Uncovering North Korea
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Stanford University Press
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Korean curriculum for high school history students
This thorough, well-written and carefully mapped-out approach to understanding North Korea is designed for high school students. The Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education endeavors to illuminate students about global affairs so they are better prepared to grasp the issues that affect us all: international economies, the environment, diplomacy and health issues. Because North Korea is little understood in the West beyond the media's representation, this curriculum makes students aware of the deep origins of this cloaked nation's story.
Lesson One narrows the gap between the negative view of North Korea Westerners have and the side that we do not see. Students look critically at current news articles and images to discern how they depict North Korea's government, economy and military, etc. Discussion questions and images are included on a CD ROM.
Lesson Two covers the North Korean Political System and details Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il. Cult of Personality is explained as a prevalent piece of the communist puzzle, especially in the hereditary succession that exists in N.K. Because the copyright date is 2009, Kim Jong-Un is not covered. This is certainly a drawback. But much can be gained by students in discussing the political system, role of the military, idolatry of the leaders and repression of opponents.
Lesson Three explains why N.K. wants nuclear weapons by covering its history since WWII and its relationship with the U.S. As a peninsular nation, it has been threatened from all sides, as illustrated in a time-line that focuses on its relationship with the U.S.
Lesson Four discusses the controversy over Human Rights in N.K. Topics include defining human rights, whether they are really "universal" and the role of nations in the protection of these. The role of prison camps is covered thoroughly here.
Lesson Five looks at life in N.K. A film called "A State of Mind" can be used here to analyze the Mass Games. Juche, or official North Korean ideology, is covered, along with details about family life in Pyongyang.
Lesson Six looks at N.K.'s economy, including the roots of its current problems (the food crisis; industrial and power output decline).
The curriculum includes transparencies with focus questions, definitions, images (cartoons, photographs), charts, etc. There are review questions in the book, a crossword puzzle, glossary and many additional resources.
This is ideal for high school students and could be adapted and trimmed for middle school students (8th grade in particular). It contains enough material to last 3 or more weeks, depending on pace. It is thought-provoking and helpful in breaking down bias. In today's volatile climate, seeking to better understand this nation is timely and important.
A Positive Addition to East Asian Studies
I'm constantly worried about the necessity of background information when I begin teaching something new to the classroom. I will use parts of this curriculum guide when discussing Korea after I finish the novel Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood.
One of the larger points I make during the curriculum unit on Korea is that the lose of one culture - or the lose of part of a particular culture, when readers of history are most kind - have effect on the future. After studying Korea, and East Asia, the area went through centuries of peace and prosperity, culminating in the development of culture, prior to the Second World War and the events that led to it.
It is important, if we are to make that argument, to discuss the dramatic transformation that Korea has gone through within the last 80 years after such a long period of general peace. This unit begins to answer some of the questions about events and ideas that led to the Korean War and the split that we see in Korea today.
While I found the later chapters less important for my purposes, the first few chapter units helped indicate how North Korea became what it is today.