Stratfor and World Geography at LASA High School

MIN READJun 22, 2018 | 18:15 GMT

World map in the classroom


About a year ago, Stratfor connected with a group of world geography teachers at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, also known as LASA High School, in Austin, Texas. We were interested to see what would happen if we provided all of their freshman students full access to the geopolitical analysis and forecasting available through Stratfor Worldview.

The results exceeded even our expectations. In this episode of the Stratfor Podcast, we sit down with LASA High School World Geography teachers Cody Moody and Neil Loewenstern, as well as freshmen Abigail Goff, Jacob Hammonds, Dylan Woolard and Tess Frazer. They tell us how LASA integrated Stratfor’s analysis into their projects and coursework this past year and what it’s meant to these students, both in and outside of the classroom.

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Emily Hawthorne [00:00:01] I'm Emily Hawthorne, a Middle East and North Africa analyst at Stratfor, and this podcast is brought to you by Stratfor Worldview, our premier digital publication for objective geopolitical intelligence and analyses. Individual team and enterprise memberships are available at worldview.stratfor.com/subscribe.

LASA Student [00:00:29] There's so much going on in the world right now, and through the year in World Geo, while we talked a lot about North Korea, the changing policies of the Trump Administration, Israel and Palestine, there have been so many things that we've been able to access and unlock in a different way than just what the New York Times can give.

Ben Sheen [00:00:55] Welcome to the Stratfor podcast, focused on geopolitics and world affairs from Stratfor.com. I'm your host, Ben Sheen. About a year ago, Stratfor connected with a group of World Geography teachers at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, also known as LASA High School, in Austin, Texas. Stratfor senior analysts have long visited the school in person to discuss geopolitics and international affairs, but we wanted to see what would happen if we provided the students there with complete access to our long-form analysis and forecasting, available through Stratfor Worldview. The results, well, they exceeded even our expectations, and in this episode of The Stratfor Podcast, we're going to sit down with LASA High School World Geography teachers, Cody Moody and Neil Loewenstern, as well as freshmen Abigail Goff, Jacob Hammonds, Dylan Woolard and Tess Frazer, and they're going to tell us how LASA integrated Stratfor's analysis into their projects and coursework this past year, and also what it's meant to these students, both in and outside of the classroom. Thanks for joining us. Well, thank you so much to everyone for joining me today on this podcast. Now, obviously, you all, like us at Stratfor, have a shared interest in international affairs, World Geography, current events. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do at LASA High School and your approach to world affairs in general?

Cody Moody [00:02:12] Hi, this is Cody Moody. As a World Geography teacher here in our World Geography curriculum, we're adamant about incorporating current events into the classroom, but current events that also allow us to use those current events to connect to big geographic concepts, and that's where Stratfor really helps us out. We use current events throughout the year and we're consistently, as an activity, trying to use those current events to help kids develop a larger geographic framework, geopolitical framework, kind of putting that current event in some context to facilitate better understanding. That's one of the things that throughout the year that we definitely focus a lot of attention on in the World Geography class.

Ben Sheen [00:03:07] That's great to hear, Cody. As a former geography student myself, I remember when I was going through school, it was kind of delineated into the physical and human aspects of geography, but one of the great things about working here at Stratfor is that there are so many different and additional layers to that, and certainly once you start, geography is obviously the foundation for so much of what we do here, but when you have these political overlays as well, it allows you to draw these important connections around the world.

LASA Student [00:03:32] Hi, I'm Abigail Goff, and one thing about LASA that I notice has been different from the other schools I attended, LASA is a lot more open to more opinions from all around the world, there are more opinions brought into the classroom, and one thing I really like that we've done this year, is every six weeks, each student has to present a current event and when I do this, I really enjoy using Stratfor to find these current events, and I find that Stratfor brings a lot of ideas to the table and it can be an unbiased source for the information I can present to my classmates, and we can have a really good discussion on issues that concern them. I'm Jacob Hammond. Whenever I find conflicting information on events that just happened, Stratfor is usually the first place I would go to check because it's a very reliable way to find out what's really happened or at least what's been officially recognized as happening, and it's a great place to get some insight about what could happen or how that relates to other events that are going on.

Ben Sheen [00:04:42] I suspect as well that your approach actually in doing this research is very similar to our own analysts in that you have this incredible wealth of information now at your fingertips, and it's so, it's increasingly difficult these days to differentiate your truth from fiction or what is actual facts of value, versus what could be conjecture. That's certainly a big thing that our analysts do here, and we use a lot of working models, so immediately, when we look at something, we can put it into the correct context and weigh it against everything else in our database and kind of check it for validity, and it seems like you guys have this very natural approach in your own research to doing this.

Neil Loewenstern [00:05:17] This is Neil Loewenstern, another World Geography teacher and we definitely want to stress with our kids this idea of thinking geographically which is, again, kind of thinking about physical, the human aspects, and really getting into economics, politics, and how those things are kind of overlapping also with various cultural aspects, and I really find that Stratfor does that when it dives deeply into a particular current event and really looking back into the history that underlies that event, and the kids really appreciate getting all of that information, all of those perspectives, and just kind of having the complexity of those layers, so that then, we can make sense of what's happening in the world today, and get some sense of where this might be going, which is, again, what Stratfor does such a good job with, and we're able to access that information pretty easily in the different sections, on the website or finding those kind of foundational readings, like the Geopolitics of Russia and things like that.

LASA Student [00:06:22] I'm Dylan Woolard, and I'm a freshman at LASA, and I read Stratfor outside of school projects, and I actually like to trade stocks and stuff, and some of the breakdowns that Stratfor has about tariffs and such, it actually really helps me out sometimes and it's not necessarily saving me money, but at least I know why I see a dip every so often, and it's fun to see the graphics that Stratfor puts out there, because they're really comprehensive and really well designed and made graphics, as well as the articles themselves, very well worded and I love reading them. I'm Tess Frazer and something that I really appreciate about what Stratfor does, is it doesn't just tell a single story. It looks at each topic with many perspectives and it helps to really enhance the geopolitical analysis and perspective that you're getting, so instead of just seeing it through one set of eyes, you can really understand the world significance and how it is affecting each different group of people.

Cody Moody [00:07:24] This is Cody again, one of the things also that I feel like Neil and I have, by having access to Stratfor and the kids having access to Stratfor, one of the things that I feel like we've been effective, with terms of facilitating that student understanding, is kind of the idea that nothing in the world occurs in a vacuum, and all countries are connected to one another and thinking of the world as a system, as a global system, as opposed to each of its constituent country, nation-state parts, and we do a project with our freshmen on Central Asia and the Caucasus region and that project in particular really highlights how students come to understand the relationships between the Central Asian countries, how those relationships now, the region is figuring its way out, in this post-Soviet world, still Russia casting a huge shadow over it, and all the connections and relationships between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and how all of those connections are quite important in developing a regional understanding as opposed to sort of each just individual country, and students come away from World Geography with a good understanding of how the world is a system.

Neil Loewenstern [00:08:53] They're able to understand where not only Russia plays in that, but the EU, China, India, the United States, and Iran, and begin to really kind of see the larger geopolitical chessboard that's happening in the world, and are able to kind of continue to apply that framework as we delve into various current events or see what's happening in North Korea, the tariffs that are, various developments in our own own country and President Trump's policies, so everything just makes so much more sense through that lens that you guys are creating and we're able to apply here in our class.

Ben Sheen [00:09:32] That's what makes this such an interesting time to be studying this sort of material, because these are very uncertain times and if you just look at the daily news reports, it's very hard often to place these things in an appropriate level of context, so actually being able to think critically in this way, and also to be able to decode this global complexity that we all have to deal with on a daily basis is incredibly valuable. We'll get back to our conversation with LASA High School and learn a little bit more about how they leverage the analysis available on Stratfor Worldview in their interactive projects in just one moment. But it's worth noting that this isn't the only place that Stratfor Worldview is being used in the classroom. Stratfor works with universities and other higher education institutions around the world, basically to expand research and learning opportunities and to provide independent unbiased analysis on international affairs that's grounded in the study of applied geopolitics. Stratfor Senior Vice President of Strategic Analysis, Rodger Baker, touched on a few examples of how different schools leverage Stratfor analysis in their programs, during a recent live webcast discussion.

Rodger Baker [00:10:39] There's a few universities, I know, who are using our actual day to day writing as part of their international business courses. What they're doing is taking these current issues that people are seeing in the news around them, and taking our work that sort of brings this different perspective to it, and helping contextualize it, so that when they're then thinking about the business implications or aspects or what might this mean for not only today, but six months down the road, two years down the road, three years down the road, because when you're making business decisions, business decisions have a forward-looking thought process to them. They're using that to reframe the way in which people look at these issues. If you think about the media today, everything is breaking news. The media is extremely volatile, and by using the material that we work on and we write, we bring you into a narrower space in the middle that lets you say, okay, these are the significant aspects of it. There's a lot of important stuff and noisy stuff out here in the shorter term, but that brings you in and that's been a way, for example, for the schools that have used a lot of our pre-written material as part of their class instruction.

Ben Sheen [00:11:49] If you're interested in learning more about how universities and other higher education institutions engage with Stratfor through library resources, curriculum supplements, and in-depth methodology training, we'll share a link to the complete webcast discussion in the show notes, and you can also find the link in our blog at Stratfor.com/Horizons. Now back to our conversation with students and teachers at LASA High School in Austin, Texas. Well, I'd love to hear some more about some of the current events that you are currently looking at and the way in which you are maybe using some of the Stratfor material to augment your own research and trying to shine a light on what's going on globally, really.

LASA Student [00:12:30] This is Tess again, and recently we did a big project concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, and recently in the media and news, there had been so many news reports on the situation and sometimes it's really hard to understand what's really going on because we see it so disconnected, and out of place, but I feel when I was able to do research on Stratfor and really get an understanding of what each country is experiencing, it helped me to understand the situation as less of an outsider, and I feel like it wasn't as removed. It was very engaging and it really helped with the projects, too, because it gave a really great demographics analysis for Israel, and we each represented a country, so we really had to step into that role, with Stratfor having each individual country listed and all this wealth of information on it. It's really helpful in understanding the situation. Right, this is Jacob, and actually, at that summit, I was playing the part of a representative from Iran, and it was very interesting because, as we were engaging in this debate, there were events that were happening in the region where we would have to adjust our strategy and change what we were going to do, and the updates I got from Stratfor for that were key to the changes I made about what I was pursuing.

LASA Student [00:13:52] This is Dylan, and I was actually representing the United States in the project, and recently, a lot of our policies regarding Israel and Palestine kind of flip-flopped with the Trump Administration, and doing research for the project using Stratfor really helped break it down, and it made it much easier to understand why, what was happening, and how it affected our stances with other countries in the region and it just, it really got rid of the cloud and the fog that came over me as I try to learn more about the United States' position on Israel and Palestine. But as you said earlier, I do, I agree. There's so much going on in the world right now, and it's really hard to be able to understand so that daily briefing, as well as just the perspective and the way that everything connects, and through the year in World Geo, we've studied, well, we've talked a lot about North Korea, the changing policies of the Trump Administration, Israel and Palestine, the nuclear deal in Iran. There have been so many things that we've been able to access and unlock in a different way

LASA Student [00:14:58] than just what the New York Times can give.

Ben Sheen [00:15:00] It sounds like the approach you have is honestly fascinating, I kind of really wish I could have been there to experience some of this back and forth discourse you've been having, and certainly, one of the things we find is when you actually look at things from a certain country's perspective, you can really start to understand some of their key drivers and even some of their constraints when it comes to factors that shape the decision making of countries, and it sounds like you guys have a really good handle on how those interactions, relationships, are really shaping the political stage at the moment, because there's a huge amount going on currently.

LASA Student [00:15:32] I agree with that, and with the political divide that's in the world right now, I think it was really helpful for these projects and articles to really understand and decode what was going on. They were really helpful in showing how negotiating works and how all parties bring all their issues to the table. It was just really cool to see a bunch of raw and unbiased information that you could really take into your own account and shape your own views and opinions about, instead of just going to, watching some random news station and just being filled with some facts, but a lot of other propaganda or something else that's just filled in there to fit into an agenda. Yeah, it was really awesome to experience unbiased information, especially like today in America, where fake news is thrown everywhere and people say this and that and you always have to go fact checking everything. It was just refreshing to have a resource like Stratfor just be there.

Cody Moody [00:16:33] Another skill that students gain, this is Cody, again, in the World Geography course, is oftentimes for many freshmen, they have kind of an idealistic approach towards world affairs, or towards how they think the world works. That's a good skill that students develop over the year, and we can definitely see it, with our simulations and our project with the representing countries, where we force them into the role of representing the interest of that country, which sometimes, of course, by their standard, their personal standards, by American standards, doesn't add up to what's appropriate in terms of human rights, and human rights violations, despicable kind of political behavior, but students develop a good understanding of what it means, what national interest means, and how messy that the world really is.

LASA Student [00:17:37] Looking at things from a specific country's perspective and that's one of my favorite parts about Stratfor, is reading the geopolitical analyses of different countries, is the first thing I did. Iran, when we started the summit on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and those pages in particular, they just give me so much insight I never would have thought about on my own about why those countries do what they do, like how, what it said on a particular page about Iran, is that this kind of image they developed of being rash or unpredictable is kind of very calculated, so that outside powers will be afraid of interfering for fear of an overreaction from Iran, and one of the things it said is that because one of the biggest threats to Iran is the influence of outside powers on these relatively separated communities since most people live up in the, are living in the mountains, I mean, that's, I could have learned about the geography of Iran going somewhere else, I could have learned about the politics of Iran going somewhere else, but I never could have reached that conclusion looking at one source, like I could when I was looking at Stratfor.

Ben Sheen [00:18:46] Fantastic, and that's great to hear, and certainly one of the things that we find when we go through our particular analysis is just trying to bring in as much information as possible and distilling it down and creating a consumable overlay that really encapsulates all the things you really need to know, and it's really powerful when you look at the world the way it is, not necessarily the way it should be, and you kind of understand that things happen based on national interest and countries' behavior, a lot of times, is, you can kind of see which way they're going to go, based upon the way they've acted in the past and what their real core imperatives and drivers are. I think once you understand, once you look at the world through this sort of lens, you do see it differently, and that sort of ability to critically interpret information and make rational deductions from it, that is a lifelong skill, and it sounds like you guys are absolutely set up for future success.

LASA Student [00:19:37] Through this year, my perspectives have changed so much because, I used to look at the news and be like, "Oh no, why is North Korea doing that?" I didn't connect all the pieces, but being able to see the historical, the geopolitical, and the national interests that these countries have, and how they interact with each other, it makes the world make so much more sense, especially with all the crazy stuff that's going on, it's nice to be able to really understand the way that this is working. It's not as foreign and distant, and I know that moving forward, I'll be able to use Stratfor and just in general with a different perspective of this analysis, I'll be able to look at the world and understand the national interests and the geopolitical contributing factors to what is happening.

Ben Sheen [00:20:26] Well, it's absolutely fantastic to hear, and it's been an absolute pleasure talking to all of you today, and I love the fact that you use Stratfor in your daily lives, and I really look forward to seeing what you produce in the future. Cody, Neil, Abby, Jake, Tess and Dylan, it's been great talking to you today. Thanks so much for joining me on the podcast.

Cody Moody [00:20:43] Thank you!

Neil Loewenstern [00:20:43] Thank you!

LASA Student [00:20:43] Thank you!

Ben Sheen [00:20:56] And that wraps up this episode of The Stratfor Podcast. If you'd like to learn more about how LASA High School has used Stratfor Worldview to expand educational opportunities for their students, World Geography teachers Cody Moody and Neil Loewenstern are working on some related blog posts about their projects. Once these are up, you can find them at stratfor.com/horizons. That's also where you'll find a link to our extended webcast discussion about geopolitical resources for higher education. If you're not already a Stratfor Worldview member, you can sign up for our free newsletter or learn more about complete access to our analysis through individual, team, and enterprise memberships at worldview.stratfor.com/subscribe. And for more geopolitical intelligence, analysis, and forecasting, that reveal the underlying significance and future implications of emerging world events, follow us on Twitter at @Stratfor.

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