As a social studies teacher of world geography and contemporary issues courses at The Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy, an Austin, Texas-based high school, I am always incorporating current events and geopolitical analysis into my lessons. In the past, I have used publications such as The Economist and The New York Times as sources, but their coverage of countries and regions of the world can be uneven.
I have taught an elective course called Contemporary Issues for 19 years. It focuses on American foreign policy from 1945 to the present. I am always looking for quality written and primary sources of current and historical analysis to further my own and my students’ understanding of world affairs and world geography.
A friend of mine introduced me to Stratfor, a great source of geopolitical forecasting and analysis. When I received an invitation to hear a talk by Fred Burton a few weeks later, I jumped at the chance. At the time, Fred was the Vice President of Tactical Analysis at Stratfor. He had had just written a book about his time working in counterterrorism operations in the State Department and he was giving a book talk at the local Jewish Community Center. I asked Fred if he would be interested in speaking to my Contemporary Issues students about his experiences and his views on current events. Without hesitation, he accepted, and that began my 10-year relationship with Stratfor.
Fred has visited my Contemporary Issues class every year to share his varied experiences. He provides a firsthand perspective on how organizations like the State Department and the National Security Council operate. During his presentations, he asks students how they would advise the president in a particular world crisis situation and presses them to explain their reasoning.
Based on his real-life experiences, he gives the students feedback on how their ideas would be responded to by various policymakers such as the secretary of state or CIA director. His presentations tie directly in to the student projects on the United States government's involvement in Third World countries such as Nicaragua and Vietnam during the Cold War.
I was given a free online access to Stratfor Worldview, and found a wealth of analysis rooted in geography and history that helped to shape my understanding of the world we live in. I teach ninth grade world geography as my main assignment, and it immediately became clear to me how valuable this resource would be to me and my students.
I was able to distribute Statfor Worldview articles as foundational readings in my unit on Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. At the beginning of the unit, students read the article "The Geopolitics of Russia." For their corresponding project, students choose a country from this region to represent at a mock summit meeting on economics and security. They then prepare treaties to work on during the summit.
As part of their research, I provide them with more Stratfor articles on the region. These articles have been extremely useful to my students because it is difficult to find information and analysis on the geopolitics of countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and other former Soviet Union countries. Students are able to write realistic treaties, and the entire summit experience is more authentic with their thinking rooted in a deeper knowledge and understanding of the history and current geopolitical situation of the region.
Last summer, I was asked if I would be interested in providing free access to Stratfor Worldview for all 350 freshman students of world geography. This was part of a project at Stratfor to understand how to provide the most value to teachers and students at various educational levels. I jumped at this great opportunity!
The Stratfor team was excited by the prospect of our students using Stratfor as a learning tool, and the possibility of providing access to more high schools in the state and throughout the country. As of today, all of my students have Stratfor Worldview accounts and have been its articles to research information on countries for their Country Demographics Project, their Core-Periphery Country Analysis Project, and their weekly current events assignments.
The results of using Stratfor more extensively in the classroom are clear. The quality of the students' work has vastly improved due to their depth of understanding. Students read in-depth reports on assigned topics and come away more aware of the forces shaping the world around them, which is critical to their learning. Several of my former students and one current student have gone on to jobs and internships at Stratfor.
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