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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro at the invitation of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev spent the day at the latter's suburban house in Moscow, April 30, 1963 Fidel Castro offers insights into topics in American history including U.S. involvement in the Caribbean and Latin America, the Cold War, Communism, presidential politics, international diplomacy, nuclear war and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs, Cuban exiles and the Cuban American community, refugee policy, trade embargoes, the nature of leadership, and more. Use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: history, economics, geography, and culture. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. America during the Castro years
    To get a sense of how long Castro has been in power, conduct a class activity to find out how life has changed in the United States since 1959. Divide the class into groups to contrast various areas of life in 1959 and today.

    One group, for example, might examine issues related to daily life, such as changes in the cost of a loaf of bread or a house or changing tastes in fashion. Another group might examine changes in sports and entertainment, such as what kinds of music are popular or what "fads" have been embraced by teenagers. Another group might examine changes in international politics, such as what the world's major powers are and what conflicts are taking place. Another group might examine changing demographics, such as the age of the average American, the share of adults who are married or divorced, or the population's ethnic makeup. Another group might examine changes related to racial or gender equality, such as the percentage of women in the work force or earnings among African Americans.

    Each group should decide the best ways to present its findings -- posters, oral reports, mock diaries or "museum exhibits" from the two periods, and so on.

  2. Castro's impact on history
    Read Mark Falcoff's article, Cuba's Future -- Or Futures and Rafael Rojas' piece, Fidel Castro's Feat. Imagine that Castro has just died and you are a radio reporter preparing a report on the event. Your editor has given you three minutes to report on Castro's life, his mark on Cuban history, and Cuba's future after the Castro era. Decide how much time you want to devote to each of these broad topics and write your report to fill the allotted time. When everyone has finished, record all of the reports and then listen to them as a class. Which reports were most informative and most interesting?

History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. Debating the trade embargo
    Select one of the statements below and use it as the basis of a 750-word editorial on the American trade embargo against Cuba. Your editorial should expand on each of the points in the statement. Circulate the completed editorials among the class and vote on which editorial of each statement was most effective.

    Statement 1: The embargo has been the mainstay of U.S. policy toward Castro's Cuba for four decades; ending it now would be an admission of defeat and would give Castro a huge propaganda victory. Ending the embargo also would help prop up Cuba's economy and thereby delay the fall of communism there. In addition, until the Cuban government grants political freedom to the people of Cuba, the United States has a moral responsibility to continue opposing the regime.

    Statement 2: Though in place for four decades, the embargo has failed to push Castro from power. In fact, it has helped Castro tighten his grip on Cuba by isolating the country from outside influences; in the Soviet Union, in contrast, trade with free-market countries helped undermine Communist rule. Moreover, the embargo has caused great suffering among the Cuban people. It should be ended.

  2. Nationalization and U.S. relations
    As a class, review the timeline of post-revolution Cuba and look for references to the government's "expropriating" or "nationalizing" privately held properties. Discuss (a) what the terms mean, (b) why a government would adopt these policies, and (c) why these policies might cause tension with foreign governments.

    Then, working in small groups, find out about other governments that have nationalized private properties and the effect of these policies on relations with the United States, such as: the Arbenz government in Guatemala in the early 1950s, the Mossadeq government in Iran in the early 1950s, the Nasser government in Egypt in the mid-1950s, and the Allende government in Chile in the early 1970s. How did the United States react? Do you agree with the U.S. decision? Why or why not?

History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. "Castro on the couch"
    Divide the class into teams of two students each. Imagine that each team, as part of a biography it is writing of Fidel Castro, is examining why Cuba's revolution ended in the creation of a dictatorship even though it was fought in the name of freedom. Is Castro himself -- his personality, beliefs, and/or experiences before becoming Cuba's leader -- the main reason why the revolution did not bring freedom to the people of Cuba? Have one member of each team list evidence from the film, the profile of Fidel Castro, and the piece on Huber Matos that supports this conclusion.

    The other member of each team should think of other factors that might help explain the Castro dictatorship. For example, the film repeats the well-known saying that "revolutions devour their own children" -- in other words, governments that take power following a revolution are often repressive (sometimes more repressive than the government they replaced), and their victims often include some of the revolutionaries themselves. Why might this be so, and could this have affected events in Cuba? Also, do you think that U.S.-Cuban tensions and the general Cold War atmosphere of the early 1960s contributed to the creation of a dictatorship in Cuba?

    Have each team present its conclusions to the class.

  2. Accomplishments of the revolution?
    Read Mirem Uriarte's document, The Right Priorities: Health, Education, and Literacy. Some people have argued that despite the revolution's failures in the area of political freedom, it has helped bring other benefits to the Cuban people, such as improved health care and education. How does Cuba compare to other countries in these and related areas?

    The United Nations ranks countries according to a "Human Development Index," which measures each country's achievements in three main areas: health, knowledge (education), and standard of living. Examine the table showing the Human Development Index rankings for the world's countries. Working together as a class, prepare a bar graph showing how Cuba compares in this index to other individual countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. (You also might want to include the United States as an additional comparison.)

    Now, divide the class into three groups, one for each of the three main areas of the U.N. index. Each group should use the tables on the U.N. Web site to see how Cuba performs in various specific measures within the category it has been assigned. For example, the group assigned to health might examine data on issues such as life expectancy, immunization against disease, and access to proper sanitation. Each group should select the five specific topics it thinks are particularly important and, for each topic, prepare a bar graph comparing Cuba's score in that area to other Latin American and Caribbean countries.

    When all groups have finished, post the completed tables around the room. Have the class review them and then discuss how well you think Cuba has done in these areas.

History | Economics | Civics | Geography

  1. Cuban places in American history
    Visit the map on this site, Destination: Cuba. Three places in Cuba have played prominent roles in American history and are linked with the careers of three American presidents: San Juan Hill, where Theodore Roosevelt fought in a battle that helped make him nationally famous; the Bay of Pigs, where President John F. Kennedy suffered an embarrassing defeat against Castro; and Guantanamo Bay, where George W. Bush's administration has detained people it suspects of having terrorist connections.

    Select one of these three places and imagine you are the U.S. president whose career was linked to that place. Write a chapter for your memoirs in which you reflect on your actions in connection with that place and how they relate to your goals (in life or as president).

  2. Cold War conflicts
    Read about Castro and the Cold War. Divide the class into three groups to stage a mock debate that could have occurred in the United Nations during the Cold War on the issue of U.S. and Cuban involvement in overseas conflicts.

    The first group, representing the U.S. government, should prepare a brief (five or ten minute) presentation for the United Nations criticizing Cuban support for communist movements around the world. The second group, representing the Cuban government, should prepare a presentation for the U.N. criticizing U.S. involvement in conflicts around the world. Each group should use a map to show the locations discussed in its presentation.

    The third group should represent the members of the United Nations. After hearing both presentations, they should draft a resolution addressing the issues raised by the presentations -- that is, expressing the U.N.'s view on American and/or Cuban involvement in overseas conflicts. Which presentation did the U.N. members find more persuasive?

page created on 12.21.04
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