Central America: An Introductory Lesson
Middle School and High School
By Pat Scallen
The immediate reasons for the rapid increase in Central Americans crossing the U.S. border include high levels of poverty brought on by economic stagnation, political unrest, and violence. Many of these problems are rooted in centuries of structural economic inequality, state-sponsored oppression, and institutionalized racism.
This lesson is designed to introduce students to several of these concepts through brief biographical sketches of figures in twentieth-century Central American history. It then builds upon this knowledge in examining the role the United States has played in the affairs of these smaller nations residing in what many U.S. presidents have considered our own backyard.
Students will emerge with a deeper understanding of:
key concepts and themes which define contemporary Central American politics and society,
U.S. foreign policy in Central America, and
the push factors leading to Central American migration to the United States.
Copies of “Getting to Know Central America” questions
Name tags: Distribute blank name tags and have students write their character’s name or use the pre-prepared photo name tags included at the end of this lesson. Print on card stock and use string to create hanging name tags.
Meet-and-greet roles, one per student.
BIOS / MEET AND GREET ROLES
Col. Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán Irma Flaquer Azurdia
Otto Rene Castillo
Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Gen. Efrain Rios Montt
Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores
Fredi Onan Vicen Peña
The Dulles Brothers
Andrés McKinley (also El Salvador)
Claribel Alegria (Also Nicaragua)
Major Roberto D’Aubuisson
Yolanda del Carmen Marín
Agustín Farabundo Martí
Gen. Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez
Andrés McKinley (also United States)
Archbishop Oscar Romero
Claribel Alegria (also El Salvador)
Fr. Ernesto Cardenal
Violeta Barrios de Chamorro
Carlos Mejia Godoy
Anastasio Somoza Debay
Augusto César Sandino
The video clip below is provided to offer the teacher a sense of how the lesson looks in action. Teaching for Change curriculum specialist Julian Hipkins III is introducing the lesson to students at a high school in D.C. The school has a high percentage of Central American students. Following the lesson there are brief reflections from students. (Note that this was filmed with a handheld camera, so the production is a bit shaky.)