The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA

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Fighting for Independence

Daintry Duffy Zaterka '88
In Modern World Cultures, eighth graders explore history from multiple perspectives as they consider how nations achieve independence.
The concepts of identity and perspective are central to Modern World Cultures (MWC), the eighth grade history course that looks at 20th-century post-colonial civilizations and the often tumultuous path to independence in places like Ireland, South Africa, Korea, Palestine, and the Balkans. Unlike many history courses focused on colonization, MWC focuses on the people and nations that have been colonized and how they wrest themselves from that control and gain a political voice. "We want to show students that history isn't just one set of accepted facts or a single narrative," says history teacher Emily McCauley, "and that when history is occurring, it is deeply personal."

MWC challenges students to consider each of these conflicts from multiple perspectives, which can be challenging for students used to seeing history as a binary of good versus evil. Much of class time is spent on active discussion, where students are encouraged to be dispassionate, objective, and open-minded as they analyze, debate, and sometimes disagree. "One of the slogans in my class is that 'nobody ever thinks they are the bad guy,'" says history teacher Tony Bator, "so we need to think about why each side thinks that they are right."

The texts and resources used in MWC are carefully chosen to make these thorny conflicts, and the various identities, cultures, and experiences involved, more accessible to students. When studying the Troubles in Ireland, students read contemporary poetry, including works by Seamus Heaney, such as "Whatever You Say, Say Nothing," and Pádraig Ó Tuama's collection of poetry, Sorry For Your Troubles. Students also enjoyed a presentation from Dr. Peter O'Neill, Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and Intercultural Studies at the University of Georgia. As a teenager, Professor O'Neill participated in multiple civil rights demonstrations in his hometown of Derry, and he shared his first-person account from Bloody Sunday on January 30, 1972, with students. 

When students study Korea, they will read The Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi about the Japanese occupation and then Trevor Noah's Born a Crime when they learn about South Africa. The ESPN documentary Once Brothers highlights the impact of the war between Serbia and Croatia on two NBA players who grew up playing basketball together but found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. In the spring, students will read The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, which illuminates the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the true story of a lemon tree and its connection to families on either side. 

One change this year is the coordination between MWC and the eighth grade English curriculum. While students explore history and first-person accounts in MWC, they read literature and poetry in English that examine how these events have shaped identity over the years. "When people are living in a historical moment, they're not able to pull themselves out of their own subjectivity," says English Department Chair Dr. Joseph Mendes. "But fiction allows you to do that." This cross-curricular coordination adds greater depth and breadth to the voices and perspectives that students are exposed to in each unit.  This summer, for example, students read Hope Against Hope by Sheena Wilkinson, a fictional account of a young girl growing up during the Irish War of Independence, which preceded the Troubles. This book provided students with a basic overview of Irish geopolitics to introduce the first unit on Ireland. When MWC focuses on Palestine, they will read the poems of Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet. "We're shedding light on people whose voices aren't typically heard," says Dr. Mendes.

MWC gives students multiple ways to express their understanding of complex topics during the year, from discussion and debate to analytical writing, videos, and art-based projects. The culminating project for the Ireland unit required students to write an analysis of whether Ireland during the Troubles reflected the ideals that underpinned the Irish push for independence. Students used evidence from a poem they had studied and one of two songs, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2 or "Zombie" by The Cranberries. The second part of the project required students to create a mural in the style of Northern Ireland's political murals. "While the analysis should be objective and unbiased, the mural, in many ways, is the opposite," says Emily. "The mural shows the feelings that the artist wanted to capture." The hope is that the class enables students to understand the history of these conflicts and to appreciate the human experience within a historical moment.

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