Sunday, April 6, 2014

Books as Weapons, and a Great Cross-Curricular Teaching Idea

Did you know the CIA used books as weapons during the Cold War? Specifically, during the Cold War, the CIA used Boris Pasternak's sweeping epic Dr. Zhivago as a political weapon, according to a new article in the Washington Post. At the time of this governmental/literary plot, a CIA official said, "we have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what's wrong with their government," among other things. The full story will be told in a book, The Zhivago Affair, set to be released in June. If you are a literature teacher or a history teacher, I highly recommend you read the article. Two words: absolutely fascinating. (And two more words: well written.)

Books throughout history have been censored by various governments for their dangerous, subversive content. In a way, such censorship seems an eerie parallel to government taking weapons out of the hands of its citizens. How often, though, have governments used books against other governments? Although the success of this campaign can be debated, it surely provides for interesting discussion.

Speaking of discussion, this article provides the a great cross-curricular teaching idea. Here we have a great opportunity for Social Studies and English teachers to tear down the walls between the disciplines and collaborate. Students need to be reading more articles than ever in today's classrooms and here's a great one. For a great collaborative lesson, here are the nuts and bolts:

  • During the unit or chapter on the Cold War (could be US History, World History, AP Euro, US Government, Comparative Government, and more), the Social Studies teacher provides historical background and context of the Cold War.
  • After the Cold War info has been taught, students in the aforementioned course(s) read the article.
  • In the Social Studies class, the teacher uses the article as a jumping off point for discussion on Cold War tactics, propaganda, espionage, psychological warfare, other examples of literature being used as propaganda, etc.
  • In the English or Literature class, the teacher uses the article as a jumping off point to discuss Russian literature, Russian writers, Dr. Zhivago specifically, censorship, etc., and to have students read excerpts from the novel.
  • What is accomplished? Students tie Social Studies to literature. Students read a non-fiction article they otherwise wouldn't have read. Students read excerpts of Russian literature after having historical context to frame the reading. Teachers collaborate. Everybody wins.
I challenge you take advantage of this very cool opportunity. Students win because of all the reasons mentioned above. Teachers win because they can collaborate and because they can enhance their students' classroom experiences. The backbone of the lesson is here for the taking!

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