Dissent and Revolution: Bringing the Czechoslovak Experience to Teachers

In summer 2018, CREECA, in partnership with the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, will hold a three-day workshop for Wisconsin and Iowa educators titled 68.77.89: Czechoslovakia from Invasion to Revolution.

Crowd of protesters in Prague, 1989.
A demonstration in Prague during the 1989 Velvet Revolution. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

CREECA’s Assistant Director for Operations Kelly Iacobazzi and David Danaher, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at UW-Madison, are organizing the workshop, which will be held at the Madison Concourse Hotel on July 11-13, 2018. According to Iacobazzi, “This is a great opportunity for educators to get together with some of the leading experts in Central European history and to brainstorm new ways to engage students in that history.” 68.77.89 will explore the causes and legacies of Czechoslovakia’s culture of dissent as witnessed during the 1968 Prague Spring uprising, the Charter 77 movement, and the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Among those presenting at the workshop are Kimberly Elman Zarecor, associate professor of architecture at Iowa State University, Kieran Williams, a visiting professor of political science at Drake University, Craig Perrier, a high school curriculum developer, and Nicholas Hartmann from the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library (NCSML).

The NCSML, located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the primary center for the preservation of Czech and Slovak culture and history in the United States. In recent years, the museum has strengthened its focus on issues of human rights and the perseverance of dissident movements in Czechoslovakia. The museum views the exceptional history of the region as indicative of timeless human struggles. “Czechoslovakia is a unique country in terms of its Communist past,” explains Nicholas Hartmann, Director of Learning and Civic Engagement at the NCSML. “Its desire to humanize its Communist ideology led to an invasion. Its artists and creatives took the government to task on their human rights promises. And its artistic community was very devoted, not just to democracy, but also to morals and thinking in terms of big pictures.”

David Danaher, the faculty lead for the 68.77.89 workshop, insists on the importance of the past for understanding the present and beyond. “The larger frame in which a study of 68.77.89 ought to take place,” says Danaher, “is the fundamental question of what it means to be human in the modern world, and that is a perspective on the culture of dissent in Czechoslovakia that we will be highlighting.” Danaher, who will also be giving the keynote lecture at the workshop, is quick to draw parallels to recent trends in world politics. “Dissent is in, dissent is cool. Actually it never went out of fashion,” he elaborates. “There is, however, an understandable sense of urgent concern about our current situation that makes studying the culture of dissent in East Central Europe a deeply practical matter for those of us living in the 21st century world. This concern is perhaps even stronger among younger people who ponder their future with a sense of trepidation.”

“Teachers will find a lot of inspiration in the stories: student engagement, nonviolence, fights against censorship, civic cooperation,” promises Hartmann, adding: “These are hot-button issues now in 2018, and this will get not only educators interested, but also students.”

Flowers and candles on Wenceslas Square, Prague November 1989
Photo from 1989 Velvet Revolution. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

A crucial component of the workshop is the creation of curricular materials that teachers can use with their own students. “What’s different about this workshop,” says Hartmann, “…is that teachers will come out of it with not only a fair deal of subject knowledge, but also a curriculum for their classrooms.” Participants can rest assured, says Danaher, “that a curriculum for teaching 68.77.89 already exists.” The lesson plan for the workshop was developed by the NCSML in conjunction with a board of advisors, many of whom are experts in the various fields relating to Czech and Slovak history. According to Danaher, “Some of those specialists will be leading this summer’s workshop, and the curricular writer will also be there to facilitate discussion with teachers about how to use the individual modules in social science and history classes.”

While the content and activities of the workshop may be of most interest to middle and high school teachers, all educators are welcome to participate. Previous CREECA-sponsored workshops have been attended by elementary school teachers, homeschool teachers, community college instructors, school administrators, and librarians.

Interested educators are encouraged to contact Kelly Iacobazzi for more information or visit the workshop website to register.

The workshop and other learning opportunities regularly organized by CREECA are part of the center’s mandate as a U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center. Under the program, CREECA acts as an educational resource on Russia, Eastern and Central Europe, and Central Asia, provides training to educators and the community, and supports research and area language instruction at UW-Madison.