is full of powerful, greedy people who abuse others and endless wars. Evidence of corruption, bribery, and coverup is in every government. The United States often pretends to act for democracy and “the common good” from a moral perspective, but when the truth comes out money, power, and personal advantage in the world are the true motivations of its actions. 

Mankind never seems to learn from its mistakes and disease, poverty, wars, ethnic cleansing, and genocide continue to this day. Meanwhile the wealthy hiding behind multi-national companies build their wealth while the poor fight their battles in the name of democracy.

The only redeeming people seem to be outside of the government working for missions or human rights organizations. I want to give students a positive view of the future, but the patterns seem eternal to me. The best I may be able to give them is the power of a few strong voices to bring change. Certainly the United States has improved its treatment of many people over time but there is still much work to be done. How do you balance the truth with a positive view of the future?