Book Review: Dial M For Missile

Dial M For Missile: Exploring Themes Around The Cuban Missile Crisis

In 2017 an unarmed Trident missile fired from a Royal Navy nuclear submarine off the Florida coast malfunctioned and headed to the US mainland during a routine test.

Of course, anything that goes off course is bad news because it raises a lot of serious questions including some enormous ‘what ifs?’ – mistakes and missiles are not a happy mix one iota.

Talking about missiles with children is hard-hitting, hard-core and hard-work and it is not surprising many adults give it a wide berth and give it a miss because its controversial. But what happens if you are a Miss, a Mrs or a Mr  teaching history? You can’t very well ignore or shy away from the big issues, hot topics and difficult conversations, especially not something like the world’s closest scrape with self-destruction – the Cuban missile crisis.

The sheer magnitude of responsibility involved in teaching the Cuban Missile Crisis needs to be appreciated. Educating young minds about the ins and outs of a missile scare on this scale needs careful handling because it can breed panic and fear. This is a heavy-duty topic that needs fragile teaching but not necessarily with kids gloves.

Where can we turn for help? We want something that doesn’t mince its words but can still be sensitive, educative but not alarmist, informative but not imbalanced or indelicate.

We need something that will support independent thinking and encourage debate allowing dynamic young students to form their own opinions about peace and nuclear issues.

We also need something that fuels understanding of what the alternatives to conflict are.  You also want something that can develop team skills, logic, problem solving, interpretation, oracy, resilience, critical enquiry and self-evaluation to name but a few.

Illustration of school children beneath a globe surrounded by nuclear weapons and warheads, each primed on a different part of the world. CND logo in the bottom corner, and the title, 'Dial M for Missile' across the top.

Dial M for Missile is the latest free resource from CND Peace Education and this explores the Cuban Missile Crisis and all the themes around it and it is suitable for KS3, 4 and 5.

This is available as a downloadable or physical resource pack and comes with 7 unique lesson plans that really involve and engage students in the political psychology and moral decision making of the cold war era. This isn’t just a pack for History classrooms either but a cross-curricular resource that reaches down every corridor across a school and into every classroom. It’s an 88 page resource that is dedicated and committed to both educating both for and about peace.

The lesson plans are written to leave no stone unturned so you find that they contain diligent notes and guidance to help you bring this truly historic period to life. Plans contain the whole nine yards: aims, outcomes, concepts, overview, equipment needed, room layout suggestions, skills and instructions what to do.

Within these instructions you will find the meat of the lesson but because this is a balanced education programme you will also find other food groups to nourish thinking.

The starters, mains and plenaries include a vast array of activities that promote active discussion but also get students actively ‘doing’ as well with lots of hands-on things to do.

There is loads of guidance for differentiation, extension, enrichment and key background notes. The resource doesn’t expect you to blindly follow its ideas but the suggestions are there to help and to adapt.

A student designs their own peace symbol

The resource starts with a timeline lesson including Hiroshima and Nagasaki before leading into a timeline of the Cuban Missile Crisis itself.  An accompanying Powerpoint is full of very potent points and images that will stop students in their tracks: it pulls no punches.

Lesson two focusses on pieces of propaganda used before and after the crisis to help students probe and scrutinise how information can be manipulated to influence audiences particularly in relation to inciting prejudice and discrimination. It’s a useful lesson too and can tie in with ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ that have been a feature of Donald Trump’s ‘running war’ with the media.

Lesson Three centres on code makers and breakers, its history, moral dilemmas of code breakers, the need for secrecy, intelligence gathering and creating codes; it’s a lesson guaranteed to excite and electrify interest.  Lessons 4 and 5 focus attention on civil defence which include some powerful video links and a an activity based on role-playing what would be needed inside a nuclear bunker and the experience of being inside one.

To complete the resource are lessons where students consider the Mutually Assured Destruction policy and explore how information can be miscommunicated and the potentially catastrophic consequences and then end with a history of the peace movement, its successes and failures and what role it serves.

There is a lot to go at in this pack and it is an emotional resource too given its highly charged content. But the content is strong and makes the journey a thoughtful one, yes sometimes hairy and yes sometimes scary but ultimately worthwhile because it is empowering and creatively engages students in a pivotal moment in nuclear history.

Accessible for all leaners, it promotes active and analytical learning and allows students to make up their own minds. Packed with interactive activities, the pack aims to get intellects moving through card sorts, checklists, role play, debate, discussion, ciphers, mind mapping, mood boards, drawing, communication games and more.

There are 10 lessons each around an hour long but my guess is that this is way too ambitious. I’d estimate you need much more time than that and that is no bad thing at all. I’d double the dose easily.

If you are concerned about bias then rest assured as Dial M for Missile encourages a balanced and multidimensional exploration of peace and nuclear issues and promotes critical thinking without hysteria.  It’s all encompassing not all one-sided.

The Cuban Missile Crisis is a horrible period in our history and this resource helps students to begin comprehending what was and what might have been. It does this with real insight and a set of weighing scales where respect for human life lives at its very core.

M for Missiles is also M for meaningful, mindful, momentous, moral and meritorious. It’s more than a resource for peace education too, it’s a resource that teaches students how to play chess as they learn that stalemate is sometimes the best possible outcome in politics.

It’s worth noting too that CND offer non-campaigning workshops for students, assemblies and teacher training sessions that cost not a penny so it’s probably worth giving them a call and getting involved to develop your SMSC provision. Imagine what you could do with this resource: from Drama, English, Citizenship and RE to Maths, Computer Science, Art, History, Government and Politics; it doesn’t have to stop there either.

It’s a resource with a high I.Q. offering detail, challenge and real engagement where students aren’t taught what to think but how to think.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: