By Samantha Dietel, Current Staff
In a high school history class, one might not expect to hear about the current threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Social studies teachers at the West Bend High Schools have been educating students about current global events in subjects such as U.S. history, global studies, and world affairs. In recent weeks, topics such as North Korea’s missile testings and the investigations into Russia’s possible interference in the last U.S. presidential election have both been discussed, with an emphasis placed on the importance for students to be aware of and understand global issues.
“We are citizens of the world,” said Mark Drake, a West social studies teacher. “It is important for our students to understand that actions taken around the world directly influence their lives here in the United States. Similarly, the actions that our students take here influence the lives of people all over the world, whether it’s through economics, or politics or business. The way we live our lives is in a globalized society. And as a result of that, the more knowledge that we have about being a part of a globalized society, the more we can be better able to engage and positively influence other people.”
However, according to West social studies teacher Aaron Paulin, most WBHS students either do not know or do not care about current events, particularly about the issue of North Korea’s recent attempts at building new nuclear weapons.
“Sadly, I would think a large portion of the student body probably doesn’t know and/or doesn’t care, because they see it as thousands of miles away and that North Korea, if they did do something, wouldn’t directly hit Wisconsin,” he said.
East sophomore Dayten Halula feels that for teachers to talk about these current controversial issues, they must be cautious.
“They have to watch what they say and how they say it because it can offend someone in one way or another,” he said.
Still, Halula does think that it is important for students to be aware of what is going on in the world.
Another student, West senior Benjamin Kannenberg, believes that hearing about the issues regarding other countries can provide students with knowledge of what those nations are like.
“It helps [the students] make more rational decisions and it also is likely to make them more understanding of cultural differences,” Kannenberg said. He added that this knowledge can create a better and more cohesive society.
“It is important for our students to understand that actions taken around the world directly influence their lives here in the United States.”
– Mark Drake, West social studies teacher
Scott Mindel, an East social studies teacher, believes that it is in people’s best interest to be aware of what is happening in the rest of the world.
“We need to make sure we don’t only concentrate on our own little world, our personal space, our personal world,” Mindel said. “We need to understand how more so than ever in history, the world is a more interconnected place. Whether it’s electronically, or politically, or economically, we’re all connected to everybody else in the world, so it’s in our best interest to know what’s going on in the rest of the world.”
Mindel even explained to his students the significance of the fact that in just a few short years, they will be eligible to vote.
“What’s going on now will affect the things that [the students] are going to encounter in life once they leave this building,” he said. “Each of them is going to be a voter when they turn 18 and they need to be informed about the issues that their elected officials will have an influence over.”
In regards to those students in his global studies class, who were in the process of wrapping up their Russia unit last week, Mindel posed this question: “Do [the students] want their vote to actually count for something? Or do they want it to be manipulated by somebody outside of our country and then we basically lose control of our country and the people who are supposed to be running it?”
Similarly, Drake believes in the importance of aiding the government to make smart decisions.
“The actions that our government chooses to take drastically impact the lives of millions of Americans and other people all over the world,” Drake said. “Whatever we choose to do with North Korea, or with any other country, affects members of our military, affects families back home, affects American businesses, affects American livelihood. So when our country chooses to engage in the world, the world listens and understands, but we as Americans also must realize that it can impact what happens to us. So it’s important that we as Americans know what the situation is, and it’s important that we stay educated so that we can help our government make smart decisions.”
For students wishing to participate in discussions or perform their own investigations about global issues, there are groups and classes available for them to take part in.
“We have an organization here called the Global Scholars, which is a group of students that is interested in international activities and events and their focus is on independent learning for their own knowledge base,” Drake said. “Students get active in thoughts on global culture, global literacy, global community service—and they’re doing that on their own so that they can have a better understanding and appreciation of the world.”
At the high schools, there is also the Model United Nations team. According to Drake, students join to discuss global events and take on the roles of the countries in the UN to simulate different scenarios where they can help achieve peaceful resolutions to various global crises.
Additionally, there is a world affairs class available to students, taught by Drake.
“Many of my students do current events presentations in World Affairs, where they bring in the global issue that they feel is important that we should know,” Drake said. “So they are staying on top of the issues, and they are bringing those global concerns to our class for us to engage in a discussion on.”
(Top image: Scott Mindel with his sixth period AP Human Geography students on Wednesday. Photos by Jessica Steger, Editor in Chief.)