The Choices Program has its origins in research begun in 1982 by the Center for Foreign Policy Development at Brown University in collaboration with the Public Agenda Foundation. The research team developed a “Futures” methodology that was used from 1985-1988 as a research tool to understand how the American public viewed U.S.-Soviet relations.
The Futures presented contrasting policy directions along with their risks and trade-offs. They were carefully researched and developed to be valid from the point of view of experts and accessible and engaging from the point of view of the public. The results of the study demonstrated that after people had the opportunity to consider alternative policy directions and share their views in a carefully constructed discussion format, their own opinions became more complete and their understanding of public policy issues increased.
Choices Launches in 1988
In 1988, Brown University launched the Choices Program in order to bring the advantages of the Futures approach to high school classrooms. The program focused initially on developing curriculum that engaged high school students in considering contemporary international policy issues. All Choices units included a framework of policy alternatives – now called options – that challenged students to consider multiple perspectives and think critically about an issue.
The Choices Program continued to use this approach in 1992 with the creation of its first historical turning points curriculum. Historical units put students in the roles of decision makers at critical moments in history. Through careful examination of the history leading up to a turning point, students gain a contextualized understanding of the period from the perspective of those who lived it. Students then explore the questions and choices that confronted citizens and decision makers at that historical moment. Finally, they analyze the decisions made and reflect on the relevance of those decisions for our world today.
Expansion of Choices Offerings
In 1992, the Choices Program launched an initiative to apply this same methodology to public programs that engaged general audiences in deliberation about the U.S.’s changing international role and implications for domestic policy. With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Choices Library Program conducted multi-session series in more than 500 libraries in 38 states.
In 1997, Choices began the Capitol Forum on America’s Future, a program to engage high school students and teachers from a range of school districts in each participating state in considering the future direction of U.S. policy. The Capitol Forum is a collaboration among the Choices Program, the Secretary of State in participating states, and other statewide organizations whose missions support international education and youth civic engagement.
The events of September 11, 2001, created the need for a quickly written and distributed lesson. The first Choices Program Teaching with the News lesson addressed 9/11 and was posted on our website a short time later. Since 2001, Teaching with the News lessons have provided teachers with timely lessons that make the headline news accessible to their students.
Choices launched its first online Scholars videos in 2007 to bring the expertise of scholars, practitioners, and policy makers into classrooms. Designed to enhance and expand the curriculum units, Choices Program videos are freely accessible to all. In September 2016, Choices created a new video portal that provides easy access to the Choices Program’s expanding library of instructional videos (currently more than 1,700). The next step in video offerings is to create a stand-alone, searchable collection, which will be accessible directly from the Choices home page.
After offering curriculum in several versions of iBooks and eTexts, the Choices Program launched its own Digital Editions format in 2018. Available on a subscription basis, Digital Editions allow the seamless integration of readings, images, and videos, and are compatible with Microsoft Word and Google Classrooms, along with many other learning management systems. In 2021, following a number of Digital Editions upgrades, the PDF format was retired.
A New Affiliation with the Department of History
Following 30 years of affiliation with the Institute for International Studies at Brown University (now the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs), the Choices Program moved to the Brown University Department of History in 2018. Years of collaboration with faculty in the Department of History made this a natural move and the formal affiliation strengthened the connection between the Choices Program and history faculty, whose research informs Choices units.
In recent years, Choices course materials have been used in more than 8,000 secondary schools nationwide in addition to an expanding global context. Choices currently offers curriculum units addressing topics such as The American Revolution: Experiences of Rebellion; Competing Visions of Human Rights: Questions for U.S. Policy; Indian Independence and the Question of Partition; Immigration and the U.S. Policy Debate; and The Middle East: Questions for U.S. Policy.