Enhancing Students’ Understanding of Bi-Polarity in the History Classroom , pp. 12 of 13

There are a few student conclusions that could be achieved from this activity. First, students should be able to see how the international Communist movement was not monolithic in nature by the 1960s – the Sino-Soviet split meant that mutual co-operation between China and the USSR, such as the military assistance provided by China during the Korean War, was no longer viable and China ceased to be an ally until Moscow’s overtures to Beijing during Gorbachev’s term. As such, students should not find it surprising to find sources espousing Chinese perspectives criticizing Soviet actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Second, the rise of the Non-Aligned Movement and independent countries choosing not to remain allies of either the USA or the USSR meant that the ideological dominance experienced a limited but significant form of challenge. Third, students should be able to establish the limited forms of co-operation between the USA and USSR during the immediate decade after the Cuban Missile Crisis, as there was a temporary but significant thaw in American-Soviet tensions.

An understanding of these contextual developments will thus provide the most useful learning point for students from this activity: that while the USA and the USSR did co-operate in some areas the ideological divide between both superpowers still remained a thorn in American-Soviet relations. In other words, détente could perhaps have ended the Cold War but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, an action which did not sit well with Washington, shattered this possibility. As such, while there were significant changes from the 1950s to the late 1970s which provided the impetus for an improvement and deterioration in key relations, the ideological divide and competition between the USA and USSR never ceased to exist and continued to persistently pose a problem in American-Soviet relations and allowed both superpowers to largely maintain an ideological hegemony during the second half of the twentieth century.


This paper has sought to explore the ways in which the concept of bi-polarity can be unpacked and more effectively conveyed, and expounded in ways that can support students’ understanding of developments during the Cold War. The approach is derived from my own personal observations both as a student and as a teacher. I believe that getting students to understand the Cold War as an ideological struggle between the USA and the USSR is a fundamental step before building on such understanding to help them better appreciate the fluctuations in the concept of bi-polarity. In order to illustrate the importance of bringing in historical concepts such as chronology, change and continuity to teach the concept of bi-polarity, this paper has suggested some activities which could be carried out in the classroom. To help students achieve a more sophisticated understanding of Cold War developments and their implications on the decolonization process in Southeast Asia, teachers should consider exploring the various facets of bi-polarity and help students unpack the concept in tangible terms so as to map out its intricacies and nuances.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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