TEACHER'S GUIDE: ACTIVITIES
The price of civilization.
The film quotes Minik as saying, "My poor people don't know that the meteorite that Peary took, it came from a star. But they know that the hungry must be fed, and cold men must be warmed, and helpless people cared for, and they do it. Wouldn't it be sad if they forgot these and became civilized?"
Why do you think Minik believed that this was the price of civilization? Do you agree with him? How would you have responded to Minik if he had made this statement to you? Write an answer of roughly 250 words. Have volunteers read their letters to the class.
In some ways, Minik's story is similar to the "fish-out-of-water" plot used by many Hollywood movies, in which the main character is suddenly placed in a new environment and must cope with unfamiliar customs. (One well-known example is "Crocodile Dundee," in which an Australian crocodile hunter winds up in New York City.)
To see how Hollywood might tell a fictional story based on Minik's life, divide the class into small groups and have each group watch a "fish-out-of-water" movie. (The teacher must approve each group's choice of movie.) As you watch, consider the following questions: Did the main character choose to enter the new environment, or did it happen by chance? How does this new environment differ from the character's previous environment? Does the movie appear to suggest that one of these two environments is better than the other, and if so, how? Finally, would you label the film a comedy, drama, or romance?
Have the class reassemble and discuss whether there were common themes in the films the groups saw. Then have students explain how they would tell a fictionalized version of Minik's story if they were given the money to film it. Would it cover all of his life, or only part of it? Would the tone be funny, sad, dramatic? How would it end?
An Age of Inequality.
As the film explains, Minik lived at a time in which most Europeans and European Americans believed that they were naturally superior to other peoples. Divide the class into five groups and have each group explore one of the following topics related to this issue:
(a) Social Darwinism and how it was used to support the belief in Western racial superiority;
(b) Western imperialism in Africa and Asia during this period;
(d) phrenology and other so-called sciences that were used to "prove" that Western people were superior;
(e) the role that Franz Boas played in showing that "scientific" theories of Western racial superiority were false.
Groups should present their findings to the class in the form of oral reports. Then discuss this question: How, do you think, did the widespread belief in Western racial superiority affect Minik's life?
An Age of Firsts.
Robert Peary was just one of many men -- and some women -- in the late 1800s and early 1900s who tested themselves against nature. This era witnessed, among other things, the first successful expedition to the South Pole, the first crossing of the English Channel by airplane (and by swimming), the first transcontinental car trip across the United States, and even the first successful "trip" over Niagara Falls in a barrel!
As a class, prepare a wall-sized timeline of the 1870-1920 period entitled "An Age of Firsts." See how many "famous firsts" you can find related to travel and adventure. To add visual interest to the timeline, illustrate several entries with photographs, maps, or drawings.
When you are done, review the timeline as a class. Does it help explain Peary's single-minded quest to reach the North Pole?
Top ten "facts," true and false.
Though most Americans have heard of Greenland and of the Eskimo people, they probably know little about either topic. To find out more, divide the class into two teams and assign each team one of the two topics. Each team should do research to find out basic facts and interesting "factoids" about its topic and then use them to prepare a list of ten statements, some of them true and some of them false. (All statements should be worded to sound true.) Have the groups exchange lists and try to pick out the false statements in the other team's list. Which group did a better job?