A study of the Persian Gulf War Syndrome affords an excellent opportunity to create a unit that serves many purposes in the school where I teach Advanced Placement U.S. History. First, it is always useful for my students to perceive the content of a teaching unit in history as being relevant. Whereas a study of the American Revolution or the Civil War requires several intermediate steps, and often a great amount of creativity, to assure that perception, the recent nature of the Persian War guarantees its direct relevance. Indeed, since most of my students were born between 1978 and 1980, the Persian Gulf War of 1991 is the only American conflict with which they have a personal memory. No doubt that memory is highly positive due to the extensive and highly jingoistic nature of the media coverage.
Therefore, my second objective for this unit is to give my students an opportunity to examine pieces of evidence from the war and its subsequent medical effects, along with official governmental comments about these pieces of evidence, and to encourage them to form their own conclusions. They will be encouraged to compare these conclusions with the official governmental line and, through a switch-side debating activity, to defend both sides of the issue. This objective fits nicely with the stated purpose of the Connecticut State Department of Education’s guidelines for curriculum in social studies to assist students to achieve high scores in the Interdisciplinary Assessment component of the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT).
This objective also fits nicely with “The Big Six” steps in assisting students in increasing their information literacy as one of the core components in the nationwide Library Power iniative, which my school will be joining in the coming academic year, as the first district high school site:
1. Task definition (define the problem)
2. Information seeking (evaluate the different possible sources to determine priorities)
3. Location and access (find information within sources)
4. Use of information (extract the information from a source)
5. Synthesis (organize information from multiple sources and present the information)
6. Evaluation (judge the product).
A third objective for my unit is to assist my students in learning the nature of causality as it applies both to the study of history and epidemiology. First I will present causality to my students in a general manner, making use of exercises drawn from “Lesson 7: Cause and Effect” in the workbook
122 Thinking Skill Lessons and Exercises
, where a cause is presented as “something that produces an effect. An effect is something brought about by a cause. Many . . . [students] have difficulty in deciding what events caused or affected other events. For instance, if they bring home a D on a science test, they may say that the cause was a poorly written test. But actually it was their lack of studying for the test that caused the effect, or the D on their paper.”
My next step would be more specific. After presenting my students with thirty pieces of evidence drawn from broad and not necessarily reliable sources. (The unreliability of some of the sources is intentional, since in the debate format my students will use each side is open to cross examination by the other. I want to encourage my students to question the authority of the evidence they examine, not only for this unit but, by extension, in their lives as well.) I will ask them both to determine the relationship, if any, between, cause and effect, and to present their own conclusions both in writing and in a switch-side debate format, with another U.S. History class as judge. This activity will allow students an opportunity to exercise the following skills as outlined by the State Department of Education: “[to] identify an issue, recognize a point of view, identify the arguments of different sides of an issue, identify strong and weak arguments, support an argument with relevant information, [and] transfer oral arguments into writing”
and further reflected in the standards of the district: “Interdisciplinary Connections: Students will be able to understand the connections between History [sic] and the evolution of Science [sic].”
A fourth objective of this unit is interdisciplinary, to work within a team of teachers from the history and mathematics departments at the high school that will be exploring the Gulf War Syndrome, each in its own way, and each one preparing a curriculum unit that both connects with the others and stands on its own. This interdisciplinary unit will in turn will provide the core for a school-wide interdisciplinary exploration of the theme of environmental and occupational health. Specifically, another teacher of U.S. history, Toni Coughlin, will be examining the initial involvement of the United States in the war, while a math teacher, John Crotty, will be guiding his classes in an analysis of statistical data.
At Career High School, a small urban magnet school with a significant minority student population, we are in the forefront of several exciting initiatives. As we prepare to move to a new, larger facility in September 1997 we are rethinking our traditional uses of time, space and people, focusing more on student-centered learning and interdisciplinary curricular offerings.. (Indeed, the impetus for this seminar grew out of that particular intention.) As a regional magnet, we have the charge to increase our suburban student population to one-third of the total enrollment figure. As a model school, for both the Comer Project for Change in Education of the Yale Child Study Center School Development Program and of the Coalition of Essential Schools of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform of Brown University, we have the charge to demonstrate the wisdom and efficacy of creative teaching, including the use of electronic resources like the Internet and human resources like our partners at Yale.
In addition to the broader, school-wide and district-wide objectives just discussed, there are several additional cognitive objectives for this unit. They would include:
(1) helping students to distinguish fact and opinion; and possibilities, probabilities and certainties (I would again make use of Barrens and Burgdorf’s excellent workbook, this time emphasizing Lesson 8, pp. 81-92.)
(2) guiding students in discussing the believability of what the U.S. government says,
(3) doing a cost/benefit analysis of the winning of the war, including the listing of liabilities that include the hidden costs in human terms (and, by extension, helping students to generalize how such an analysis might be extended to other decisions that affect the environment or the health of large numbers of people),
(4) generating a discussion of who actually benefits when the country goes to war.
(5) engaging in a conversation with the students about the role of the United Sates in the post Cold War world, and
(6) allowing students to see that medicine, especially environmental/occupational medicine, is not an exact science but is continuously evolving, and one that requires that type of critical thinking skills similar to those used in historical analysis.
Finally, there is the objective of incorporating into this unit the results of recent research on the pedagogical effectiveness of using properly constructed rubrics as proposed by Grant Wiggins and his research at Princeton.
My general plan of setting up the lessons, therefore, is as follows:
Lecture, reading, and assignment
: An introduction to the Persian Gulf War and reading of the radio script from Morning Edition, National Public Radio, “Authorities Deny Existence of Gulf War Syndrome” (to be continued as homework) (1 day)
: Presentation of arguments for the war, based on the article “Why the Gulf War Served the National Interest”
: Presentation of arguments against the war, based on the article “Why the Gulf War was Not in the National Interest”
: In-class debate on which side was correct (1 day)
: Writing assignment based on previous-day’s debate (1 day)
Lecture and activities
: An introduction to the relationship of cause and effect (1 day)
: An introduction to the nature of the Gulf War Syndrome. (1 day)
Discussion and small group work
: Creation of rubrics for subsequent in-class activity. (2 days)
Reading assignments individually and in small groups
: Class is divided into eight teams of three students each. Thirty specific pieces of evidence that have been gleaned from a variety of sources, Evidence A-Evidence DD (text of which follows) distributed to all students. (1 day)
Reading assignments (homework)
: Careful reading/analysis of pieces of evidence (5 days)
Individually and in small groups with teacher guidance
: Analysis of these pieces of evidence for their veracity, consistency, possible intentions, and intended audiences (5 days)
Individually and in small groups with teacher guidance, making use of the Yale-New Haven Teacher Institute Center for Staff and Curricular Development
: Finding more pieces of evidence on the Internet. (5 days, concurrent with above)
: Why does a government say what it says? How liable is a government for indirect and/or peripheral war injuries its citizens incur? (1 day)
: Is something true just because someone says so? How you
A causes B? (1 day)
Small group activity with teacher guidance
: Four groups of three students each prepare cases in the affirmative, four in the negative on the following proposition:
Resolved, the Gulf War Syndrome Is A Significant Health Issue The United States Government Has Tried To Cover Up
Small group activity with teacher guidance
: The two halves switch sides and prepare their cases (3 days)
: Small groups each debate each side in class. Other students in the class determine the two strongest teams (2 days).
: The two strongest three-student teams debate switch-side with Toni Coughlin’s U.S. History class as judges (1 day)
: Class debriefing and recapitulation (1 day)