Wednesday, April 20

Examining the Iron Curtain & the Genius Under the Table

The term "iron curtain" was first used in 1819 to describe "an impenetrable barrier." By 1920, it had become associated with the boundary of the Soviet Union's sphere of influence, and this took on even more meaning after World War 2...

The term "Iron Curtain" was made famous by Winston Churchill, as he referred to the boundary that symbolically, ideologically, and physically divided Europe into two separate areas from about 1945 to 1990.  During the Cold War, the divisions between WW2 allies reappeared in the struggle between capitalism and communism.  In the Soviet Union, Churchill's speech was seen by Joseph Stalin as reinforcing his view that a future conflict with the West was inevitable.  Over the following months, through a mixture of persuasion and purges of those holding contrary views, the Soviet Union did indeed come to see the West as a threat, rather than the ally they had been during World War II.  The Cold War had begun in earnest.

One by one, communist governments were installed in the Eastern European states under the Soviet sphere of influence.  This "iron curtain" became the symbol of the division between two competing ideologies during the last half of the twentieth century.  The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 signaled the end of the iron curtain, as freedom came to the Eastern bloc.  The West finally prevailed, demonstrating that ideals cannot be artificially kept behind walls and boundaries.

The Iron Curtain took physical form in some of the most heavily militarized areas in the world, particularly the so-called "inner German border" between East and West Germany.  The inner German border was marked in rural areas by double fences made of steel mesh with sharp edges, while near urban areas a high concrete barrier similar to the Berlin Wall was built.  The actual borderline was marked by posts and signs and was overlooked by numerous watchtowers set behind the barrier.  In some places, a "death strip" was constructed on the East German side of the barrier, in which unauthorized access would be met with bullets.  The strip of land on the West German side of the barrier—between the actual borderline and the barrier—was readily accessible but only at considerable personal risk, as it was patrolled by both East and West German border guards.  Shooting incidents were not uncommon.

Elsewhere, the border defenses between west and east were much lighter.  The border between Hungary and neutral Austria, for instance, was marked by a simple chain link fence which was easily removed when it became the first part of the Iron Curtain to be dismantled in 1989.  In parts of Czechoslovakia, the border strip became hundreds of meters wide, and an area of increasing restrictions was defined as one approached the border.   The creation of these highly militarized no-man's lands helped create nature reserves across Europe that helped the spread of several species to new territories.  The border between North Korea and South Korea today is comparable to the former inner German border, particularly in its degree of militarization, but it has never conventionally been considered part of the Iron Curtain.

  • The Genius Under the Table
    • Drama, family secrets, and a KGB spy in his own kitchen! How will Yevgeny ever fulfill his parents’ dream that he become a national hero when he doesn’t even have his own room? He’s not a star athlete or a legendary ballet dancer. In the tiny apartment he shares with his Baryshnikov-obsessed mother, poetry-loving father, continually outraged grandmother, and safely talented brother, all Yevgeny has is his little pencil, the underside of a massive table, and the doodles that could change everything. With equal amounts charm and solemnity, award-winning author and artist Eugene Yelchin recounts in hilarious detail his childhood in Cold War Russia as a young boy desperate to understand his place in his family.
  • Other Books on the Iron Curtain

Make / Do
  • Iron Curtain unit from The Homeschool Garden
    • Copywork selections from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo in primary, elementary, cursive, and a notebook sheet for older students and moms
    • 2 poetry selections
    • The hymn ‘Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus and the folksong The Golden Vanity 
    • 2 Teatimes – Apple Cinnamon Mini-buns and Honey Cake
    • Art history and 6 art selections from Imperial Russia
    • Composer biography of Igor Stravinsky and four music selections – Music tracks are included for listening
    • Handicraft – woven friendship bracelet
    • Art lesson – chalk pastel Faberge egg
    • Nature Study – Siberia and Russia
    • Geography – Communism country study
    • Shakespeare – King Lear
    • Literature study guides for Breaking Stalin’s Nose (upper elementary and middle) and God’s Smuggler (high school)
    • Memory work – Prayer, scripture memory, and poetry memory work
  • Imagine if your entire family—parents, grandparents, siblings—had to live in one small room. Describe in words or draw a picture of your family sharing that room.
  • Write one line of dialogue for each member of your family: what they would say about living together in one room?
  • Draw a map of Europe, and color in countries affected by the Iron Curtain red
  • Looking for more?  Snag the unit study for Breaking Stalin's Nose!
  • Cold War guided unit (free)
  • Using what you've learned about the Cold War and how it turned out, were Churchill's warning inaccurate, or was he right?  Write an essay stating your opinion, with cited sources to back it up.

  • Iron Curtain
  • Warsaw Pact
  • United Nations
  • Truman Doctrine
  • Marshall Plan
  • Berlin Blockade
  • containment
  • Domino Theory
  • Mutually Assured Destruction

  • It is hard for most of us to imagine living like Yevgeny did when he was a child. Not only did he have to share a single room with his mother, father, grandmother, and brother, but worse, there was a spy who lived in the next room who reported to the KGB (Soviet secret police) anything he heard or saw that might be against the government. What do you think you would do to remain safe in these circumstances?
  • Yevgeny’s father says, “You can never be a great poet, Yevgeny, if you’re afraid to tell the truth. But truth is a dangerous thing. Most people don’t like it.” What do you think he means by this?

World History Novel Studies Bundle

Includes seven unit studies (plus a bonus!) covering World History. Each unit addresses a new topic, spanning from Pompeii to World War 2.  Each unit has introductory text, which will give the student basic background information about the topic at hand.

  • There are photographs and illustrations, and we have also included primary documents when available.
  • After this text, there are featured videos, which augment the background information and help make the topic more accessible for more visual students.
  • You will also find a short list of reading books, including a featured novel that the unit builds upon.
  • There are vocabulary words, places, and people to identify.
  • Reading comprehension, critical thinking questions, and writing assignments are included.
  • We add fun with hands-on activities and extra videos to watch that will bring the era to life.

Product samples:   The Night Witches & Women in Aviation   &   The Lookout Tree & the Great Acadian Upheaval

These studies are directed toward upper grades students, but some have resources for younger students so that the whole family can work together. Our family has used unit studies as curriculum for many years, and we hope that your family will enjoy these, too!

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