Enhancing Students’ Understanding of Bi-Polarity in the History Classroom , pp. 4 of 13

From a teacher’s perspective, an enhanced understanding of the concept of bi-polarity has multi-fold benefits for students in general. First, students would be able to apply such understanding to their reading of sources in the source-based case studies and detect the subtle shifts in attitudes of various stakeholders involved in events such as the Korean War and the Cuban Missile Crisis (both of which are examinable topics for the Source Based Case Studies (SBCS) component). Second, an understanding of the nuances in events which happened in the post-Cuban Missile Crisis years up till the resurgence of the Cold War (during Ronald Reagan’s presidency) may be essential in enabling students to construct an analysis of the significance of Reagan’s actions and the meaning of his political and military strategies. Third, a nuanced understanding of the concept of bi-polarity will also benefit students who may decide to further their interests in history at the Junior College or the university levels. Indirectly, a recognition of the complexity of bi-polar dynamics will be useful in elucidating the ever-changing nature of European intervention in Southeast Asian politics after the second World War, thus adding another layer of sophistication into the students’ understanding which could be reflected in the quality of their essays. 

Understanding the wider implications of bi-polarity through chronological sequencing

In the history classroom, chronology is often said to be the most widely recognized but yet misunderstood concept. Students often perceive chronology simply as the linear progression of events within a fixed period of time. Historical chronology, however, may be more than that, and is generally defined as “a matter of convention” that “deals with the practicalities of time measurement” (Blow, Lee and Shemilt, 2012, p. 26). Students’ understanding of developments during the Cold War may comprise knowledge of the time period or of events spread across a chronological order, unfolding in a predictably linear fashion. However, an understanding of chronology goes beyond being able to place events or developments across a timeline. Students also must be able to demonstrate knowledge of chronological “conventions” (such as using specific vocabulary that can indicate a “sense of the period”) and develop analytical “frameworks” of past events that can be used to evaluate the importance of particular historical developments.

Teachers can help students to acquire a stronger awareness about the periodization of the Cold War by getting them to sequence and analyze the multitude of events which unfolded in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, before helping them to categorize the developments into the various stages of the Cold War. In this light, students will be able to better analyze the ways in which the concept of bi-polarity unfolded: from the ideological premise of a dichotomy between the USA and the USSR to the full-blown political and economic competition for spheres of influence in Europe and beyond.

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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