After the holiday break, my students entered the classroom well-rested and eager to discuss current events.  

I had jokingly declared that we would start a war after the break, with the understanding before the events of the assassination of the Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, that the war we would “start” would be world war one. The rapid chain of events over the vacation, however, had my students making deeper connections than I had anticipated. 

Teaching both sophomores and seniors, my students range in age from fifteen to eighteen. Hence their adolescence, many of them were informed from social media, especially Tik Tok. The students had spent a portion of their break watching videos and viewing memes with hashtags like #WW3, #draft, and #endoftheworld.  

Outside of the hype and the social media propaganda, the students looked to me, their social studies teacher, to confirm or refute what they had begun to question might be real. Students shared with me stories of a boyfriend going to basic training and the worry about loved ones currently enlisted. The students inquired about a potential draft and the drafting of women. They asked me if there was an actual bounty on President Trump’s head. They wanted to know who the alliances might be, and they listened with their full bodies. These kids were star pupils, giving me their full attention as we discussed the unfolding and layered current and historical events. 

I found myself giving a timeline of events from the 1979 Iranian revolution to the present day. I pulled up maps and images of Iranian influence, we discussed the geopolitical value of the Strait of Hormuz, and we made connections to the four M.A.I.N. causes of war. Words like escalation, nuclear capabilities, and sanctions became increasingly heard. I grew tired, yet oddly invigorated by their interest. It was like super bright light bulbs were over every students’ head. 

Amid our discussion, I recognized the moment in each class when the students grew fatigued by the speculation. They needed a shift in their focus, and luckily the Global History and A.P. European History curricula offered both respite and connection. The reason for teaching, however, was so apparent. I do not teach for the students to earn a high grade on the New York State Regents or the Advanced Placement exams; I teach to help students make connections to enduring issues that impact their lives today and in the future.  

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History is today’s most excellent instructor. I found myself with an opportunity to share the reason for social studies education. I told the students:  “These issues discussed today are not going away. When you are eligible to vote, these are the topics for which you will choose a position. Arm yourselves with as much information, both historical and current, as you can. Be active citizens.”

After the Iranian missile attack on the two Iraqi military installations, I lay awake, waiting for word of casualties. I speculated on how to address the crisis with my students. In the morning, I grabbed my phone before letting the dog outside. My students were informed when they entered the classroom on the morning of January 8, 2020. They cared about what might happen next. They shared worries about the impact of potential U.S. reprisals, but also some wanted America to bomb Iran, and as one student declared: “We should wipe them off the map.” 

At 11 am, my projection device displayed the podium awaiting the address from President Trump. A half an hour later, a study hall class of juniors and seniors collectively observed. The room was silent, almost breathless. When the president concluded his speech, we sighed and moved on with our day.   

Although I wish the circumstances were different, the Iranian crisis bonded my classes and gave us an opportunity to appreciate public education. Furthermore, the students’ base knowledge, garnered from social media snippets, greatly informed my teaching.  Luckily it is looking like cooler heads will prevail.  Let’s hope that Tik Tok will have to find something else to grab their young audiences’ attention.

 

World War 3

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