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I'm Watching You 24/7
by Mirla N. Morrison


TIME ALLOTMENT: Four 45-minute class periods (not including homework)

The post-Renaissance world saw the nation-state mature and confront the issue of how to control the lives of its citizens. Two models of political organization, democratic and authoritarian, gradually developed. During the twentieth century, as some nations granted individuals and groups more and more rights, ideology and modern technology enabled authoritarian governments to gain ever more control, until community interest dominated the individual and totalitarianism was born. Although Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union have passed into history and there are cracks in the total control of the People's Republic of China, North Korea still retains all of the characteristics of totalitarianism. Still technically at war with the United Nations Forces, it poses a threat to the world at large with its developing nuclear program. At the same time it continues to threaten its perceived enemies. Very few foreigners have been able to visit and record life in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (the official name of North Korea), and the nation remains largely unknown to outsiders.

This lesson will begin with an introductory activity that draws on students' prior knowledge to discuss, "How does a society create social and political order?" After brainstorming the characteristics of totalitarianism, the class will be divided into groups to locate historical examples and create a Document Based Question to share with their classmates. Students will next examine excerpts from the WIDE ANGLE film "A State of Mind" (2003) to see how the characteristics of totalitarian societies still operate today in North Korea. As a culminating activity, students will analyze editorials on North Korea's nuclear program from newspapers around the world, formulate their own opinions, and write a Letter to the Editor of their local newspaper.

SUBJECT MATTER: Global History and Geography/World History


Students will be able to:
  • Utilize prior knowledge to compare and contrast various political systems throughout the world in terms of their ideologies, structures, functions, decision-making processes, citizenship roles, and political cultures;

  • Locate, categorize, and synthesize examples from multiple sources;

  • Analyze images and print documents to draw conclusions;

  • Create an original Document Based Essay Question;

  • Incorporate documents and outside information into an essay;

  • Analyze important events and developments in world history through the eyes and practices of those who were there;

  • Study an international dispute from multiple perspectives;

  • Present an informed viewpoint on a controversial issue in a Letter to the Editor.


New York State Learning Standards for Social Studies
Standards available online at http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/socst/pub/sslearn.pdf.

    Standard 2. World History (commencement)
    Performance Indicators:

      1. Students:

      • Analyze changing and competing interpretations of issues, events, and developments throughout world history.

      • Analyze evidence critically and demonstrate an understanding of how circumstances of time and place influence perspective.

    Standard 5. Civics, Citizenship, and Government (commencement)
    Performance Indicators:

      1. Students:

      • Compare various political systems with that of the United States in terms of ideology, structure, function, institutions, decision-making processes, citizenship roles, and political culture.

New York State Regents Global History and Geography Curriculum Tie-Ins
Curriculum available online at http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/socst/pub/sscore2.pdf

    Unit Six: A Half Century of Crisis and Achievement (l900-l945)

      B. Revolution and Change in Russia
        6. Stalin and the rise of a modern totalitarian state

      D. World War II: causes and impact
        2. The Nazi and Japanese states

    Unit Seven: The 20th Century Since l945

      A. Cold War Balance of Power
        6. Korean War

      D. Chinese Communist revolution
        3. Communism under Mao Zedong

    Unit Eight: Global Connections and Interactions

      D. Science and Technology
        8. Nuclear proliferation

Advanced Placement World History Curriculum Tie-Ins
Course Description available online at:
(Requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader)

    Major Developments:

      2. The World Wars, the Holocaust, the Cold War, nuclear weaponry, international organizations, and their impact on the global framework (globalization of diplomacy and conflict; global balance of power; reduction of European influence; the League of Nations, the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Nations, etc.)

      5. New forces of revolution and other sources of political innovation


WIDE ANGLE, "A State of Mind" (2003) (selected clips)

Web Sites:

For the Introductory Activity:

For the Culminating Activity:


For the class:

Per group of five students:

For each pair of students:

For each student:


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as www.portaportal.com.

Preview all of the video clips and Web sites used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students, currently available, and accessible from your classroom.

Download the video clips used in this lesson onto your hard drive, or prepare to stream the clips from your classroom. RealPlayer is needed to view the video clips. If your classroom computer does not have it, download RealPlayer for free at www.real.com.

Prepare an overhead transparency from the student organizer entitled "How Does a Society Create Social and Political Order?"

Post an enlarged "Characteristics of a Totalitarian Society" web diagram on the wall or board.

Make enough copies for the class of the student organizers:

  • "How Does a Society Create Social and Political Order?"
  • "Planning Pages for Group-Created Document Based Question on the Characteristics of Totalitarianism"
  • "Viewpoints on Nuclear North Korea"
Review the answers for "How Does a Society Create Social and Political Order?" and "Viewpoints on Nuclear North Korea" found in the Organizers for Students section of this lesson plan.

When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.

Post the FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION questions included in the Introductory Activity on the wall, or write them on the board, or have them ready to project.

For additional background material on North Korea the teacher should consult the Web site for WIDE ANGLE: "A State of Mind," available online at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/shows/northkorea/index.html.

If background on teaching with and creating Document Based Questions is needed, review the New York State Education Department's online resource, at http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/socst/dbq/ssindex.html.

Procedures for Teachers


  1. Display the images "South Asia Protestors" and "The Unknown Radical" and provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to jot down what they see in each image. Then ask the students what the differences are between the two images (the protest in South Asia is peaceful, the protest in Tiananmen Square shows the power of the state to control what people do and say). Tell the students that they are going to look at different forms of government and begin to explore how they gain power and control their citizens.

  2. 2) Distribute the "How Does a Society Create Social and Political Order?" student organizer. Give the class five minutes to work in pairs to fill in the answers. Project the worksheet on an overhead transparency and discuss the answers as a class. An answer key is provided in the Organizers for Students section.

  3. Explain to students that during the 20th century -- as some nations granted individuals and groups more and more rights -- ideology and modern technology enabled authoritarian societies to gain ever more control. In those societies, community interest dominated the individual, and totalitarianism was born. Ask the students for a definition of totalitarianism. (The political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority.) Post the definition on your word wall, if you have one.

  4. If you have already taught the characteristics of totalitarianism, ask the students what the characteristics are and list them on the board along with the historical examples. (Nazi Germany, USSR, People's Republic of China.) If this material will be new to your students, project or post the "Characteristics of a Totalitarian Society" web diagram and briefly discuss each characteristic and the historical examples of totalitarian states.

  5. Divide the class into groups and distribute the "Planning Page for Document Based Question on Totalitarianism." Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, telling them they are going to locate six documents to provide examples of the characteristics of totalitarianism from the list of Web sites on their Planning Pages. The documents can include text, images, cartoons, and charts and they must include six different characteristics. Review the Planning Page with the class and give them time to plan as a group, and if desired, time to begin to review the Web sites. The project will be completed for homework over the next week.

    When the DBQs (Document Based Questions) are completed, duplicate them, distribute them to students other than the developers, and have them share what they have created. As an option the students might actually write the essay for homework.


  1. Tell your students that they will be having a rare chance to see into North Korea, the most totalitarian society on earth in this century. They are going to analyze whether this contemporary nation uses the same methods as the historical examples they have already studied to control its citizens. (If the class has not yet studied about Korea, explain the following background to the class: in the middle of the 20th Century, the northern part of Korea, that had adopted a Communist form of government, invaded the South. Three years of brutal fighting followed against United States-led United Nations forces. North Korea calls the war "The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War," and maintains it was begun by the U.S. imperialists. It does not recognize that the North began the war. Although there is currently an armistice, for the North Koreans the war has never ended and the hatred of the United States is enormous. As Pak Hyon Sun, a young gymnast says in the video, "As we're taught in school, we have to endlessly hate the U.S. and fight them to the end." North Korea remains a closed society that threatens to test nuclear weapons and delivery systems.)

  2. Explain that the video introduces the Workers Party of Korea and the only two leaders North Korea has had. Kim Il Sung, "The Great Leader," led the country from 1948 until his death in 1994. In 1998 he was proclaimed Eternal President. Kim Jong Il, his son, is the current leader. He is called, "The General" or "The Dear Leader." Note for the students that in Korean, the last name is written first. Thus, Kim is the last name, and Jong Il the first and middle names. The video profiles two young gymnasts, Pak Hyon Sun and Kim Song Yon, and the Pak and Kim families. One family is working class, and the other is in the intellectual class. They live in the capital city, Pyongyang. Living in the modern city of Pyongyang is a privilege. Finally, explain that North Korean communist ideology is based on the concept of "juche," which means self-reliance.

  3. Ask students to brainstorm what they would like to know about North Korea. Post or write on the board the items they suggest. Leave them up until the completion of the lesson. Remind students of the "Characteristics of a Totalitarian Society" web diagram that is posted on the wall or board.

  1. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to look for examples of the characteristics of totalitarianism as they watch the video clip. PLAY Clip 1, "One Party," for the class. Ask students to pair/share what they observed, and then elicit class responses. (Students may answer: one party, anyone can belong but must devote lives to party and leader; realistic art that serves as propaganda, all officially equal.) As students respond ask them which characteristics of totalitarianism their examples support.

  2. Explain to the students that the BBC crew who filmed this video in 2003 had previously received permission to film the story of the forgotten North Korean soccer team that won the World Cup in 1966. The film they produced, THE GAME OF THEIR LIVES was shown seven times in North Korea in 2003 to great acclaim. Because of this the film crew was granted permission to document the lives and the families of two girls who are involved in mass gymnastics. Both families live in the capital, Pyongyang. Throughout the filming there were guides and interpreters for the film crew, but there was no censorship during the shoot.

  3. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to be ready to share all the adjectives they can think of to describe the Mass Games. PLAY Clip 2, "Mass Games," for the class. Create a word splash on the board with all the adjectives the class brainstorms. (Responses will vary.) Ask the class why Hyon Sun says she is so happy to perform in front of the General. (He is the leader of the country.) What functions do the Mass Games serve for the government? (The performance embodies the ideology of the state -- the subordination of individual thoughts and actions to the needs of the collective.) Once again, ask the students to connect their responses to the characteristics of totalitarianism posted in the classroom.

  1. Tell the students that during the Korean War the capital, Pyongyang, was almost totally destroyed. Ask the students to provide ideas: how might a totalitarian government go about rebuilding a city? (Students may reply that people would be forced to be part of rebuilding crews, the government would set the goals, the capital would be rebuilt grander than ever for propaganda purposes, the capital would be rebuilt in another place, living conditions will be better than elsewhere). [Clip 3] Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking the students to check to see if their predictions are validated by the video clip. PLAY Clip 3, "All for One," for the class. After viewing, discuss whether the predictions made by your students were accurate. Ask what is meant when the narrator describes Pyongyang as a "showcase" (a city that reflects successes of the government). Ask the students to describe the streets. (Very wide, no cars, few people, no motorbikes or bicycles). Ask the students to describe the living conditions of the Pak family. (Apartment in high rise modern building, grandparents sleep on the floor, does have furniture and decorative objects, portraits of the leaders on wall with slogan, radio piped into kitchen that cannot be disconnected and is always on, TV channels and time regulated.)

  2. Ask your students to identify the kinds of problems they think the government of North Korea faced after it took power. (Students may reply people trying to leave, natural disasters, food shortages, epidemics, blockades, or embargos on trade) [CLIP 4] Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify the greatest problem North Korea has faced in the past fifty years, and to evaluate whether it still continues. PLAY Clip 4, "Arduous March," for the class. Discuss what the Arduous March is. (The famine that occurred in North Korea in the 1990s. It is estimated that two million people died.) Ask the students to describe the example Kim Song Yon's mother gives of her daughter's birthday. (She had one ear of corn that she ground up. She gave each child a half bowl of porridge and the birthday girl a whole bowl.) How does she describe what they have to eat now? (Rationing: one chicken and five eggs per month for each family member. She says, "It is much better now.") The narrator comments that critics thought the regime would collapse during the Arduous March. Ask the students why they think it didn't? (Student answers will vary.)


  1. Remind students that Pyongyang is a showcase city and the families we saw are part of the privileged two million that live there. Ask the students which class in North Korean society have we not yet seen? (Peasants.) Point out that permission is needed to travel outside of the capital, and this video is the first ever allowed to be made in the countryside to visit a friend of one of the families. [CLIP 5] Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to watch for indications of whether the peasants are happy under the government of Kim Jong Il. PLAY Clip 5, "Self-Reliance," for the class. Discuss the clues the class saw about life on the farm. (Hard work, drought, little government help.) What does the peasant who is being interviewed claim enables them to succeed? (Self-reliance or "juche") Can we tell if the peasants are happy? (Student answers may vary, but point out it is impossible to tell in a closed society where access to individuals is controlled by the government.)

  2. Return to the "Characteristics of a Totalitarian Society" web diagram that you have posted and ask the students to point out additional examples of each characteristic from the video segments about North Korea. If any questions on the brainstormed list (See Learning Activity, step 3) remain unanswered, they can be assigned for extra credit or homework.


  1. Present students with the following quotation from the official Web site of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea: "In the defence (sic) area the Juche (self reliance) idea means Self Defence. It's a basic point to warrant the protection of the country using an invincible military power that will protect the motherland and revolutionary achievements from the aggressive Yankee imperialism and its servants." Ask students what North Korea means by "invincible military power?" (Students may answer overwhelming army -- make sure they mention nuclear weapons.) Who do they want to protect the fatherland from? (Yankee -- United States --imperialism and its servants -- Europe, South Korea, Japan.)

  2. Direct the students to the following two Web Sites and provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to look at the various world views on the North Korean nuclear issue and to identify the position of the newspapers of five different countries. Distribute the student organizer entitled "Viewpoints on Nuclear North Korea." Instruct students to choose five newspapers, each from a different country. Check to make sure that all countries are covered by your students.

    This activity may be done in class if enough computers are available, or for homework.

  3. Conduct a class discussion about the position of the various countries. Have students construct a T-chart to record the arguments for and against North Korea's development of nuclear weapons. An answer key is provided.

  4. To conclude, ask your students to write a Letter to the Editor of a local newspaper, elaborating their suggestions as to how to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Ask students to support their suggestions with specific examples.


The Document Based Question is required on the Advanced Placement examination in World History as well as on the New York State Regents in Global History. The teacher can tailor the DBQ assignment for the Advanced Placement level by increasing the complexity and depth of understanding required. (Note to the Teacher: an example of a "Do-It-Yourself DBQ Project" is found on page 46 of Teacher's Guide -- AP World History by Joan Arno. It is published by the College Entrance Examination Board, 2000.) The essay in response to the question requires both incorporation of information from the documents and outside information the student brings to the task.

When the DBQs created by the students are completed, duplicate them, and distribute them to students other than the developers. Have them write their essay after the Learning Activity is completed. Tell the students they may incorporate examples shown in the "A State of Mind" video clips in their essays as part of their outside information.


Language Arts

  • Have the students read either the novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH (New York: Signet Classics, 1974) or the excerpt found at the Amazon.com Web site. Compare the novel with the factual information gained in Social Studies.


  • Investigate the biological impact of a nuclear explosion on people and their environment.


  • Display propaganda posters and analyze the artistic techniques used by the artists. Have students create their own propaganda poster using those techniques to promote a cause of their own choosing.


Contact the local American Legion Post or Veterans of Foreign Wars and request a speaker who has been posted in the DMZ (demilitarized zone) between North and South Korea.

Invite a speaker from an anti-nuclear group to speak to the class about threats to the world from nuclear proliferation.

Have the students write questions for the speaker before she/he comes to class.

© 2006 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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