Category Archives: imperialsim

Imperialism in my classroom today

I wanted to introduce imperialism and colonialism to my students in a way that would make an emotional impression so I had my principal and IT people come in and take away all of their laptops. We are a brand new school that is 1:1 laptops and the students love them.

I told the students that there was a board meeting and they decided that one of the new programs in the vocational school in our building needed them more than we did. So because of budget cuts our students were losing their computers and might get new ones next year.

It worked wonderfully. Some of them got mad. Some got emotional. Some started texting their friends or parents about it. Students choose to come to our school from 20 districts in our county. So many of them said “why should we even come here?” or “I am going to go back to my home district.” One of my favorite responses came from a student from a rural district who was very upset, “I am a farmer and this is the only technology I have. You can’t take it away from me!”

Once they were loaded on a cart and taken away I tried to continue teaching but the students kept interrupting with questions and complaints. I then asked them how it would feel to go home and have someone meet them at the door and tell them this was not their house and to leave. I then asked them how to think about how it must have felt to be Chinese, African, or Native American and have Europeans do just that.

In one class a few students had some hints that it was not real and refused to turn in their laptops in “protest.” There were two groups of protesters. One group sat on the floor in the middle of my room, but when I called them out individually they all turned in their computer. The other group was off to the side of the room and refused to give up their computers. This led to a good discussion afterwards of protesting and how they have been trained by schooling to be obedient and compliant.

When I revealed that they were getting their computers back some students just thought it was a joke. I think they got the connection after we talked about it as we gave them their computers back and specifically talked about colonization. We then looked at this slide and did “Knows and Need to Knows” (part of the PBL process).

This is where I have one question about the PBL process. The students were so excited after the simulation but by the time we got done with KNTK’s I felt like they were almost lulled to sleep. To me we lost all of our momentum as a class and went from excited to bored.

My plan is to try to re-capture some energy tomorrow by scrapping my planned mercantile simulation and instead leading a “research session” on Libya and Quidaffi. I am hoping the spontaneity of it will generate some enthusiasm because I don’t know where we will end up and want students to pursue it however they choose to.

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?