Teaching George W. Bush: An Ever Evolving Unit

bush-largeTeaching U.S. History this year has been quite different. I rearranged the class so that I could teach more about modern times (since the 1970s). It has been extremely enjoyable! I was able to go into detail about Nixon, the late 70s, Reagan, Desert Storm, Clinton, and the 1990s, and this past week, I finished up the George W. Bush and 2000s era. The kids have really enjoyed learning about something to which they can relate. For me as a teacher, it has been hard to have the kids investigate something so recent. Many emotions that I never knew existed in me bubbled up near to the surface in these lessons.

When designing this unit on Modern America, I started with the Clinton Era. That went really well for two weeks. However, when it came to George W. Bush, I knew in planning the key events I wanted to cover, I just didn’t know how. I had to really think about what would engage the students most. At one point, I even asked them, weeks in advance, what they wanted to learn about. I decided to have the kids learn over the course of nine days about September 11th, the Patriot Act, The War In Iraq, the Economic Meltdown, Culture and Technology in the 2000s, and Bush in Cartoons.

September 11th
Prior to this lesson, the students had already heard the name Bin Laden in history class when we they were briefed about the Soviet excursion into Afghanistan, Reagan’s support of the Mujaheddin in the 1980s, the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, and the attacks on the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania along with Clinton’s futile response. However, this lesson begins with the election of 2000 and Bush’s first year in office. The lesson centers around one key historical piece of evidence; the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing memo.

This memo provides a ripe discussion about what the President could have done. But on the flip side, it is discussed what the memo does not say. The students clearly make the connection of this memo to the Bomb Plot message on Pearl Harbor some 60 years previously. However, the students when asked what key information is missing that could have helped the President easily discuss dates and how the planes were used. While the memo clearly states Bin Laden’s intentions to use airplanes, the memo does not state how, where, or when.
A PowerPoint timeline is then shown with key events of the morning up to the crash of Flight 93 and then Bush is shown giving his speech to the nation. The lesson concludes as the students look up information and answer questions about the origin of the hijackers and the US’s response in Afghanistan in their textbook.

The Patriot Act
The day begins with a “True, False, or Opinion Quiz about questions on their homework. A brief discussion is had about the US response abroad in Afghanistan. But the lesson focuses on changes made here at home in the wake of the attacks. The students view ten cartoons in a slideshow and try to determine what all the Patriot Act does. It is a little unique but something that the students can derive meaning from. Then the students are given a handout of 12 things the Patriot Act did. They then determine whether those 12 things are positive or negative attributes of the act. Interestingly  this lesson was taught in the days shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing. When asked if the Patriot Act should continue, the students had interesting takes on its importance to catching terrorists, foreign and/or domestic.

The War in Iraq
In designing lessons on this topic, I knew I was going to have to walk a slippery slope. The lessons took place over three days. In hindsight, I don’t know if that was enough. I am pretty sure I should have added a fourth day. On day one, the students begin the lesson with Clay Bennett’s famous Invasion checklist cartoon.


We discuss the reasons why Bush might want to invade Iraq. For students who were 4 when the war started, they knew a lot of stuff but not a lot of details. We discuss the Bush/Cheney Doctrine and its merits. We then watch an educational film  about events leading up to the war (I skipped the first couple of minutes of the video below). This part of the lesson takes two days and the students make a product on why the US went to war and what evidence that was publicized by several members of the Bush administration was wrong. The students have to write down who said what, the evidence and supposed source, and the actual truth.

The third day of this part of the unit is where I feel I need to make some changes. I feel I tried to cram too much into one day this year and I need to spread it out. We examine Jeff Stahler’s wonderful cartoon of Sherman, Mr. Peabody and the WABAC machine.

stahler (3)

After a brief discussion, the students are given a packet of pictures from the war including Saddam’s Capture, Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, Mohammed Satr, David Patreus, Baghdad Bob, several cartoons, graphs, and maps about the war. The students then try and determine what went right and what went wrong about the war. Once the students had cut out the pictures and organized them, I felt clearly rushed in trying to get through and explain each individual picture about things that went right and wrong. Next year, I definitely need to break this into two parts – before and after the surge. To conclude the lesson, some explicit comparisons and contrasts to the Vietnam War also need to be made next year.

What surprised me most about teaching these three lessons was that I felt some outright mixed emotions about what went down in Iraq. I told the students that originally I believed what the government was selling about weapons of mass destruction. But I did disagree with the administration that a war was the best way to depose Saddam’s regime. At some point I need to sit down and interview a couple of my friends who served in Iraq and get their viewpoint. I could also bring one of them in to talk to the kids and answer questions.

The Economic Meltdown
Out of all the lessons, this one was the hardest to understand for the students. Economics is a hard concept to teach, especially when the students have no personal context. A brief summary of the crisis is given and then students view ten cartoons and pick the one they think best explains the crisis. We clearly differed in opinions. I selected this cartoon while they selected the second.
The lesson then included an activity where they tried to arrange 9 picture events in the order they happened. I got the pictures from here (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7521250.stm) and the students struggled in arranging them in order. I think, looking back, I should have explained how buying a house works and included some simulation on the process for the students to understand what was happening better. This could have been done at the beginning of the class. However, they did do well on the homework answering questions about the lesson and it’s lessons and this graph/image.


Culture and Technology in the 2000s
Students loved doing this lesson as it dealt with their childhood. They loved doing it so much it took two days to do instead of one. They simply do a web search and it becomes very personal for them as history should be.

Sources to use and Questions to answer

1. http://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/films/the-25-greatest-movies-of-the-00s Tell which of these movies was your favorite movie of the decade. Explain why and get a picture/poster. Pick the one you think was Dr. J’s favorite.

2. http://stereogum.com/826992/vh1-100-greatest-songs-of-the-00s/top-stories/lead-story/ – Of these 100 songs, pick ten that you like and explain why/ – Of these 100 songs, which 10 or 15 do you think Dr. Johnson likes (hint – eliminate most (not all) of the hip-hop songs) and explain why

3. iPod History: http://www.apple.com/pr/products/ipodhistory/ Read this timeline and then describe how the iPod itself changed over the decade

4. iPod Ad Go to Google and type in iPod Ad on Google Images. Pick the iPod ad that best represents you. Copy and paste the ad into your answers and explain why.

5. What advancements were made in Science and technology. Go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000s_(decade)#Science_and_technology

6. What TV shows do you remember growing up? Get a couple pictures

7. How did Video Games change during the decade? When have answered the question, get a picture of your favorite game. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000s_in_video_gaming

8. How did the computer and Internet change in the 2000s? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000s_(decade)#Computing_and_Internet

9. What happened to print media in the past ten years? What do you think will happen to it in the future? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000s_(decade)#Print_media

10. Get 5 pics of what people wore in the decade http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000s_(decade)#Fashion

11. How did baseball change in the decade?

12. Social Media: How did it change? Anyone remember MySpace? Explain the following pictures and how the logos changed our lives

13. Other Sports a. Who were the dominant teams in the NFL, NHL, and NBA in the decade?

i. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NBA_champions

ii. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Stanley_Cup_champions

iii. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Super_Bowl_champions iv. Get one picture of your favorite team

14. With all these changes, Is society changing for the better or worse? Explain in a paragraph

Bush In Cartoons
The unit concludes with students viewing 100 cartoons in a folder on the school’s network. They then select the ten they think best summarizes the Bush presidency. After each cartoon they have to explain why they chose that specific cartoon. They have fun browsing and picking the cartoons.

Changes for next year
I have other ideas that I could teach more in detail. Most of the details surround September 11th and the war in Afghanistan including the death of Pat Tillman. I am also considering showing a video on the history of the iPod. Ultimately, it is what the students can investigate and formulate opinions about using evidence. Pat Tillman’s death is a classic example of something the students like to do and that is to solve mysteries and base opinions on evidence. I will probably not be done tinkering with this until for a couple of years. I thought of including aspects of the 9/11 report and the Bush’s PDF file of 8 years of accomplishments  but decided I could make adjustments the second year.

Who knows how events in the Middle East will continue to play to show the long term effects of Bush’s actions and if and when the economy rebounds to show the effect of the 2007 mortgage crisis? For the time being, it is difficult to teach the history of an event that will have lasted 12 years in Afghanistan come this fall. For me, that is the hard part, or maybe it’s the fun part, to see how history records and views these modern events as time progresses. The strangest part is that within the next five years, all of my eighth grade students will have been born after the events of September 11th and the beginning of the War in Iraq. The events seemed like they just happened yesterday. I know how I saw them as these events unfolded. To see the students discover, investigate, and formulate their own opinions is even more interesting to me. That is what teaching history should be.