D.C. Teacher Introduces Students to the Cold War and Central America

Kevin Fox

Kevin Fox

Kevin Fox, 11th-grade social studies educator at Cardozo Education Complex (DCPS), is teaching his students to analyze Cold War conflicts in Central America through an exploration of poetry and history. A lesson titled, Poetry Fires the Revolution, which is available for free download at TeachingCentralAmerica.org inspired Fox to teach this topic to his students.

The lesson recommends educators either show students segments from Harvest of an Empire or divide into groups of four and read about the history of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Recognizing his students have different learning modalities, Fox had his students both read the articles and watch the documentary. Fox structured the lesson so that in groups students read an article on the history of a country they were assigned. Then students were asked to summarize three key details, evaluate two acts of United States (U.S.) interventions, and answer one question, “How was the nation affected by the Cold War?”

The group which studied El Salvador presented first, some key points students in this group identified included:

  • Journalists and newspapers were seen as a threat to people in power. They were killed because they were highlighting the truth about government corruption.
  • The people seemed to lose trust in the government.

Students then watched clips from Harvest of an Empire that focused on El Salvador. Students were shocked to learn that government soldiers in El Salvador were trained in killing and torture techniques by the United States at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning in Georgia.

Fox then had the group which studied Nicaragua present, some key points this group identified included:

  • William Walker went to Nicaragua and made himself president in an attempt to create a pro-slavery state in the 1850’s.
  • Augusto Cesar Sandino was a leader who fought against U.S. intervention.
  • Anastasio Somoza Debayle became president of Nicaragua and the U.S. helped keep him in power.
  • The U.S. implemented an embargo because the Sandinistas took power and the U.S. did not like their form of government. The embargo hurt the Nicaraguan economy.

Then students watched segments of Harvest of an Empire that focused on Nicaragua. In one instance, while viewing a 60-minute interview with Somoza a student commented,

Somoza owned everything that seems wrong because no one else is making money. He doesn’t even want to share his money with his own people, he wants to expand it.

Fox will use this same format next week when the students who studied Guatemala and Honduras present. Then students will have an opportunity to learn about the “Committed Generation,” analyze poetry and create a poster to commemorate poets of the “Committed Generation.”

Mykella Palmer