Archive for Thursday, November 15, 2001

An earnest quest for understanding

Students, teachers search to learn about diverse cultures in light of tragedy

November 15, 2001

At a recent speech on Islam, about half of the audience consisted of high school students. Sure, high school social studies teacher Robyn Kelso may have given students extra credit for their attendance, but the students are proof that Eudora schools are adding a new emphasis on the Middle East and current events.

For Kelso, introducing the Middle East into her curriculum hasn't been difficult since she planned to do so anyway.

"I wanted to start with a region of the world the students weren't familiar with," Kelso said. "Most of my students know about the U.S., Mexico and Canada. I wanted to start with the Middle East. It was more of a fluke than anything."

Kelso also taught her students about Afghanistan's physical features, which include mountain ranges.

"It's cold, it's snowy, and there are no four-lane highways," she said.

Her government classes have included discussions about how civil liberties might be affected by a domestic battle against terrorism.

"Most of them thought that was something they could handle, but they didn't want to see it go into a political state."

Erin Barnett, who teaches world history and civics, said her classes have read Time magazine religiously and worked on a map to locate different places in the news. When she does a unit on world religion, it will cover Islam.

"That, I think, will be really beneficial just for the kids to know what the religion is like; the difference between the extremist groups and the regular people."

Although world history doesn't focus much on the Middle East, Barnett said she might focus on the region a little more this year.

Scott Stein's American history classes won't discuss the Middle East until later in the school year when they get past World War II, but he said he's discussed current events with them.

"The Middle East is an important issue, and has been since the beginning of the 90s," Stein said.

Although he said he didn't expect drastic curriculum changes anytime soon, Stein said, "In American History obviously that's a significant part of this. I would assume it could be added a little bit more."

For Eudora Middle School teacher Gerry Dieman's class on current events, there's really no way getting around teaching about Afghanistan and other issues. In addition to discussions, the classes have watched videos about the Taliban system of government.

"That probably got the best results," Dieman said.

Since current events is only a nine week elective course, Dieman won't see all students. Moreover, eighth graders learn American history, and state requirements don't allow him to talk about the Middle East even if it fit into the class. He said seventh graders do touch on Egypt and the Middle East more.

Since current events is only a nine-week class, though, Dieman will see four sets of students.

"The story's not going to go away, so we'll get most of the kids that way," he said.

At the elementary school level, the emphasis has been on helping those affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nottingham Elementary School Principal Jim Lauer said his students and faculty have worked together with the younger grade levels to make flags and posters, some of which were sent to New York, a banner hanging over the stage, and a Proud to be an American display. The school also participated in President George Bush's challenge to schoolchildren to raise $1 to send to the American Fund for Afghanistan Children.

Eudora West elementary school also had special projects, like making flags and letters to send to children affected by the attack and had a day for students to show their spirit by wearing red, white and blue.

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