We're studying historical treasures as part of the AMP Program. Last week, we learned about the Civil War and Confederate gold, and this week we're learning about the looting of the Baghdad Museum. I knew this would be a hairy topic, because most of my students don't know which direction the Pacific Ocean is, much less what Baghdad is or how to find Iraq on a map.

Since the beginning of the term, we've been studying maps. Every time we learn about a new place, we mark it with a star sticker on our own personal maps and tuck the maps away in our Reader's Bibles. Then, before the students leave for the night, I make each and every one of them point out the country we've studied on the big world map next to the door. It's a small thing, but this is stuff they should know. (Last week we studied the Civil War, and I couldn't believe how many of them were unable to find the United States.) So, of course, we talked about where Iraq was in relation to ourselves and even talked a little about Mesopotamia and its historical significance.

We looked at the maps. We discussed the concept of the Cradle of Humanity. We talked about what we'd heard about the Iraq War. But my students still didn't have any concept of what Iraq looked or felt like. They only knew what they'd seen on the news--bombs, terrorism, injured Americans. So, I showed them The Dreams of Sparrows, an amazing documentary made by Iraqi film students. I was a little worried about the subtitles, but my students were just fascinated. The film does a great job of explaining the situation there, using interviews from people of all walks of life. My favorite segment is when the interviewer visits a lunatic asylum and then a writer's union, back-to-back; the seemingly different groups say almost the same exact thing.

By the time the movie ended (it runs a short 75 minutes), my students were full of questions and predictions. Frankly, I was a little amazed at how interested they were. Tomorrow, I'm going to show them excerpts from Baghdad Burning, a blog written by a young Iraqi woman. She has an astonishingly frank and witty style, but her voice is edged with anger as she reports on the joys and injustices of everyday life.

It's such a tricky subject to teach, particularly since it changes on an almost daily basis. However, I know they will use this beyond the walls of the school. It's worth the extra effort.

image: still shot from the movie The Dreams of Sparrows