November 24, 2004

Iraq History and Government Coop

Today we had our last coop meeting on Iraq. My partner and I led this class and it went over very well. We began the session with an overview of the history of the region and country. My partner did an excellent job making this real to the kids. She had painted a big Mesopotamia/Iraq map with the major bodies of water and land masses clearly marked. Then she made little picture printouts of a good majority of the major leaders and people over the years. She attached these pictures to little cardboard stands to make them stand up on the board. She also had stickers for each child that matched the stand up figure she made. She would mention the fact she was talking about, show them the picture and then have them match their sticker to their sheet. She even went one step further and had each child take a turn being one of the major leaders and overthrowing the leader before him by knocking their figure off the map and replacing it with their own. At several points she gave each child a soldier (Iraqi and then American) and let them all come and overthrow the sitting government on the board. Those moments were chaotic but very good I strongly believe the kids got a lot out of it and were able to probably understand overthrowing a government better than if we had just explained it.

We moved into a discussion of the government of Iraq - I decided to start with Saddam's reign and we talked about what a dictatorship was and what life might be like under a dictator. The kids were able to get some of the major factors themselves without help - must listen to the person in charge, can not easily change that leader, can't criticize or disobey without going to jail or being hurt or even killed. We talked about how that was different from a democracy and then decided they needed to experience it for themselves.

We let each child begin eating the snack they brought from home and I got out a puppet that I was going to use as Saddam and he laid down the rules they were to follow and if they could not follow them they would be removed by our police (a mom) and brought to prison where the prison guard (another mom) would deal with them. We laid down the rules that there was to be no talking, no complaining, no fidgeting, no smiling, and they needed to do whatever they were told without question even if they did not like it or if they thought it was wrong. Several kids were removed right away including the two three year olds and our 12 year old for their infractions. The other kids lasted longer. They were actually doing a very good job following the rules, though they were obviously not happy about it. So we had to change tactics.

We began to take away their snacks and replace them with whole wheat bread cut unevenly some got a whole slice others got less than a 1/4 of a slice and small cups of water some filled halfway others full. We let some keep their snacks and would take some away without any reason behind it. That was hard for some of them. At one point I told one child to eat the home brought snack of another and she was very upset. These kids were amazingly obeying all the rules though despite what we did. We started to make them hop on one foot or stand still facing a wall. Rhiannon actually never got sent to jail. While I was overseeing the puppet sending people to jail my partner was acting as the United States and helping the kids come to the conclusion that they needed to and could (with help) overthrow the mean government of the Saddam puppet. Then they all came running in and started chasing me around the room trying to get the puppet away from me. I let them chase me for awhile until they got smart and cornered me and then they grabbed the puppet and claimed victory. Some however were not content with the puppet and felt that I also needed to be punished so several grabbed me and made me face the wall and then brought me to a prison cell.

While the example was not a perfect example of life under a dictatorship or of overthrowing a government you could tell it REALLY brought the lesson home for the kids and they felt and understood what was going on. Even Ciaran and his other three year old friend understood that living in a dictatorship such as this one was not fun and that he wanted the mean leader to go away. We brought them all back to the table and gave them back their own snacks to finish while we talked about what we had done. We talked about their experience and what they thought if they had to live like that all the time. We discussed how the people of Iraq lived like that (in different ways) for many years until Saddam Hussein was overthrown. I had them tell me all the things they did not like or found hard and they did a good job with that. Then we moved into a discussion of how their is an interim government and they will be holding their first election in January of 2005.

I asked the kids to think about what it would be like if they needed to find a new leader for our coop and how they should make that decision. First we talked about the characteristics that they would want in a leader with answers such as kind, good, not mean, not locking people up in jail, someone who would lock me (Saddam) up in jail, someone who would be fair and honest and someone who wanted the best for his people, someone even said the person who could run the fastest (we used this to show how some criteria is better than others - what if Saddam was the fastest runner?). I was impressed with their answers. WE also talked about the difference in the structure of a democracy and I held up their diagram from the US democracy showing how power was shared by several leaders and how the people made the decisions.

We then moved into a discussion of how we should elect a leader. Once again the kids impressed me by talking intelligently about voting and researching the candidates before they made a decision. We talked about voting and I said so we should give this person one vote, this one five, this one none and our two three year olds (including Ciaran) would each get 100 votes. There were immediate objections and I made the kids explain why they felt it was unfair and how we should go about it. We talked about why it was important that each person got one vote so it was fair to everyone. I offered that the moms make the decision for them and there was objection and then they said "But you are the only ones who can vote". In the end they agreed that each person should have the opportunity to vote and the person who got the most votes should win and each person should get the same amount of votes.

We finished this political discussion with answering the question of how long should we have our leaders. Not in specifics of how many years but rather should they be elected forever or should their be an opportunity for the people to change the government more frequently and have a way to change leadership or laws if something happened they did not like. They were able to come to the conclusion themselves that they should be able to change leaders. This was helped after I said "What if you elected me until I died and the next day I made laws that said you all had to only wear white shirts, no more field trips, we would sit in this room and do worksheets and not talk, no more snacks? They were quickly able to personalize it to themselves and then apply it to government more broadly and discuss how we need to be able to have change and the benefits.

I must admit I was very impressed with the kids throughout the entirety of this lesson. They really handled themselves and a tough situation well. They showed that they understood many of the concepts and they were able to apply and bring up things we had done during our US and Israel sessions. It was a reminder to me that children can achieve far more than we think they can and they will step up to challenges often impressing us far more than we could have imagined. The children in our group range in age from 3-12 with a median of probably 6 years old. Today was a beautiful lesson.

We finished the lesson by giving each child a piece of clay to work with and a sheet with cuneiform letters. My partner had written each of their names using the cuneiform alphabet and then each child tried to write their name in the clay using a screwdriver. They really appeared to enjoy it. Overall it was a great lesson.



  1. Wow. That's about all I can say. Well, and will you adopt the boys and me for your next co-op? Pretty please??

  2. Anonymous7:10 PM

    I have been reading your posts and I enjoy them very much. I believe that you are a very dedicated parent and your children are lucky to have you.

    I read through this post twice and I could not believe what I was reading. I felt just like when I was in elementary school and I was being taught about Christopher Columbus; everything was nice and glorious. I was never told of the killings and rapes by him and his men. I was never told about the gold and silver that they stole to pay their debts n Europe, or about the enslavement of the native peoples of Latin America.

    That is exactly what you are doing with your kids.

    What if you told them that a big monster, a big powerful monster, was coming to "overthrow" the puppet that was causing them so much harm and that during this process some of them would die? In addition, you would make sure that you mentioned that this monster has caused them much harm in the past and that it actually armed and trained the puppet to oppresses and murders them, among other things. Do you think they would jump with joy? Do you think you would get the same reaction you got this time around when everything was pretty and clean?

    That is the truth, right?

    I believe that children should be learning about love and compassion not about how and why to overthrow governments. This country has done plenty of that in the past and it's time to stop. You can start by teaching children how to be creative and not barbaric.

    much love

  3. Anonymous10:48 AM

    Anon's comment above is off base and factually in error. S/he ends with a "that is the truth right?". I would suggest that s/he spend a bit more time reading up on the history of Iraq (veritably defined by regime change - internal or external) and a bit less time on hand wringing.

    From what I read across all your posts is that you consistently get deep into the topic you are covering. Anon's comment seems to take the Iraq lesson in a vacuum - as if it is the only thing you have taught.

    Finally, while there is certainly plenty of documented history or the errors and terrible actions of our own government, I think that providing this information in an age appropriate manner and at an age appropriate time is vital. Elementary age children should not necessarily be exposed to graphic and detailed "lessons" about abuse, rape, murder and the rest of the horrific crimes that have been perpetrated by or on behalf of any government (or person) - including our own.

    Schooling is a building exercise. Math is not taught all at once: taking a child from addition to fractal calculus, non-Euclidian geometry, and beyond is not a recipe for the success of the child or a curriculum. Rather, the building blocks are emplaced, the foundations laid, the seeds planted (pick your metaphor) and nurtured over time with new information being added to the existing structure as it becomes relevant and the child grows in maturity and understanding. This is true too for history, social studies, and the humanities.

    Tenn, I'm glad that your kids are learning what they're learning and at the pace they seem to be learning at. You and the coop keep up the good work and keep posting for so the rest of us may see and learn and use your good ideas.