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Volume 59, Number 4July/August 2008

In This Issue

Classroom Guide

For students: We hope this two-page guide will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue’s articles.

For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers at any level, whether working in a classroom or through home study.


Class Activities

This issue’s Classroom Guide is organized around two themes: Garbage and Mass Media. (And no, they’re not synonymous!)

Theme: Garbage

We all generate it, and we all get rid of it. In this issue you’ll get to do something a little bit different with garbage: Think about it. You’ll read about garbage from the past, and then you’ll think about today’s garbage in light of what you’ve learned.

What did people in the past do with their garbage? What do people do with their garbage today?
Read “Blooming in Cairo.” Highlight the parts that talk about Cairo’s medieval “rubbish mounds.” Discuss these questions with a partner: What does the presence of rubbish mounds tell you about what Cairenes did with their garbage? Where are the mounds located relative to the city? What did the excavation make clear about the significance of that location over the years?

Now turn your thoughts to the present. Think about today’s garbage—which, in an increasingly eco-conscious world, is actually a rather hot topic. Highly industrialized, high-consumption countries generate tremendous amounts of garbage. On the small side, there’s all that elaborate packaging—plastic containers, boxes, shrink wrapping. On the big side, there are computer monitors, refrigerators, cars, trucks, old factory parts, etc. How do common garbage disposal practices in cities today differ from those used in medieval Cairo?

Do a little scouting around in your home and neighborhood. What kinds of things get thrown away? Do people throw away things you think are still usable, such as empty yogurt containers that you might use to store leftovers? Do they discard old computers? Do you know if these trash items might still be usable?

Do some research about your local government. As a class, list as many specific ways as you can that your community disposes of various kinds of garbage. Then, with a partner, choose one of those procedures and find out two things: First, are you personally satisfied with the procedure? Why is it done that way? Second, what kinds of leftovers or other effects might that disposal method have in 100 years? In 500 years? 1000? Make a pamphlet or a page for a Web site that describes your part of the local garbage disposal procedures, and, if you think it can be done better, include recommendations.

Now read “Good Riddance, I Say,” an article in the “I Witness History” series that’s told in the first person—from the point of view of a piece of trash! With your “garbage” partner, discuss what the ancient Greeks did with their trash. The shard in the article reports that people often wrote on broken pottery, in the same way that people today write on the backs of envelopes. Do you ever do that—write on the back of something that has already served its purpose and is on its way to becoming garbage? Make a list of as many things as you and your partner can think of that you reuse in this way.

What does garbage reveal about the people who discarded it?
Both articles tell stories about the discovery of garbage from hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Imagine if someone 500 years from now were to find the garbage from your home or school. With a group or as a class, make a list of the kinds of things they would be likely to find. (You might take a peek into the trash bin if you’re having trouble thinking about what might be in there.) Then pretend you’re a historian or archeologist in the year 2508, and that a new discovery has been made “dating back to the early 21st century.” It’s up to you to figure out what the society was like that generated this most fascinating garbage. Choose one piece of trash, and write a brief essay in the style of “Good Riddance, I Say” in which you let that piece of trash tell its story so that your 26th-century readers can better understand the world that piece of trash came from. (Hint: Choose anything! A soft drink can, a foam coffee cup, a car engine…. Anything can do.) As an additional challenge, try to tie your piece of trash in with a recent current event.

What good, if any, can come from trash?
What good came from the discovery of ancient Greek rubbish and the medieval Egyptian garbage dump? What about today’s garbage? What good can come from it? To start you thinking, some fabrics are made out of recycled plastic. Find other examples of usable products that are made from trash. Report to the class on what you discover.

Theme: The Mass Media

“Message Nation” looks at the role that radio has played in Mauritania for the past 52 years. Read the article. Then use the following activities to help you think about mass media more broadly.

How can the mass media shape group identities?
“Message Nation” explains that a radio show, Al-Balaghat, helped a diverse group of people form a new, unified nation. Write a paragraph summarizing how Al-Balaghat contributed to that identity formation. To put Al-Balaghat’s contribution in perspective—and to think about the significance of the mass media—turn your attention to countries that began in a time before there were mass media. In the 1700’s, for example, when the United States formed, there were local newspapers, but there were no nationwide mass media as we know them today. Long-distance communication was slow and difficult. How do you think the people living in geographically distant states formed a sense of themselves as Americans? Before you discuss the question as a class, do some background reading in a textbook and/or on-line so that you can have an informed conversation.

Think about the media forms you participate in—do they include TV, movies, Web sites, newspapers, magazines, radio stations? Which ones? How does your participation in each one help you form a sense of identity either with other people—family, friends—or perhaps distinct from them (such as something you like but no one else you know does)? For example, if there is a movie that “everyone” has seen and quotes lines from, how does that make you feel part of a group? How do you feel if you haven’t seen it? Keep a log for one day of all the media you use, see or hear. The next day, compare your log with some friends’ logs. Do you watch/use the same media? What’s different? Now, compare your experience with the article’s description of Mauritanians’ experience with Al-Balaghat. Write a paragraph that could be the beginning of an article about you and your friends’ use of media in a way that imitates the start and style of “Message Nation.”

How might the mass media affect countries’ unified identities today?
The Internet is today like radio was in the first part of the 20th century: the most modern media technology. And, like radio before it, it is changing how people live and how they think about who they are—their identities. Early mass media sought mass audiences. Many movies, for example, aim to be “blockbusters,” which need huge audiences to cover their huge production costs. That means that filmmakers try to pull in the largest possible audience with movies that appeal to huge numbers of people. How do you think this need for a mass audience might affect the content of this type of movie? Discuss an example with another student.

Then think about how different that is from the Internet, where even if something might be of interest to only a very small number of people, the cost of putting it out on the Internet is minimal, and so it’s available. How might this new Internet model affect groups’ identities?

How might it affect a country? If the Internet becomes more widely available in Mauritania, do you think Al-Balaghat will continue to be as important as it has been for decades? What about cell phones and text messaging? Even though it seems obvious that Al-Balaghat might not fare so well when it is competing with them as a way to communicate, the article says that Al-Balaghat is not suffering much as they become more common. What do think there might be about the program that keeps people from thinking that a cell phone might substitute for it? Write an email to Yahya ould Taleb ould Sioli, the current Al-Balaghat presenter, with your answer.

How do the mass media promote or inhibit human relationships?
Find the part of “Message Nation” in which Moustapha Lefnane is quoted as saying that Al-Balaghat “reinforces human relations,” while cell phones and the Internet do not. Does his assertion surprise you? Team up with a partner. Have one person take the role of Lefnane while the other person takes the role of someone with a pro-phone perspective. Have a dialogue in which you each explain your point of view as clearly and thoroughly as you can. Discuss the issue back and forth. Try to understand the other point of view as well as your own. After your dialogue, make a two-column chart. In each column, list the supporting arguments for one of the viewpoints you discussed. When you look at the two columns side by side, which point of view persuades you? What new questions do you both have that the article might not answer? Write a persuasive essay taking one point of view, the other, or a combination of the two.

Analyzing Visual Images

Inside and Outside

Photographs can be taken indoors or outdoors, but a sense of “inside” and “outside” is a different thing, a point of view. Read the text of “China’s Nu Ahong,” and look at the photographs. Then look specifically at the opening photo spread on pages 24 and 25. An indoor space fills most of the photo frame, and yet it is taken from outside that space, looking in. How would you describe the space you see? What impression do you get of the women in the photo? What leads you to that impression? Now think about the photographer. Where was she when she took the picture? How can you tell? Hint: What frames the picture on the left and the right? Why do you think the photographer and the editors left that door frame in, rather than cropping it out? What effect does it have on you as a viewer? How, if at all, does it change your sense of the women in the photo? With what topics in the written text does the image connect? How?

Then, contrast this photograph with the top photo on pages 26 and 27. Notice that it is filled with an outdoor space. Where was the photographer standing when she took this picture? What effect does it have on you? How does it differ from the first photo you analyzed? How is it similar?

Finally, look at the top photo on pages 28 and 29, which includes both interior and exterior spaces. What message might the photographer be trying to convey by including both in the same image? How does this affect your understanding of the woman in the photo?

Write a reflective journal entry that explains the themes you see expressed in the three photographs. Support your explanations with evidence from the photographs themselves and information you learn from reading the captions and the article.

Julie Weiss Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Eliot, Maine. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies. Her company, Unlimited Horizons, develops social studies, media literacy and English as a Second Language curricula, and produces textbook materials.