Egyptian Velcro

Here’s a short four-paragraph article from Wednesday’s Washington Post — let’s look at it paragraph by paragraph — my thoughts are in italics after each paragraph:

Egyptian court orders Mubarak released from prison

By , Wednesday, August 21, 9:37 AM 

1) CAIRO—Egypt’s former autocrat, Hosni Mubarak, could leave prison as early as Wednesday night, government officials and legal experts said, after a Cairo court ordered his release.First, we’d need to define “autocrat”:


By reading high-level articles, students are exposed to new words on a regular basis. They would keep track of these words in an ongoing “vocabulary” file.

Now we have some questions about the text — when was Mubarak put into prison? What were the charges? Where was he being held? What were the conditions like? The idea here is to empathize a bit with Mubarak, who just turned 85 years old in May. 

Let’s move on to the second paragraph:

2) Mubarak’s release would constitute a dramatic blow to the protest movement that helped lead to his removal from office in February, 2011, and has rallied in recent weeks against the July 3 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Again, we’d start by defining “ouster,” a word most middle schoolers won’t know. Then, we would review the circumstances around Morsi’s election to office and his removal by the Egyptian military one year into his four-year term as President.

3) The knowledge that the longtime military dictator is no longer behind bars could provoke additional national unrest as this country spirals deeper into civil conflict.The civil conflict is between pro-Morsi and pro-Military supporters, but as noted four days ago in this blog, things are more complicated in Egypt, a country of more than 80 million people:


Here’s the final paragraph from this short piece in the Washington Post:

4) Mubarak’s release would lend credibility to the Islamist opposition’s claims that the old regime is reasserting itself since the military coup that ousted Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president. Egyptian security services in recent weeks have launched a deadly crackdown against Morsi’s allies.

Vocabulary words: regime, reasserting, coup

We would also want to review Islam and get a sense of what it means to be an “Islamist” in the context of modern Egypt. Are members of the Muslim Brotherhood the only “Islamists” in Egypt? How is that term — Islamist — being used?

Because we have been following this story, we can unpack four paragraphs from the Washington Post in a more meaningful way. (I’m sure the Post will have a lot more to say about this story as it develops.)

My good friend and former colleague, Gail Nields, once explained to me the “Velcro theory” of teaching history. If students don’t know much, there’s nothing for new information to stick to. You have to start by building a base of knowledge, then new things can stick in interesting ways.

Assuming students had been following Egypt for the past week or so — for example, by reading and discussing the last five posts on this blog — we would now be in a position to make all sorts of connections.

After a little more than a week of looking at Egypt, students now know enough to write a solid blog post that summarizes what they find most interesting about what’s going on in Egypt. At TLC Middle School, we will take 20-30 minutes every morning at the end of our “daily reading of the world’s news” for students to write and reflect about what they learned and what questions they have — in this case, about events in Egypt.

The direction we’d take our conversation tomorrow would depend on the questions that students ask.

For now, we will continue to watch Egypt to see if Morsi is in fact released on Wednesday evening. If he is released, will that prompt member of the Muslim Brotherhood to organize more protests? What will calm Egypt down? Will there be another round of elections? If so, when?

It’s a fascinating time to follow events in Egypt.


About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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