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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

%A Brilliant Madness offers insights into American history topics including the Cold War, game theory and its uses in foreign diplomacy, the government's role in nurturing genius, economic theories and research, the rise of math and science research for national security purposes, the nature of mental illness, and the history of treatments for mentally ill people. You can 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 civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

Civics | History | Economics | Geography

1. Read the timeline of treatments for mental illness. Then think about any contact you have had with a person who suffers from some kind of mental illness -- a relative, friend, or even someone you have passed on the street. Write a letter to that person in which you explain how his or her illness has affected you and the way you treat him or her. Have you shared some of the prejudices that many people in the past have had toward mentally ill persons? (Sending the letter to the person is not part of this activity, so you should be completely honest in your letter.)

2. The principles of game theory can help explain several key decisions made by American leaders during the Cold War -- decisions that otherwise might be difficult to understand. For example:

  • During the Cold War, the United States stationed troops in West Berlin even though the city was deep inside East German territory and would easily have been overrun in the event of war. Why?

  • During the Cuban Missile Crisis, when President Kennedy found out the Soviet Union was building nuclear missile bases in Cuba, he didn't order an attack on the bases but rather imposed a naval quarantine to keep additional Soviet missiles from reaching Cuba. Why?

  • In 1972, the United States and Soviet Union signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which strictly limited each side's ability to defend itself against a nuclear attack from the other. Why?

As a class, discuss each of these decisions. Begin by considering why the decision might not initially appear to be the best one. Then consider why American leaders nevertheless chose this course. (A good way to proceed would be to think about how American leaders hoped to shape later Soviet decisions.) Do you agree with the American policy in each case?

Civics | History | Economics | Geography

1. Read the biography of John Nash and his own autobiography, and use the information in them and the film to create a timeline of the major events of John Nash's life. Use different colors for the timeline itself to symbolize the state of Nash's mental health (to the degree that you can determine it) during different periods of his life. For example, you might use yellow for periods when he was relatively healthy, blue for periods when he was relatively unhealthy, and green for periods of transition.

2. Read about the RAND Corporation. Then visit the RAND Web site. Read about RAND's history and review the organization's current areas of research. Then scan the RAND publications that are available online. Select three publications that reflect the wide range of topics RAND research addresses. For each publication, write down the title and prepare a very brief summary of the topic in your own words. Present your findings to the class.

Civics | History | Economics | Geography

1. Read the explanation of game theory. To make sure everyone understands the prisoner's dilemma, form groups of three: two people to be the prisoners, and the third to be the investigator (and to provide help where needed). Each group should prepare a table that shows how each of the four different possible outcomes -- Suspect A confesses and Suspect B does not, Suspect B confesses and Suspect A does not, both suspects confess, neither suspect confesses -- affects each of the suspects. When all the groups have finished, compare your tables. Then discuss: what would you do if you were one of the prisoners? What would eliminate the "dilemma" for the prisoners?

2. Despite John Nash's brilliance and the benefits the United States stood to receive from his work, the federal government subsidized neither his education nor his later hospitalization. Do you think the federal government should identify "potential geniuses" at an early age and pay their educational and other expenses as they mature? As a class, create a list of reasons for and against this proposal, then vote on it.

Civics | History | Economics | Geography

1. Read about national fears during the Cold War. Then draw or trace a map of the world, entitle it "Cold War Hot Spots," and label the following locations: Berlin, North and South Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Angola, Israel/Egypt. Next to each location, identify the conflict in this area that was affected by the Cold War.

2. The PBS series "The Secret Life of the Brain," which explores the changes in the brain over a person's lifetime, contains information on the relationship between schizophrenia and culture. How did the delusions that John Nash suffered reflect the place and time in which he lived?

Another PBS program, The Secret Life of the Brain, includes extensive teaching and learning resources on its Outreach Resources page. You can also explore the human mind on the companion Web site and teachers' guide for NOVA's program on neuroscience, Secrets of the Mind.



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