Friday, July 20, 2007

Idaho teachers scribe lessons on human rights, dignity

Local teacher to base ?security? lesson plan on European education mission

Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Idaho Human Rights Education Foundation Dan Prinzing, left, education director of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center, and James Foster, social studies teacher at Wood River High School, travel through the Jewish sections of Krakow, Poland. The trip was part of an education mission sponsored by the Idaho Human Rights Education Center, the culmination of which will be placed in lesson plans designed to teach students about human rights.

The goal faced by a group of Idaho teachers and administrators this summer is to design a lesson plan that conveys to high school students the notion of protecting inalienable human rights as violence and injustice permeate mankind's past and present—a difficult task at best.

But it's a challenge one local teacher is taking head-on.

James Foster, a social studies teacher at Wood River High School, participated in a mission sponsored by the Idaho Human Rights Education Center to delve into some of Europe's most contentious issues and events. Foster's assignment is to draw upon his experiences and design a lesson plan that focuses on "security in America" and what that term really means to citizens of the United States—in particular, the inevitable trade-off between security and civil rights.

That is not a new dilemma, nor is it one with a clear answer. As Benjamin Franklin, one of the country's founding fathers said at the time of the nation's inception, "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty or security."

Foster's lesson plan, though still under construction, will provide students with three to four readings on each side of the security issue. The readings will be followed by a "Socratic seminar," in which participants seek to grasp complex ideas through dialogue rather than by memorization. Following the seminar, each student will have a chance to explain which side of the trade-off he or she would choose and why, Foster said.

Foster's journey this summer took him to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, to the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in Poland and to the German cities of Leipzig and Berlin. Leipzig provided the platform where student protests sparked the fires of freedom and democracy, which eventually consumed East Germany and brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989.

"I now understand the fermentation process that led to the students' protest," Foster said. "Thirty-thousand students took part in protesting the Stasi police (East Germany's ruthless secret police). Stasi headquarters had 12 days worth of ammunition stockpiled inside, and yet the protest ended peacefully. Weeks later the Berlin Wall fell."

Auschwitz, as it presumably does with all who visit, left an indelible mark on Foster. The camp has become a universal symbol of terror, of genocide and of the Holocaust. The Auschwitz Memorial and Museum estimates that more than 200,000 Jews, Poles, gypsies and other prisoners died there.

"I don't think one can understand what happened there until you walk in and see the sheer scale of the place," Foster said. "They said 80 percent of those taken there were brought straight to the gas chamber and then on to the incinerator. To see the hair that was cut off, the shoes and luggage left behind—it tells you it exists."

Today, immigration in Germany is as pivotal an issue as it is in the United States. Foster and the group of Idaho educators also had the opportunity to question and learn from individuals with a stake in the current political landscape of Germany. In Berlin they met with a leader of the Turkish community, a young Turkish immigrant and a European Union official.

"The immigration issue in Germany almost mirrors what the United States and Mexico face," Foster said.

In the early 1960s, labor-short Germany encouraged Turkish immigration who were, states an essay written by Jenny White for the Middle East Studies Association. Lured by jobs and fast money, Turks in Germany now number 1.8 million, with 139,000 in Berlin alone, making them by far the largest group of foreign workers in Germany. A rift is growing between Turkish immigrants and Germans looking for work.

Turkey made a bid to join the EU in 2005. The EU official told Foster and his group that the union has been reluctant to open its doors due to security issues (Turkey borders several unstable Middle Eastern countries, including Syria and Iraq), its ongoing fight with Greece over the island of Cyprus and striking difference from the European norm in terms of economics, demography, culture, religion, and even basic geography.

The trick will now be for Foster and his fellow educators to mold the wealth of information gleaned from their journeys into a lesson plan that can be disseminated to educators throughout the nation. Foster said their lesson plans are due Sept. 1, but will not be online until winter.

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