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home : news : north central illinois   May 24, 2016

8/27/2014 6:18:00 AM
Tough subjects: Teachers bring global strife to class


Hall High School social studies teacher Joe Furlan has the task of teaching his students about current conflicts with terror and distress overseas. Furlan said most of the discussions in the classroom about these conflicts are often started by asking what the students know about these situations. He said that teaching the history behind the strife gives students a better understanding. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
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Hall High School social studies teacher Joe Furlan has the task of teaching his students about current conflicts with terror and distress overseas. Furlan said most of the discussions in the classroom about these conflicts are often started by asking what the students know about these situations. He said that teaching the history behind the strife gives students a better understanding.
NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
Lauren Blough
NewsTribune Reporter



­Terror, death, violence, disaster — we hear about it every day.

With conflict occurring overseas it’s hard to comprehend everything that is happening all at once.

So, the question stands: How are Illinois Valley instructors teaching students about the current conflicts in foreign countries such as Iraq, Syria, Ukraine or Israel?

Some Illinois Valley professors bring these conflicts into their lesson plans by grouping them together with current events and politics in the United States.

“Normally, what we’re doing is using it as current events and asking students what they know about what’s going on,” said Hall High School social studies teacher Joe Furlan. He added that most discussions in the classroom begin this way.

He said that teaching the history behind the strife gives students a better understanding.

“I can say to them that this is because of imperialism, or was a result of World War I or World War II. It’s always about making history relevant,” Furlan said.

Another area teacher also uses current events as a way to discuss foreign conflicts.

“I engage students in dialogues about current events as they pertain to topics being discussed in international relations,” said Amanda Cook Fesperman, Illinois Valley Community College political science/history professor said. “For example, when I talk about state-sponsored terrorism, I ask my students to look into whether or not Israel engages in state-sponsored terrorism, or are they merely defending themselves.”

What about terrorism? Undoubtedly, terror threats are prominent in the world. Whether the threats are against the United States or other regions of the world, they are present every day. In a post-Sept. 11 world, political science and history teachers in the area are talking about terrorism.

“Students need to know what terrorism means and how terrorism has changed the nature of international politics,” Fesperman said. “We have been talking mostly about Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but ISIS will probably be used as an example this semester. It is important that we not overuse the term, to associate it with only one region of the world.”

She added that although we hear about so much distress in one part of the world, it is not the only part of the world with conflict.

“Students are taught about FARC in Colombia, Shining Path in Peru, Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, or Boko Haram in Nigeria,” Fesperman said.

Furlan said that in his classroom, instead of making a direct discussion about specific terror groups, his class will hold general discussions about threats and ask the students what they think. He gave an example of a recent classroom discussion, “We had the beheading last week and we asked students ‘why do you think they would pick an American?’”

Did any of the students go home and look at the video of the graphic beheading? Maybe. One student didn’t have it in her.

“I’ve considered it. It’s one of those things you want to watch — but you don’t want to at the same time,” senior Jessica Cousar said.

But Fesperman doesn’t want students to just know what’s happening or where it’s happening.

“I also want students to understand that terrorists groups usually form in response to a perceived or real threat to a way of life, and that it is important to understand what those causes are, what the objectives of the group are, and how current international policy/U.S. policy might be provoking acts of terror,” Fesperman said.

What do students think? Students are getting a lot of information on a heavy topic between their English and lunch periods. So, what do they think about everything they are learning? According to some teachers, it all depends on the student.

“Some students come to class with little or no knowledge of international events — and leave the same way. Some students come to learn and are very interested in  global conflict and its causes and possible solutions. Some students come with very rigid ideas about what’s happening in the world and they struggle to learn because they experience cognitive dissonance,” Fesperman said.

Cognitive dissonance is when people, or in this case — students, may become uncomfortable when confronted with information that is different from what they know or believe is to be true.

“Some students are very interested, and some have kept up,” Furlan said. “For the most part they (students) are receptive. Most will talk, but sometimes they need to be presented with the facts.”

Lauren Blough can be reached at (815)220-6931 or svreporter@newstrib.com. Follow her on Twitter @NT_SpringValley.










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