Lessons

Lesson Plan: Underrepresented Voices from Syria

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A young boy walks with a bicycle past Syrian army soldiers in the city of Harasta, 9 km north of Damascus. Photo courtesy of Freedom House flickr. Syria, 2012.

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The education of students in exile hangs in balance of a legitimized state. Image by Alisa Roth. Turkey, 2013.

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Kurdish YPG Fighters. Image by Kurdishstruggle / Flickr

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Kurdish YPG Fighters. Image by Kurdishstruggle / Flickr.

Introducing the Lesson

In this week’s News Bite, you will explore three stories covering underrepresented communities in Syria. As you explore the articles, questions and activities attached, consider the following:

  1. Who is underrepresented in your own community? Why do you think that community is underrepresented?
  2. What tools can a journalist use to bring attention to a community that is underrepresented?

Introducing Resource 1: "Syria's Unknown Revolution"

Read the following description of journalist-grantee Wes Enzina’s project “Syria’s Unknown Revolution”: “There's a secret revolution occurring in Syria, and it may be the Middle East's greatest hope for achieving secular democracy, protecting women's rights...and beating ISIS. Meet the Kurds of Rojava.

1. Predict what you think this project will cover. How is the description written to capture the reader’s attention? What words do you think are particularly powerful?

2. Read the rest of the project description and consider the following: Why do you think the author gave the project this title?

3. Create a list of questions about Rojava. Search for the answers to your questions by reading the article “Kurdish Syria: A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS' Backyard” and/or conducting a google search.

4. Compare the following descriptions of Rojava:

  • "To the Turkish government, the territory, which is now the size of Connecticut and has an estimated 4.6 million inhabitants, was nothing more than a front for a Turkish group known as the P.K.K., or Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Since its founding in 1978, the P.K.K., led by Ocalan, had been fighting for independence from Turkey, hoping to establish a homeland for the country’s 14 million Kurds. The effort had caused the deaths of 40,000 people, thousands of them civilians, and led to the imprisonment of Ocalan. The American State Department designated the P.K.K. a terrorist organization in 1997."
     
  • "But to sympathetic Western visitors, Rojava was something else entirely: a place where the seeds of the Arab Spring promised to blossom into utopia. 'What you are doing,'’ said Raymond Joliffe, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, during a trip in May 2015, 'is a unique experiment that deserves to succeed.'’ A Dutch professor named Jan Best de Vries arrived in December 2014 and donated $10,000 to help buy books for Kurdish university students. David Graeber, a founder of Occupy Wall Street, visited that same month and wrote before his trip that 'the autonomous region of Rojava, as it exists today, is one of few bright spots — albeit a very bright one — to emerge from the tragedy of the Syrian revolution.'"

Discuss: What do you think has led to these differing views of Rojava? What is an area in the U.S., or in your community, that is described differently by different communities of people? What informs their opinions of that place?

4. Read the following quotation from “Syria’s Unknown Revolution”:

"In ISIS territory just 15 miles away, Kurdish girls were routinely tortured for being Westernized heretics — sometimes tied by their ponytails to car bumpers and dragged to their deaths. In Rojava, they were being educated."

  • Predict: Why do you think Rojava has been able to maintain its practices?
  • Learn more about the history of the Kurdish population here.
  • What did you learn about the Kurdish population that you didn’t know before? Select 2-3 pieces of information to share with the class.

Introducing Resource 2: "Syria: We Don't Have Rights, But We Are Alive"

Read the introduction to journalist-grantee James Harkin’s piece about the life of gay men in Syria and consider the following:

  1. What is the tone of the piece? How does the author achieve this tone?
  2. Why do you think Harkin has chosen to report on the gay community in Syria?
  3. What new information do you learn about the gay community in Syria? What questions do you still have?
  4. How are LGBTQ people represented in your community?

Introducing Resource 3: "Syria: My Lawless Summer"

Break into groups and review journalist grantee Alisa Roth’s article about the Syrian National Coalition from her project “Syria’s Displaced: Regional Implications.” Consider and then discuss the following in small groups, or as a class:

  1. What is the Syrian National Coalition?
  2. What new information do you learn about children and young adults in Syria from the article?
  3. Why do you think Roth includes these examples in an article about the Coalition?

Extensions:

Explore international coverage of Syria on your own by looking through newspapers or online media sources. As you look through headlines, consider the following:

  1. What is most of the coverage on Syria about?
  2. After reading the three pieces of Pulitzer Center grantees, what additional stories do you think should be covered in Syria? Why do you think they are not being covered?

Option 1: Using the questions above as inspiration, research a topic of your choice related to Syria and prepare a short report/presentation on the topic. Once completed, pair up with a partner to share what you’ve learned.

Option 2: Using the questions above as inspiration, consider a group in your own community that you think the world needs to know more about. Make a list of resources you could investigate and people you could interview to create a report on the community you chose.

Educator Notes: 

In this week’s News Bite, students will explore three stories covering underrepresented communities in Syria. As they explore the articles, questions and activities attached, students will be asked to consider the following:

  1. Who is underrepresented in your own community? Why do you think that community is underrepresented?
  2. What tools can a journalist use to bring attention to a community that is underrepresented?

The discussion topics and activities are suggestions for ways to quickly engage with the resources attached. Please feel free to adapt this lesson.

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