joi, 3 decembrie 2009

On Freedom

For 3 seminars now I've been talking with my first year students in Political Science about courage, power of sacrifice and Freedom. First, we watched together a brilliant National Geographic documentary on the Berlin Wall. I think this short film is perfect for didactic purposes because:

* it is only 50 minutes long, thus we had time to stop and explain phrases like "The Death Strip", "Concentration Camp Berlin", or "Checkpoint Charlie";
* it has some great graphic representations which allow students to visualize the actual dangers of trying to escalate the deadly Wall;
* it tells three moving stories of brave East Germans who found ingenious but risky ways to get under, through or over the Wall;
* it touches briefly on the historical background, but includes memorable lines like "Ich bin ein Berliner" (JFK) or "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" (Ronald Reagan);
* it presents the teacher with the ideal opportunity to discuss an issue like Freedom.

What is more, this documentary provided me with the chance to tackle the problem of the Romanian Revolution which took place in 1989, one year before my students were born.. It was extremely interesting for me to listen to what Freedom meant to them, since they haven't lived in the socialist system which deprived us of this fundamental right. Almost all of them said that Freedom meant "everything" to them and that they had a hard time imagining how it must have "felt" to be a teenager in Eastern Europe 20 years ago, without jeans or Western music, with restricted electricity and hot water, with freedom of speech direly infringed etc. That is why, my students concluded, it is important to commemorate these events, to talk about them, to try to learn what happened so that history will not repeat itself.

We took the discussion further, and I asked them what walls still have to be "torn down". Here their answers were smart and, I confess, deeper than I'd expected. They said that walls of racism, intolerance, xenophobia, stereotyping, and old-fashioned mentalities are still standing. And the mere fact that they acknowledged the existence of these walls gives me hope that they'll search and find ways to destroy them..

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for his great post on the walls that separate us and to Sean Banville for his lesson plan on Freedom and the fall of the Berlin Wall.