A Teacher’s Perspective on Guantanamo Boy

When Albert Whitman set out to launch our young adult line with Guantanamo Boy, we wanted to publish smart, fearless books that explore uncharted territory in the world around teens and in their inner lives as well. Guantanamo Boy does exactly that.

To navigate those uncharted waters, we wanted to be sure teachers had all the tools they needed to use Guantanamo Boy in their classrooms to foster healthy, productive debate and discussion. That’s when we brought Michael Robinson on board.

Michael Robinson is a highly renowned, award-winning high school social studies teacher. He wrote the teacher’s guide for Guantanamo Boy that deftly manages to frame classroom discussion in a way that promotes rational discussion and spurs students to share their varied opinions about Guantanamo Bay. Here, Mr. Robinson gives further insight into his perspective on using Guantanamo Boy in the classroom.

A Teacher’s Perspective on Guantanamo Boy

By Michael Robinson, award-winning high school social studies teacher

As I worked on the teacher’s guide for Guantanamo Boy, it occurred to me that some teachers may feel some apprehension about using a book with such serious, disturbing, and even controversial issues. We are constantly seeing all the discussions in the media about what is and is not torture and about what actions are necessary by our own government to ensure our safety and security. These are such tough discussions to have with adults, much less young adults. I hope teachers will not let any apprehension or uncertainty about these very serious topics keep them from using Guantanamo Boy in their classroom.

In fact, I think these difficult discussions are the types of dialogue we need to have with our young adults. My hope with writing the questions for each chapter was that they would provide a teacher with a starting point for thoughtful and meaningful classroom discussions. I wanted the questions to have a sense of balance and neutrality.

When I approach controversial issues with my students, I try to present the material in such a way that they have to discover for themselves what they believe. Then I want them to be able to express to me and anyone else why it is they hold these beliefs. I would approach the issues discussed in Guantanamo Boy with care and discuss the complexity of all the issues.

When teaching Guantanamo Boy to students, I would suggest focusing on the following main themes and issues:

Historical Background

It is critical to discuss with students the events that occurred on 9/11. The young adults reading this book will have limited, if any, knowledge of the events of 9/11. This will be a historical event for them. It is necessary to explain what occurred on 9/11 and how the United States government responded to this terrorist attack. This background is necessary to understand the actions and motives found in the book.

Points of View

One interesting aspect of this book is that it is written from a non-American point of view. This will allow for discussion as to how actions of the United States may be viewed by others in the world. It also allows for discussion about who or what constitutes a threat to the security of the United States, or to any country that is a victim of terrorism.

It is important to recognize the complexity of this issue from the perspective of the country
that has been attacked. How a country reacts to terrorists and terrorism will have tremendous consequences. The goal of the country is to secure the safety of its citizens. It is vital to discuss the choices the United States government makes to ensure the safety of its citizens.

This book details a fictional story of how an innocent person is a victim of the United States’ war on terrorism. Analyzing various points of view will help students better understand the complexity of this issue. It will be imperative to discuss the balance that needs to be found when providing for the safety and security of one’s citizens while also trying to preserve individual freedoms. This book details the dangers of not being able to find that balance.

Relating to Young Adults

Students need to be able to relate to Khalid. This could be accomplished by classroom discussion about how Khalid is like them. He is just an ordinary boy who goes to school,
plays video games, watches sports, and has a crush on a girl. He also happens to come from a religious family. Even if that faith is not their own, students need to recognize that Khalid may be of a different religion but is otherwise very much just like them.

Religion, Customs, and Stereotyping

Cultural understanding is vital for students to gain a full appreciation of the situation while reading the book. Students need to recognize the dangers of stereotyping any group of people. To prepare students to read this book, it may be a good idea to have a lesson on religions. Students would benefit from being able to discuss the similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam. Many American students will probably be surprised to find that the two religions have many items in common.

Truth, War, and Terrorism

What is the truth, and how do you obtain it from someone you suspect is lying? This is the
challenge faced by those men and women in our police forces and armed forces. It is their job to determine the truth in the hopes of securing our safety. The debate, then, is: What actions should they take in order to secure our safety? What is the difference between enhanced interrogation techniques and torture? Does using these techniques provide trustworthy information? These are the tough questions students will be asking and attempting to answer. In my opinion, this is probably one of the more difficult discussions to have with students, but it is also one of the most important.

I would suggest allowing a great deal of time in class for debate, and it is vital that it be informed debate. I would suggest that teachers have their students research the current situation at Guantanamo Bay, the war on terrorism, the warin Afghanistan, and the various views of using torture as a means of obtaining vital information. This book is a good opportunity to learn a great deal about current events. It is important to remind students that the book is a work of fiction, but that it is based on current affairs torn from recent headlines.

By having students read and discuss Guantanamo Boy, a teacher is starting them on a journey to be able to discuss the world’s complex issues in a productive and meaningful way—a skill that will help them throughout their lives.

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A Teacher’s Perspective on Guantanamo Boy