little girl holding a rifle smiling

Volume Five – Nicaragua: Nation-Building in Central America


From 1981 to 1990, the government of Nicaragua, led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), fought against the Contras (Contrarrevoluciónarios, or Counter-revolutionaries), a United States-backed collection of military groups. The Nicaraguan Revolution that the Contras opposed had overthrown the Somoza dictatorship that had been in power since 1937.

Some believe the Contras were responsible for the death of Richard Cross and another journalist at the border with Honduras. Cross had taken many photographs sympathetic to the cause of the Nicaraguan revolution.

  • How did the post-World War II (1945) conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union lead to conflict in Nicaragua in the 1970s?
  • How did a revolution that overthrew a dictatorship come to be seen as communism?
  • As terrible as war is, why is it worth the cost for some, and for what purpose?

California Curriculum Framework and Standards

10th Grade California Curriculum Framework and Standards

World History and Geography: Medieval and Early Modern Times

Students in grade seven study the social, cultural, and technological changes that occurred in Europe, Africa, and Asia in the years A.D. 500–1789. After reviewing the ancient world and the ways in which archaeologists and historians uncover the past, students study the history and geography of great civilizations that were developing concurrently throughout the world during medieval and early modern times. They examine the growing economic interaction among civilizations as well as the exchange of ideas, beliefs, technologies, and commodities. They learn about the resulting growth of Enlightenment philosophy and the new examination of the concepts of reason and authority, the natural rights of human beings and the divine right of kings, experimentalism in science, and the dogma of belief. Finally, students assess the political forces let loose by the Enlightenment, particularly the rise of democratic ideas, and they learn about the continuing influence of these ideas in the world today.


7.1 Students analyze the causes and effects of the vast expansion and ultimate disintegration of the Roman Empire.

1. Study the early strengths and lasting contributions of Rome (e.g., significance of Roman citizenship; rights under Roman
law; Roman art, architecture, engineering, and philosophy; preservation and transmission of Christianity) and its ultimate
internal weaknesses (e.g., rise of autonomous military powers within the empire, undermining of citizenship by the growth of
corruption and slavery, lack of education, and distribution of news).
2. Discuss the geographic borders of the empire at its height and the factors that threatened its territorial cohesion.
3. Describe the establishment by Constantine of the new capital in Constantinople and the development of the Byzantine
Empire, with an emphasis on the consequences of the development of two distinct European civilizations, Eastern Orthodox
and Roman Catholic, and their two distinct views on church-state relations.

10th Grade World History, Culture and Geography: The Modern World

Curriculum Framework (2016)

Unit:  Nation-Building in the Contemporary World, pp. 360-365

  • Students can engage in a comparative analysis of postcolonial developments in Latin America.
  • Latin American conflicts have often reflected differences between indigenous people and mestizos, and well as between leftist and conservative ideologies, and socialist and capitalist economies.
  • In the 1980s, several Central American states experienced protracted civil wars, but by the 1990s these conflicts had subsided, through the underlying issues remained unresolved.
  • Many Latin American nations have often been forced to rely on the export of a few raw materials as the basis of their economies, which can also fluctuate in value drastically on the world market.
  • As a result, nations end up deeply in debt to foreign banks or other financial institutions, which then require governments to undertake drastic cuts in social services as a condition for receiving loans.

Content Standard (1998)

10.10 Students analyze instances of nation-building in the contemporary world in at least two of the following regions or countries: the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and other parts of Latin America, and China.

  1. Understand the challenges in the regions, including their geopolitical, cultural, military, and economic significance and the international relationships in which they are involved.
  2. Describe the recent history of the regions, including political divisions and systems, key leaders, religious issues, natural features, resources, and population patterns.
  3.  Discuss the important trends in the regions today and whether they appear to serve the cause of individual freedom and democracy.
11th Grade United States History and Geography: Continuity and Change in Modern United States History

Curriculum Framework (2016)

Unit: Contemporary American Society, pp. 426-432

  • During President Reagan’s first term in office, Cold War policies toward Latin American and the Soviet Union intensified: conflicts in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Panama demonstrated Reagan’s willingness to send American support to anti-communists all over the Western Hemisphere.

Content Standard (1998)

11.9.5  Analyze the role of the Reagan administration and other factors in the victory of the West in the Cold War.

12th Grade Principles of American Democracy (One Semester)

Curriculum Framework (2016)

Unit: Comparative Governments and the Challenges of Democracy, pp. 450-454

  • Students can review major political and economic systems and how they influence economic policies, social welfare policies, and human rights practices: socialism, communism, capitalism
  • Students examine nondemocratic and tyrannical forms of government: control of the media, lack of political and personal freedoms, corruption of public officials, lack of governmental transparency, and the lack of citizens’ access to changing the government
  • Students can explore the importance of the rule of law, the need for civilian control of military and police, and the desirability of popular petitions, rallies, and other forms of participation
  • Attention also should be given to historical and contemporary movements that overthrew tyrannical governments and/or movements toward democratic government in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Content Standards (1998)

12.9.1  Explain how the different philosophies and structures of feudalism, mercantilism, socialism, fascism, communism, monarchies, parliamentary systems, and constitutional liberal democracies influence economic policies, social welfare policies, and human rights practices.

12.9.5  Identify the forms of illegitimate power that twentieth-century African, Asian, and Latin American dictators used to gain and hold office and the conditions and interests that supported them.

12.9.6  Identify the ideologies, causes, stages, and outcomes of major Mexican, Central American, and South American revolutions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Lesson Activities

  • Students prepare their own analyses of the conflicts in Central America, drawing on the photographs of the Richard Cross collection, oral history interviews, and other resources.
  • Students answer and develop their own Compelling and Supporting Questions.

Compelling and Supporting Questions

  • are intellectually rigorous and
  • are relevant and interesting
  • spark inquiry
  • motivate students to want to learn more

Historical Content
Bullet points that

  • cover basic content
  • inform slide presentations
  • teach note-taking
  • lead to resources – websites and published curriculum

Evaluating Sources & Using Evidence

  • Students evaluate and analyze multiple sources and perspectives.
  • Students make conclusions supported by evidence carefully gathered and analyzed.

Photograph Viewing Guide

  • Authentic inquiry vs. exploitation
  • People, land and physical structures
  • Historical thinking skills
  • Personalizing historical photographs
Assessment Ideas
Formative and summative assessment options

References to support deeper study of conflict in Central America