Cultural Studies – Understanding The Price of War

Primary Text
Bruce Weigl’s Song of Napalm
In this 3 week unit, students will be immersed into a multi-media experience focused on exploring the subject of the price of war, focused around a central text, Bruce Weigl’s Song of Napalm. As a result of this lesson, students will feel more intimately connected to the realities and costs of wars, understand how wars are portrayed in the news media, and understand the human impact wars have on our interconnected world.
Seniors in American high schools in 2015 have lived nearly their entire lives with the backdrop of their country participating in combat military operations of varying degrees. For children growing into young adulthood, the constant nature of war can foster a feeling of normalcy around the topic of war as it is pervasive in its reach. Additionally, young adults, and most Americans well into adulthood conceptualize war as something that happens in obscure theaters on the other side of the world, resulting a detached association with the reality of war. An analysis of this topic will help bridge the gap between this dissociation, and prepare students, our country’s future voters, to be more well informed, well prepared participants in our democracy.
It is expected that a diverse classroom of students will already hold a variety of opinions on this subject, varying in degree of passion and understanding, and in overall sentiment towards the subject of war and the U.S. Military. A wide range of prior knowledge exists among students, gained by parents/relatives/family friends who have served our country, ideologies present in students’ homes, and multi-media coverage of ongoing military activities. This unit’s topic has the potential to be controversial without a doubt. For teachers, this provides an opportunity to take on a challenging unit and to stand out by fostering a greater understanding and awareness of one of the most important issues of our culture. Teachers are encouraged to utilize resources from both inside and outside of the classroom, and the subject matter provides opportunities for engaging other teachers and members of the community to help students make connections to the real-life nature of war.
Students will develop a sense of respect for issues that can be vastly different from their own.
Students will be able to sort through issues full of uncertainty to determine fact from opinion.
Students will be able to articulate their point of view on a controversial issue.
Students will develop an appreciation of the human costs of war, not just in terms of lives lost,
but for the lives forever changed for survivors and their families.
Students will understand and demonstrate the ability to express themselves through poetry.
Students will become better at verbal expression of emotions through poetry reading/writing.
Expectations are high, and the exploration of this topic as a class will demand respect for conflicting points of view. Students will be leading discussions, sharing opinions, and be challenged with situations where their own opinions may change after viewing their own points of view through a critical lens. As the subject matter will require a great deal of thoughtfulness and maturity, students will be required to thoughtfully respond to other students when in disagreement. Students will explore the process of critically analyzing the subject matter through reflection, becoming more aware of the complexities of their belief systems.
Week One : The Human Cost of War. This unit will begin with an introduction of the central text, Bruce Weigl’s Song of Napalm. Students will be provided with a copy of the book, with the expectation that the book will be finished by the end of week one. After introducing the text, students will view Tim O’Brien’s How to Tell a True War Story speech, setting up a discussion on how accounts of war are shaped by the soldiers who took part in the conflict. Literature circles will be assigned and will begin on day 3 of the first week, when the first half of Song of Napalm will be due.
Week Two : Socratic Discussion and Choosing a Topic. Having read through the primary text in week one, week two will begin with a discussion with guest speaker Dan Mills, a veteran of 3 tours of duty in Iraq & Afghanistan. Dan will relate personally to some of the poems and themes from Song of Napalm to provide a personal, real life portrayal of the issues discussed in the book. The following day, the class will work through several critical discussion questions in the form of a “Socratic Circle” (see lesson below). Students will choose from one of several discussion prompts provided in the Socratic Circle discussion as the basis of their unit position paper.
Week Three : Make Your Case : Ethos – Pathos - Logos
On the first day, students will be provided with examples of persuasion, learning Ethos-Pathos-Logos, and an understanding of real world examples where these appeals are used in every day life, from politicians making the case for issues, to asking parents for permission to go on an overnight trip with friends. For two days, students will be provided with daily reflection discussion points drawing again on topics discussed in Song of Napalm and with their literature circles be assigned to take one side of an argument. Students will be grouped by previously established literature circles and will debate other circles assigned to take the opposite stance on an issue. This will be challenging, and often times force students to consider and advocate for positions greatly different from their own. Students will have 20 minutes per day to work in class on drafting their final papers, which will be due on the Monday following the unit’s end.
Lesson Plan - Socratic Circles
10 minutes : Reflection/Sharing
Student reflection writing off of a provided prompt. Teacher participates, and offers to read out loud his/her own response to the central text based prompt.
30 minutes : Socratic Circle
Based on the Socratic Method, students volunteer to be participants in the “Socratic Circle” focused on the central text, Song of Napalm. Half of the class will form the inner circle. The rest of the class will be in small groups, or individually, assigned a task related to monitoring the progress of the discussion. Picking out key points, visually tracking how many times people talked, and who responded, and other responsibilities will be assigned. The inner circle will respond to the prompts provided by the teacher and discuss back and forth, one student responding to the next. When a question has been thoroughly examined, either a new, follow-up question will presented, or the inner circle and outer circle will change places, and the same discussion format will take place. Socratic Circles require close reading, allow students to hear points of view both supporting and challenging their own.
10 minutes : Reflection on the Socratic Circle process : How did it make you feel? Did your thoughts on the discussion point change as you heard other points of view?



Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.


Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text.


By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.


Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases


Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.


Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.