It was 5 p.m. on Thursday, and Beltway denizens were starting to think about braving the commute, heading out for a drink, or even packing for spring break with the kids. Then news flashed across Twitter: South Korea would be making a statement from the White House at 7 p.m. President Trump popped into the White House briefing room himself to tease that it would be a “major” announcement “on the big subject.” He wasn’t exaggerating: we soon learned South Korea’s national-security adviser had brought an offer of a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – and the White House had accepted. From the avalanche of national security and political analysis that followed, here are eight things to know.
In General, This Is Probably a Positive Development
We’re all well aware that the cycle of provocations surrounding the Korean Peninsula could have nuclear consequences, and the potential for miscommunication is high. This situation needs to be defused by direct talks between the North and the U.S. Any period of time where the North isn’t testing is a period where misunderstandings are less likely. And our South Korean allies very much want us to ramp down the tension and to talk to Kim. Their views matter, since their citizens already live under daily threat, regardless of whether the North can deliver a nuclear missile to the U.S.
That Doesn’t Necessarily Mean We’re Headed Toward a Resolution
Within an hour of the announcement at the White House, unnamed officials were telling reporters that while the North Korean concessions were real, the U.S. was “not prepared to reward North Korea in exchange for talks.” Washington and Pyongyang have gotten close before and no one should be surprised if this latest effort to address the North Korean nuclear crisis doesn’t yield a solution.
Summits Can Burn You
In 2000, Bill Clinton’s advisers debated heatedly whether he should meet with the current Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, as one of his valedictory foreign-policy trips. The skeptics won out. After the North sent an invitation to Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was dispatched to Pyongyang, where she was received with much fanfare — yet, the two sides were unable to close a deal. It’s worth remembering part of the reason why: although Albright’s talks were constructive, she was savaged by critics for allowing Kim’s expert choreography to portray her relationship with the “Dear Leader” in too cozy a light, as he continued starving his citizens behind the scenes.
This time, Kim Jong-un offered a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests “while talks are underway” and said North Korea will not object to the U.S. and South Korean military exercises due to be held on and around the Korean peninsula in the next few weeks. These two apparent concessions will help lower the temperature — and give the North the high ground.
The Trump administration has a tremendously difficult task ahead. Can they maneuver adroitly enough that the North doesn’t walk away from the talks? And what happens if, as we’ve seen at several points during the tortured history of U.S.–North Korean diplomacy, Pyongyang accuses Washington of acting in bad faith, or acts in bad faith itself? Is the White House prepared to offer South Korea and the rest of the globe a convincing counter-message?
Trump Needs His Diplomatic “A” Team
Or his “B” team. Or, frankly, any team. Let’s review: Trump’s National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster did not appear with the South Korean national-security adviser to brief the press, something former Defense and National Security Council (NSC) official Kelly Magsamen believes has never happened since the NSC was created after World War II. And the rumor is that Trump has grown tired of McMaster and is planning to replace him between now and May. Pentagon staffers were telling reporters they didn’t know what was coming a few hours before the announcement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on his way to Africa. And State, which would normally prepare such a summit, has vacancies in the top two positions dealing with Korea (assistant secretary for East Asia and ambassador to South Korea). The diplomatic envoy to the North just announced his retirement. Moments like these are why you need to maintain a talented and robust diplomatic corps.
This Happened Because the North Planned It
Trump may be showing spontaneity, but Kim Jong-un is not. Professor Elizabeth Saunders points out that summits are currency in international relations. The North views the lack of a permanent peace deal, and Washington’s insistence on treating it as a pariah rather than a respected member of the international community, as not just insults but threats to its existence. A U.S.–North Korean summit is a pinnacle of respectability, and thus a prize Pyongyang has sought for decades. A 1988 North Korean propaganda film, The Country I Saw, ends with an American president showing respect for North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs (just sketches and plans at the time) by dispatching an envoy to Pyongyang. It is worth noting that the North produced four sequels to this film.
Another Reason This Is Happening: Both Kim and Trump Want It
Jokes about the “bad hair, bad Twitter” summit started flying pretty quickly, but there is a serious point here. Both leaders rely on their personal “brand,” and on inspiring some combination of fear and reverence. Each shows great confidence that his supporters will accept anything he tells them — even if it seems to be a complete reversal of things he has said before. Each leader has calculated that a meeting — or the announcement of a meeting in the future — will make him look strong to his base and help him get more of the international attention he craves. But each leader is also used to playing a zero-sum, two-men-enter-the-ring-one-man-leaves style of diplomacy. This can’t end well for both of them.
This Doesn’t Mean That Trump’s Chaotic National-Security Style Was a Stroke of Genius
There’s probably already a hot take in print somewhere, or at least a tweet, about how this development proves that Trump’s fondness for unpredictability was the brilliant and tough diplomacy the Korea crisis has been waiting for. Madman theory says that if you can convince your opponents that you are irrational and not deterrable, they will make concessions to you. Interestingly, though, this theory has nothing to say about what happens when your opponents study the particular form of your madness and develop a strategy for how to play to your weaknesses. The Chinese and South Korean governments have already demonstrated considerable skill at using flattery to move Trump where they want him.
What a Way to Celebrate International Women’s Day
At first glance, the North Korea news might seem totally unrelated, but from Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong to Ivanka Trump to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, women are playing all kinds of critical roles in this drama. And did you notice how many female experts I quoted in this piece? Seemed kind of normal, didn’t it? That’s what International Women’s Day is all about.
But the last word goes to longtime Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, who drew lessons from another summit gone awry:
Having helped shape and plan a failed presidential summit in 2000, followed by three years of violence from which Israeli-Palestinian relations have still not recovered, make sure you know what you’re doing. We didn’t.
Update: This afternoon, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “president will not agree to the meeting without concrete steps and action.”
Some observers saw this as a belated attempt to insert preconditions; others saw it as a cancellation. But then the White House clarified the clarification, with an unnamed official telling the WSJ: “The invitation has been extended and accepted, and that stands.”
What does this mean? It looks like the sensitive and delicate pre-summit negotiations will be carried out in public. And a significant portion will be among parts of the U.S. government. Not a good sign.
Giving students the flexibility to choose the content and / or the outcome of their homework assignments increases engagement and promotes independent learning.
Giving students the flexibility to choose the content and / or the outcome of their homework assignments is an effective way to increase engagement and promote independent learning. By giving the class an open-ended opportunity to reflect on what they need and want to learn about, and then to choose the most effective way to demonstrate their learning, students are able to take more ownership of their studies and teachers are able to cover more material in a more diverse manner. Another great thing about this approach is its ease of implementation: it does not have to be adopted wholesale for all year groups and all homework assignments, but can rather be adopted to different degrees and at the most appropriate times. This is an approach which has been popularised particularly by Ross M. McGill (@teachertoolkit – see his blogpost at http://goo.gl/QMNbvj). The hashtag #TakeAwayHmk is used on Twitter to share ways in which the approach has been used.
The challenge for teachers using the “choose your own homework” approach is twofold. Firstly, students will need to be given enough of a framework to help guide them towards the most appropriate task without it being so constrictive that the spirit of the approach is compromised. Secondly, the process of feedback and assessment will also to be reconsidered: open-ended choices of topics and outcomes means a more flexible method is necessary. This in itself is a challenge worth rising to. Feedback becomes more individualised and based on work which gives a much clearer idea about the interests and talents of the individual student.
Over recent years I have tried various approaches to the “choose your own homework” strategy. What follows is a short summary of several of the more successful examples, each of which provides a slightly different method.
Example 1: “choose your own content”
The simplest way to get started with a “choose your own homework” approach is to allows students the freedom to choose their topic of study, but for the teacher to specify the outcome. In this way there is flexibility in terms of content, but the teacher will be able to measure some distinct skills through the work that is produced. I use this approach with my Year 12 students at the end of the first half term, when I set them a holiday homework designed to get them thinking about the possible focus of their Internal Asessment (a 2000-word independent study that has to be completed as part of the IB History course). The way I go about this is to give students a list of recommended podcasts (e.g. “Great Lives”, “In our Time”, “Witness” and “The Moral Maze”, all of which are freely available from the BBC). Their job is to listen to one hour’s worth of podcast material, and then use this to deliver a classroom presentation on one or more key questions raised by what they have learned. Example presentations that resulted ranged from “What are the main causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict?” to “How has game theory informed international decision making since World War Two?”. This podcast-based approach is easily adaptable to other subjects: the brilliant “Infinite Monkey Cage” podcast with Robert Ince and Brian Cox could give science students a similarly broad range of inspiration.
Example 2: “choose your own outcome”
My IGCSE History students reached the end of a heavily detailed and methodical study of Hitler’s foreign policy in the 1930s with a desperate need for some creative, independent work. I therefore gave them a homework which consisted of producing a resource designed to demonstrate their understanding of the key questions relating to Hitler’s foreign policy in such a way that they would find it a useful revision aid. I made it plain that I couldn’t care less what the outcome actually was, so long as it clearly demonstrated thought and effort and would prove useful as preparation for the final examination. I then gave the class some time in groups to list some possible outcomes, then we shared these as a class. The range of proposals was immense, including such things as a Google Earth Tour of the key locations of conferences and clashes relating to Hitler’s foreign policy; a ‘Diary of a Wimpy Fuhrer’ outlining the main steps towards World War Two in the form of an illustrated children’s book; a “TripAdvisor” review of each place coveted by Hitler from his perspective, complete with rating to indicate its importance; a photo-album scrapbook of a German soldier from the 1930s charting the progress of German foreign policy; changing the lyrics of a song to cover the topic essentials in a way that would be memorable, and much else besides. I took photographs of the best projects that resulted to provide further inspiration for next year.
Another great outcome was produced by Jade, who decided to revise her entire History course by creating this fantastic tubular timeline tower (subject of this blogpost).
Example 3: “choose the content and the outcome”
The most open-ended method of all, of course, is to give students the flexibility to choose both the topic and the outcome rather than merely one or the other. I tried out this approach recently with my Year 9 students. The broad theme I provided was the growth of the British Empire. I then provided them with a summary grid, with the main periods of growth forming the columns and the main countries and products involved forming the rows. Their job was to produce a homework based on one cell of the table (a particular event), one row (which focused on one of the key countries involved) or one column (which focused on one particular period). In this way they had a great deal of flexibility to choose a task corresponding to their interests and abilities. For example, the students who tended to focus on a single cell (event) in the table either did so because they wanted to keep the task more manageable, whereas others who did so opted for it because it addressed a key issue that stimulated their interest (a Dutch student investigate in more depth the occasion when the Netherlands sailed its ships up the Thames in a daring raid in 1667, for example). In terms of outcomes, one student decided to produce an image of what the dining room of an English middle-class family would have looked like before the impact of Empire, and then a second labelled image showing what it would look like complete with all the goods and produce at the end of the period. Another student produced a rapid stop-motion animation in which she shaded each territory as it entered the Empire, and then rubbed it out as the Empire dissolved, with captions explaining each step of the process.
Taking it further – “Takeaway Mark Scheme”
Designing “Choose your own Homework” exercises necessarily entails a “Choose your own mark scheme” approach too. I have written about this concept here in some detail.
Mark Creasy’s “Unhomework: How to get the most out of homework, without really setting it” (Independent Thinking Press, 2014) is absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in trying out various “choose your own homework” strategies. Mark can be followed on Twitter (@EP3577).
Ross Morrison McGill (@TeacherToolkit) has written a great blogpost: “#TakeAwayHmk is #UnHomework” (http://goo.gl/02eN9c). This also analyses the latest research about the importance of homework.