Document Based Lesson – Nicaraguan Literacy

For my Document Based Lesson, I will be having students examine the overt, then more subtle, ways the Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade of 1980 was turned from an act of education to an act of politics.  The intent of this is to have students identify the ways language, visuals, and curriculum content are used to communicate political messages.  Students will also have to examine documents to become familiar with what the Nicaraguan government’s political position was, so that they can identify political messages when they see them, a process that will involve documents that should specifically help students formulate questions about the underlying political nature of education itself.

This lesson is intended for 12th Grade Students enrolled in a Modern World History course with an emphasis in exploring less commonly discussed historical stories or events.  It is similar in function to a World History course I took myself as a Senior, and is intended to push students towards reflecting on the role education has played in their own lives.  This ties directly to the Essential Question, “How is Education shaped by and used to shape society?“, which hopefully ties to the student reality by discussing a large portion of their life up to that point, the education process.  img_3803

The lesson will begin with students analyzing images of militarized literacy instructors to identify defining visual characteristics, to introduce students to the process of looking at images to identify relevant visual details, then backtrack to an examination of a field report on Nicaragua.  This will serve to introduce background information on the Nicaraguan nation, it’s Sandinista government, and the Literacy Crusade, but this will be done via a primary source report and students will be posed sourcing questions to examine it.  Students will then examine selected excerpts from Nicaraguan leaders to determine their position on politics in education, close reading the arguments, and discuss what they think of the document’s veracity and the author’s opinion.

Next, students will examine selections from the instructional workbook used during the crusade, quotes from instructors, propaganda songs with accompanying translated lyrics, and still images of Crusade images and source/close read to determine how they communicate political messages.  Finally, to end the unit, students will review the first image and note political aspects they might have missed the first time, then re-review an excerpt from a Nicaraguan leader on education, and discuss how it relates to their own time in school.

Google Site

Scott Hearron

Ministerio De Educación. “Mejorar La Calidad De La Aflabetización!” La Cruzada En Marcha (Managua), July 14, 1980, 12th ed.


Note to Self

Advice to Future Self on Undertaking a DBQ Project:



  1. Start with the document(s) first. Learn about it (or them), and place that document in a time period and look at everything that surrounds it. Follow the rabbit trail from MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” to Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” and see where it takes you. The themes will show themselves sooner or later. Humans are programmed to seek out patterns and find the stories. But starting with a theme and hoping to find documents to undergird that theme is risky. It could work, but it could also lead you on a search for something that doesn’t exist.
  2. Be careful about trusting your crazy brain. Sometimes it does magic tricks when you least expect it. Sometimes it lets you think it can do the impossible. This is when you need to reach out to, and listen to, the friends who will be bluntly honest with you and tell you when you’re headed out onto unfruitful waters.
  3. Don’t try to answer philosophical questions with a DBQ project. Yes, there is an inherent discrepancy between perception and reality. Great. But a DBQ is probably not the correct avenue to explore such an idea. However, don’t be afraid to present the unanswerable questions. Part of life is learning that not all questions have answers.
  4. If you know how your brain works best, go with it. I tried to learn how to design a DBQ while simultaneously trying to figure out how to use Learnist and Evernote with my brain balking at me all the way. When I finally relented to how I learn best (paper and Pilot G-2 pen), my brain finally began to kick into gear. If I had accepted the truth of how my brain works sooner, I could have just gotten the work done and copied and pasted my work into these new programs afterwards. Trying to learn a design process while attempting to learn a new computer program was too taxing and, ultimately, unproductive.
  5. Don’t let your heart get broken, don’t lose anyone you love, and don’t get ill. These will all interfere with your work.
  6. Don’t be afraid to suck at something the first time you try it. Scarred knees are simply reminders that you now know how to ride a bicycle. Embrace the suck. Listen to Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Image credit: Private collection of Karen Elaine Parton