What We Did

We are a 99% white, middle class, Christian middle school with about 75 students.  We are part of a K-8 school of approximately 200 students, overall.  Needless to say, our students did not have much exposure to Islam, nor did they understand where Pakistan and Afghanistan were.  Many thought we were at war with the Pakistani and Afghani governments.

During the summer, I was fortunate enough to spend an entire month with Pakistani educators at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH, where a State Department sponsored Pakistani Educational Leadership Institute (PELI) is held annually.  Through this program, I was able to explore the social conventions of Pakistan and understand political perspectives.  One surprising thing that unfolded through this experience was that the Pakistanis told me that "Taliban" means "Student of God" in Arabic.  They refused to label these "miscreants" as they called them, "Taliban."  "No student of God would attack schools and kill and maim children," one Pakistani told me. 

Once school started, we embarked on our multi-disciplinary unit.  Before learning anything, students responded to a writing prompt:  What do you think when you hear the word Muslim?  Obviously, if you live in a more diverse area, this prompt would not work, but you could conjure up your own pertinent prompt based on your demographics and grade level.  Most of my students responded with negative perceptions that associated Islam with violence.  Several of my students did not know what a Muslim was.

From here, our Social Studies teacher taught the history and beliefs of Islam, covered the geographical layout of the Central Asia region, and gave a brief and simplified history of the inception of Pakistan as well as the wars that have plagued Afghanistan.  Our Science teacer proceeded to then teach plate tectonics in regards to the Himalayas, study altitude sickness and its symptoms, and look at the Indus River and environmental concerns.  I then began to teach the book in Language Arts, and students researched, wrote poetry, and wrote purposeful essays.  They wrote daily responses in their journals after their readings and discussions.  In Math they began to study area and volume and determined how many pennies would fit in a square foot.  They then posted signs all over the school letting people know that if this computer screen was filled with pennies, or if this toilet was filled with pennies, it would buy ____________ (school supplies for a year, a sewing machine, etc.) in Pakistan.  In Art, students created elaborate artwork based on tiles and Pakistani bus designs.  In Music, students studied the differences between Pakistani and western music and then prepared a song for our culminating event--a community dinner.

During this unit students posted current event responses on a bulletin board outside of my room, where I also posted emails from friends updating us on the violence in Peshawar that was occurring almost daily at that point.  A group of students also traveled to the K-5 classrooms, read Listen to the Wind, and left penny jars with each teacher.

The culminating dinner was held at our school on a Friday night.  Students planned the entire event.  Local restaurants donated soups and breads; students made desserts.  All of their writing and artwork was on display.  A kind letter from our governor arrived declining the invitation, but a representative from our congressman's office came, as well as our state senator.  Students sold books from the local bookstore, set up a henna station, showed younger kids how to tie scarves, held a math station teaching area, delivered soup and cleared tables, and in the end, raised $1816.76!

After our studies, 47 students had the privilege of traveling two hours away to hear Greg Mortenson speak.  At the end of the program I had the honor of going back stage to present a gift from my students and to tell him about the money we raised.  Before I departed, an eighth grade boy grabbed me and said, "Mrs. Miller, when you talk to Greg Mortenson, will you let him know that I've always known I can grow up and change world?  But tonght he told me that I don't have to wait until I grow up.  I can start now.  Tell him I said thank you."  

And that alone is why it is critical that we teach this book now.