Students discuss world issues

April 15, 2002|BY SCOTT BUTKI

International conflicts from the U.S. war on terrorism in Afghanistan to the Arab-Israeli fighting are being discussed in classrooms throughout the Washington County Public Schools system and Bob Hornbecker's two social studies classes at South Hagerstown High School are no exception.

On most days, Hornbecker shows his freshman classes the lead story from "CNN Classroom," a daily program about the news developed for schools. Quite often these days the lead story is the conflict between Israel and Palestine, he said.

Hornbecker shows students the news story, then questions and a discussion often follow, he said.

A recent memorable discussion occurred following a suicide bombing. Students were amazed that a person would kill himself to take the lives of others, he said.


"I can't believe someone would do that," he recalled students saying.

Students asked him for help understanding the bomber's reasoning.

Hornbecker explained that the suicide bombers are motivated by their religious beliefs and by the belief they have been victims of oppression for so long such action is justified.

When students ask why the two sides are fighting, he explains about the volatile history of the region, he said.

The U.S. war against the al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taliban also comes up in class, though not as much as last semester, he said.

Students in the class said the discussions are informative and helpful.

"It keeps us up to date on what is going on in the world," said Brittany Smith, 14.

Dana Flaherty, 14, said that before the class she was not knowledgeable about attacks on Israel.

She also learned that the United States is at war with al-Qaida and the Taliban and not, as she thought, with Afghanistan.

That is a common misconception of students, Hornbecker said.

Elizabeth Hill, 14, said students sometimes share their opinions about the world events.

"We talk about what we think of it and what we think we (the United States) can do," she said.

Hornbecker's social studies class covers local, state and federal governments. He has been using the federal government section of the curriculum to give current examples of how the United States works with foreign governments.

"It is a chance to see how our executive branch does foreign relations," he said.

Current events in the Middle East also provide a good way for Hornbecker to show how the U.S. government compares to other federal governments, and how American democracy measures up against other forms of government, he said.

The goal is to help the students understand the issues in the Middle East while also helping them learn classroom material, said Hornbecker, who has taught social studies at the school for 30 years. He also teaches psychology.

Any time you can discuss current events in the classrooms, the lessons are more interesting to the students, he said.

"If you can relate something in their lives, or something they are aware of, to what is in the curriculum you can be much more successful in getting the curriculum across," he said.

Students said Hornbecker does an excellent job presenting all sides of the issues.

The Washington County Board of Education encourages teachers to incorporate current events into the curriculum they are teaching as long as it fits, said Ed Koogle, supervisor of secondary social studies.

Teachers obviously have opinions on some of the issues they teach, but keep those to themselves and give students information to make their own decisions, Superintendent of Schools Elizabeth Morgan said.

When you tell students both sides of an issue and give them material backing up both sides, they appreciate it, Morgan said.

"You are respecting their intellectual ability to form some opinions for themselves," she said.

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