Teaching compassion for refugees

In New York’s South Bronx, a ninth-grade social studies teacher is spending five weeks on curriculum based on Iraqi refugees’ experiences, reports Learning Matters. The show aired on PBS Newshour this week and will be rebroadcast.

The teacher wants her tough-shelled students to learn to empathize with people who have even worse problems than their own. Students look at photos of refugees and imagine their lives. They’re told to list the 10 things they’d take with them if they had to leave home in five minutes. Later, told they have to dump half their possessions, one boy gives up his electronics in favor of “my mom, my sister, my other sister.”  It’s sweet, but is it social studies?

I can’t help wondering what the students aren’t learning in those five weeks. The teacher is skipping the standard curriculum. What’s the trade-off?

As far as I can tell, students aren’t asked to read literature that deals with the refugee experience, such as The Kite Runner (Afghanistan), which could be a powerful empathy builder. Dave Eggers’ What is the What? (Sudan) is supposed to be good. Too difficult to read?

Veteran barred for essay on killing

An Army veteran’s essay on the thrill of killing in Iraq earned an A from the instructor — and a suspension from campus, until a psychologist says the vet isn’t a threat to his classmates.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  A trustee objects to campus subsidies for left-wing speakers and “evil” theater.

Teaching online from 'Mortaritaville'

Where there’s a will — and a laptop — there’s a way to teach economics in North Dakota while serving in Iraq.  Cheryl J. Wachenheim, an associate professor of agribusiness and applied economics at North Dakota State, is also a captain in the Minnesota Army National guard.  When she was deployed last year as a medical logistics officer to a base known as Mortaritaville, she continued teaching courses in micro- and macroeconomics.

Using her personal laptop to run the courses, Ms. Wachenheim posted discussion questions and assignments using the Blackboard course-management system, and even video lectures using the audio and video software Wimba.

. . . To get Internet access, she and nine other soldiers on her base in Iraq chipped in for a satellite dish and dug holes in the sand all over the base so they could run wires underground and into each of their trailers.

She used the base’s shortage of Diet Mountain Dew to teach students about supply and demand.