Monday, April 28, 2008

Nebraska Classroom & Rwandan Genocide "Prediction"

What can happen when we discuss real issues with our students?

NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, April 26, 2008 · In 1993, Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota, then a high school geography teacher in Nebraska, had his class do an exercise in which they ended up predicting the Rwandan genocide the following year. Tim Walz and one of his former students, Travis Hoffman, talk with John Ydstie about the prediction.
The original story appears in the NY Times: High School Project on Genocide Was a Portent of Real-Life Events.
“It was different and unusual, certainly not a project you’d be expecting,” Mr. Hofmann, now 31, of Phoenix, remembered recently of the class. “The biggest part was just the freedom to explore things. No matter how abnormal or far-fetched an idea might sound, you can form an opinion. Instead of just going in and having a teacher say, ‘Here’s information, learn it, know it, you’ll be tested on it,’ it was, Here’s an idea, run with it.’ ”

For nine weeks through the winter and early spring that school year, through the howling blizzards and the planting of the first alfalfa on the plains, the class pored over data about economics, natural resources and ethnic composition. They read about civil war, colonialism and totalitarian ideology. They worked with reference books and scholarly reports, long before conducting research took place instantly online.

Most, like Mr. Hofmann, had spent their entire lives in and near Alliance. A few had traveled to Washington, D.C., with the school marching band. A few had driven four hours to Denver to buy the new Nirvana CD. Mostly, though, the outside world was a place they built, under Mr. Walz’s tutelage, in their own brains.

When the students finished with the past, Mr. Walz gave a final exam of sorts. He listed about a dozen current nations — Yugoslavia, Congo, some former Soviet republics among them — and asked the class as a whole to decide which was at the greatest risk of sliding into genocide. Their answer was: Rwanda. The evidence was the ethnic divide between Hutus and Tutsis, the favoritism toward Tutsis shown by the Belgian colonial regime, and the previous outbreaks of tribal violence.
Read the full peice.

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