It is late at night, and you are speaking to the President on the telephone. He has expressed to you his concerns about the stability of the United States government at the begining of the New Millenium, and now requests your assistance on some important issues.
An avid student of history, the President is pondering the question of why so many once-powerful civilizations around the world have vanished. His attention was drawn to this question by the fact that, doom and gloom predictions regarding the future of America are appearing in the media more and more frequently. Most of these predictions are overly sensationalistic and need not be taken seriously. However, one very real trend in today's world - the move toward "globalization" - has created a feeling of uncertainty for many Americans. The notion of a global culture is unfamiliar to many Americans, and globalization will surely change the world's political landscape in ways that promise to raise new challenges for Americans. Can we maintain our stature in world politics and protect our way of life amid all the changes that globalization will bring?
The President is very aware of these concerns, and wants to do everything possible to make sure we don't repeat mistakes which led to the demise of earlier civilizations. He is particularly anxious to learn more about the remarkable civilization of ancient Maya that was based in southern Mexico and parts of Central America. Because of its geographic proximity to the United States, the President believes Mayan history might yield some insights that will prove relevant to our current situation here in America.
His main question reflects his most pressing fear. If a civilization as powerful and technologically advanced during its time as the Maya could disappear, can the same tragic outcome befall the United States? The President asks that you put together a group of outstanding archaeologists and scholars so that the necessary research into this issue can begin. After considering his request, you agree to take on this important task.
The President thanks you for your help, and a few days later, your instructions arrive in the following letter:
Your team is assigned the task of researching ancient Mayan civilization in order to uncover the reasons why such a powerful and prosperous society ultimately fell to ruins. Your research should address the questions raised in the above letter from the President. Once your research is completed, your team must submit a report to the President in which you explain your findings. Include in your report some recommended policies the President can adopt in order to preserve modern-day American civilization.
Try to stay within this framework:
A. Divide the research questions among your team members. Every member is expected to complete his or her job.
B. With your group, brainstorm reasons why a given society might fail.
C. When each team member has completed his or her assigned work, share your findings with each other. Together, you can decide which points among those raised by each team member should be included in your presentation to the President. Try to choose those points which will best enable the President to compare the circumstances of the Mayan decline with the situation we Americans are confronted with today.
D. Lastly, organize your presentation to the President. It might help to include some visual aids, so be prepared to create posters and drawings that will help illustrate your findings to the President. Not everyone feels comfortable speaking in front of a group, so as work begins you might want to assign tasks that each team member will feel comfortable carrying out.
World Wide Web Sites
Lords of the Earth: Maya, Aztec and Inca Center
Welcome to Maya Adventure
The Maya Environment
Encyclopedia (either hardback or CD-Rom 1995 or newer)
Newspapers or magazines relevant to the topic
While addressing the President's questions, remember that your main purpose is to find policy solutions to the challenge he presently faces as our country's leader. Each question is intended to provide historical insight into the pressing issues we face in America as we attempt to secure our position in the rapidly shifting global environment. As you find answers to these questions, compare the circumstances faced by the Mayan people to those that confront us today. What are the similarities, and what are the differences? Share ideas on these issues with your team members as you build your case. Finally, while preparing your presentation, remember that your audience is the President of the United States. He will be expecting high-quality work from each of you.
Your and your team will be evaluated on the thoroughness of your research, the quality of your policy solutions, and the organization of your presentation to the President.
This activity is designed to raise important questions regarding the relevance of historical events to modern-day circumstances that impact our lives on a daily basis. Let us consider some of those questions here. In light of what we have learned about Mayan civilization and its ultimate downfall, do you believe that individuals and governments tend to repeat the mistakes of previous generations, or do we manage to learn from their mistakes as we establish and maintain our own systems of government? How can the idea of learning from past mistakes be applied to your own personal life? To your local community? To your country?
Spend a moment considering the work you have just completed. Then pick one of the following questions and write a response to it as part of your evaluation.
1. If you actually had to perform this task for the President of the United States, would you have done anything differently?
2. Based on what you have learned, do you feel that American citizens have cause for concern as the year 2000 approaches.
Grade Level: Seven
Unit: The Maya/Early Mesoamerican history.
Lesson Purpose: While studying the life of the Mayans, students can apply what they learn to
present-day circumstances. Through this process, students will begin to develop a global perspective.
With the class you should develop a rubric to help shape the lesson and guide students through the process. The rubric should give you and your students a framework to stay focused on the task and to periodically assess their progress.
Last revised Tue, Apr 18, 2006