About William

I am a History teacher and the Director of the Model United Nations program at the International School of Beijing. My worldview has been called "Wildmind Satyagraha Bright Green Cosmopolitan Civic Communitarian," but only by me. Please feel free to contact me at the school or via the email links connected to this suite of sites.

Post October Break Check-In

Hello good people,

Some announcements to get you settled for and on our return:

  1. September was a very busy month, not only for students with extra-curriculars and college apps, but for me as the teacher. I was out a lot do on school business and I want to reassure you all that I recognize that.
    1. History students who wish for their rewrites to be calculated in their quarter grades before reports go home must submit them no later than 12PM (Noon) on the 11th of October. That’s as late as I can go and still give me time to grade them. No exceptions made for late submissions of any kind. Plan ahead.
    2. Students who are slammed with work and are comfortable riding out the quarter with their current grade will be allowed to submit their rewrites up until October 21st and I will update grades officially later. Students who received 6s and 7s, please choose this option. As our new policy states, everyone must re-write their essays, but there is no grading urgency for a student with a 6 or a 7.
  2. I will be sending an email to any student, and the parents of any student, with a predicted quarter grade below a “B” this week.
  3. All History students are required to review their current grade comments by Wednesday and then send me an email of 50 words or less that tells me what grade they think they have earned for the quarter and why. If we agree, we may or may not have a conference. If we disagree, I will email you to schedule a conference. I will attempt, however, to meet with everyone whether we agree or not. The subject of this email must follow the stated guidelines in our coursebook or it will be ignored and you will still be regarded as having been offered the chance to negotiate your grade.
  4. History 1 students, your essays did not go through to Turnitin and I do not know why. I will pursue this tech issue, but in the meantime you will get your papers back the old-fashioned way (paper, with written comments) on Wednesday.
  5. Global Politics students, as we have been delayed in terms of writing our first essay, we will compensate by starting in class this week under my guidance. I.e., you will still submit the essay for the quarter, but you will have the benefit of my feedback for at least 65-85 minutes. Make sure you take advantage of this–if you work with me to establish a strong intro paragraph, you are likely to much more successful than otherwise. We will discuss the deadline in class.
  6. Again this week I will stay at school every night until 6 to hold appointments. Look to the schedule I shared, and then send me an appointment request via Outlook. Do not just email me for an appointment. If no one schedules a late appointment by 4:40 on a given day, I will assume I can go home. –I will probably stay, but it’s not a guarantee.
  7. Next week I will be distributing a lot of information about our next quarter’s projects. This would be a good time to take another look at our assessment schedule and make requests for large changes. We have a few essays on the horizon, and I want to make sure you are carefully planning for their successful completion–without last minute requests for changes.

See you soon!






September 1st Check-In: Senior Winners for Challenge #1


The competition was fierce on the first Challenge Day for the senior classes. The survivors who made it out of the derby of broken bodies and spirits were:


  • Robert L.
  • Jasmina V.
  • Andrea H.
  • Garrett L.


  • Kevin W.
  • Tiger
  • Alex G.


For those who are “not yets” (as in not yet winners) the work you need to do in order to earn a spot at the victors table next time is below. We are going to go with a September 12th deadline for this work.

Good luck now and in your next challenge!


Section 1: Geography

  1. List 6 countries of the Warsaw Pact other than the the Soviet Union
  2. What 5 countries comprised British India?
  3. What three African countries were formerly colonized by Belgium?
  4. Name three countries that used to be a part of Yugoslavia
  5. What is the name of the type of map used by European navigators during the Age of Exploration, still widely used in classrooms, that displays highly inaccurate size perspectives on the world.
  6. What is the newest officially recognized country in the world?
  7. What country’s geography is largely defined by the Ganges river basin?
  8. Name 4 US states that were Mexican territory before the Mexican-American war.
  9. Name the four empires that ceased to exist as a direct result of WWI.
  10. What are the 4 IB regions?

Section 2: IB History of the 20th Century: Cold War and Decolonization

  1. Who was the secretary of state under Kennedy?
  2. When were the 13 days? (Exactly)
  3. What countries were given nearly $400 million in aid to prevent the spread of Communism in 1947?
  4. Who was the author of the Long Telegram?
  5. What is the term used to describe the Cold War in the sense that it started in 1917 as a conflict between capitalism and communism?
  6. What is the name of the Cold War theory that suggests that the Cold War was just a smokescreen behind which the USA attempted to secure dominance of the capitalist world?
  7. What document agreed to the formation of the United Nations?
  8. What Congolese leader was an early victim to Cold War maneuvering by the two superpowers?
  9. Who first suggested the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement?
  10. Ironically, the Soviet Union, rather than Germany, found itself facing a two front war in the 70s and 80s with what two potential enemies?
  11. What two major Cold War crises took place in 1956?
  12. What were the names of the two “countries” formed by uniting the British. American and French sectors of the divided West Germany?

Section 3: IB History of the 20th Century: Auth Leaders, Wars, USFP

  1. What were the four key territories the US gained via the SA war?
  2. What was the name of the legislative document that ostensibly turned power over to the Cubans after the SA war?
  3. Who were Stalin’s partners in the Triumvirs?
  4. Name the big three conferences of the Grand Alliance held during WWI.
  5. What was the name of the documentary we watched that addressed LA immigration to the USA?
  6. What was the name of the program that brought Mexican workers to the United States to work during WWII?
  7. What was the battle that signaled the end of the First Indochina War?
  8. What are the two turning point battles of WWII: one from the ET and the other from the PT.
  9. What is the name often used to describe the relationship between connected core and peripheral states?
  10. Who directed “Triumph of the Will”?
  11. Who was the primary German historian who disagreed with Fritz Fischer?
  12. What was the name of the bombing campaign that attempted to beat the North Vietnamese forces into submission toward the end of the VW?

Polis: August Gazette


ISB students love their History class…

Our first few weeks are nearing an end and I wanted to send out a quick update to parents and students concerning recent and upcoming events in class.

  • September 15th or 16th, both Junior and Senior History classes will go downtown on a field trip to Mao’s Mausoleum and the National Museum. More news on this later; permission slips will be going home soon.
  • Next week, the first Approaches To Learning grades will be reported. Students have been reminded of this and they have also been reminded of the ways that they can improve their performance between now and then. –This is particularly important for the students in our IB History classes who are using the new gradeless system. Please ask your student if she is keeping up with ATL.
  • I promised on Back to School Night that I would share the course book, and here it is in its latest form.
  • Our first Academic Challenge Day has passed, and although it was a soft introduction, the top three students from each class earned their places, so please applaud their performance. They are:
    • Global Politics:
      • Elizabeth M.
      • Ariana L.
      • Kevin W.
    • History A2:
      • Kevin Y.
      • Emily R.
      • Thomas C.
    • History A4:
      • Jessie F.
      • Petra B.
      • Tony J.
  • The questions that were asked of the students on our Challenge day are listed below, so that our community can keep up with our studies and review, and so that those students who need to revise can do so.

As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns!


–Bill Tolley


Challenge Questions: First Challenge Global Politics and History I

Challenge 1: C3 Geography

  1. Name at least one country on the following peninsulae: Balkan, Iberian, Anatolia.
  2. What three countries comprised French Indonesia?
  3. Put the following in order from largest to smallest: Africa, Europe, Asia, India, Brazil, The USA
  4. Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and other small nations all used to be united in federation under what name?
  5. What is the name of the type of map used by European navigators during the Age of Exploration, still widely used in classrooms, that displays highly inaccurate perspectives on the word.
  6. What European country ceased to exist from 1795 to 1918?
  7. What is the most populous Muslim country in the world?
  8. What two cities host UN headquarters buildings?
  9. Name 5 countries that border or contain some section of the Himalayas.
  10. What are the 4 IB regions?

Challenge 2: IBO History or Politics


  1. Who was the African leader most closely associated with the fight against apartheid?
  2. What was the name of the German government during the Interwar Period?
  3. Which countries formed the Allied Powers in WWI?
  4. Who is responsible for leading the writing team that crafted the UDHR?
  5. The movie Avatar is a sci-fi depiction of what historical phenomenon?
  6. At the end of WWII, which two countries occupied Korea?
  7. What was the name of the failed, us-supported, invasion of Cuba in 1961?
  8. Who was Stalin’s number one opponent in his quest for the Soviet leadership?
  9. Who was the Argentinian doctor who joined Castro’s revolution in Cuba?
  10. In what war did the United States win Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and other territories in the West of the country?
  11. What was the name of the Eastern Roman Empire?
  12. What was the name of the authoritarian leader who ruled Korea in the 60s?


  1. German philosopher who devised the modern (non-Greek) concept of cosmopolitanism?
  2. Which Roman legal scholar said, “To not learn what happened before you were born is to forever remain a child.”
  3. What are the names of the two major political parties in the United States?
  4. What are the names of the two ethnic groups that fought each other during the Rwandan genocide?
  5. Who was the only non-protestant president of the USA?
  6. What is the acronym for the Southeast Asian version of NATO?
  7. What do the letters of NATO stand for?
  8. How many members sit on the UN Security council?
  9. Who are the P5?
  10. What is the name of the democracy leader in Burma who was arrested in 1988 and subjected to 16 years of house arrest in her own home in Yangon?
  11. Greenland is a territory of what country?
  12. What was the nickname of the 2009 protests in Iran?

Challenge 3: Approaches to Learning

  1. We have replaced multiple-choice exams with what app?
  2. What is the name of an image embedded on s term in our vocab app?
  3. Who are the two people on the cover of your syllabus?
  4. Where is Mr. T from?
  5. We don’t use the term “homework” in this class. What term do we use?
  6. What is the name of the course blog?
  7. What should your username look like in Evernote?

Back to School Night: Welcome!


We’re back!

And we have some exciting changes and continuities this school year. Returning seniors will continue their study of history as outlined below while incoming juniors may be either in my IB History I class or the new Global Politics class. The basic details of all of these are outlined below.

For further details on my course, me or my philosophy of teaching, please feel free to access the following websites and files via QR codes or hyperlinks below.

Please click for the latest version of our Course Guide. Please be aware, though, that this is a living document and updates will be made throughout the year.



My LinkedIn Profile

Linkedin Profile



Polis: Our Class Blog (This Website)

Polis: Class Blog



Mindsets for Modern Learning:

My Professional Teaching Blog at the Center for Teaching Quality

Mindsets for Modern Learning


Intro to Mr. Tolley:

  • Origin: From New York and New Jersey; now from wherever I hang my hat
  • Experience: 18 years teaching in Germany, South Korea, New York, Brazil and China
  • Courses taught at ISB: IB History and IB Global Politics, also Extended Essay Coordinator
  • Teaching Philosophy:
    • Modern learning with an emphasis on projects, simulations, standards-based grading and student ownership of their own development.
  • Favorites: 
    • Color: Silver
    • Music group: Radiohead
    • Book: The Sea of Fertility by Yukio Mishima
    • Star Wars Movie: The Empire Strikes Back
    • Food: Sashimi in any form

For more professional information, please see my LinkedIn Profile. I would be happy to connect with anyone in the ISB community.

IB Global Politics–(broad description of content)

  • The History of International Relations
  • Power in Global Politics
  • Human Rights
  • Peace and Conflict
  • Development

IB History I (Juniors) 

  • Authoritarianism
    • Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro, student-selected
      • Field trip to Mao’s Mausoleum and the National Museum
  • Wars of the 20th Century
    • World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, student-selected
  • US Foreign Policy in the Americas and Asia
    • US Relations with China and Asia: 1800-2005
    • US Relations in the Americas: 1880-1929
    • The Mexican Revolution
    • The Americas in World War I, World War II and the Cold War
    • Looking to the Future: US Hegemony? China rising? A multipolar world?

IB History II (Seniors) 

  • Globalization (1945-2005)
    • The Cold War
    • Decolonization
    • China’s the United States role in the era
      • Field trip to Mao’s Mausoleum and the National Museum
  • Global Civil and Human Rights
    • In the Americas:
      • African-American rights
      • Latino rights
      • Native-American rights
      • Women’s rights
    • Apartheid in South Africa
    • Comparisons to human rights issues in East Asia

Here ends our brief introduction to my classes. Our 10 minutes tonight is, of course, not even close to enough time to thoroughly describe the course elements, so please feel free to contact me by email or any of the means provided above with any questions you may have. I am more than happy to meet with you at your convenience to to go into further detail.

Here’s to a successful and healthy year ahead!

Personal beliefs and perpetual peace


Objectively (i.e., in theory) there is utterly no conflict between morality and politics. But subjectively (in the self-seeking inclinations of men, which, because they are not based on maxims of reason, must not be called the [sphere of] practice [Praxis]) this conflict will always remain, as well it should; for it serves as the whetstone of virtue, whose true courage (according to the principle, “tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito”) in the present case consists not so much in resolutely standing up to the evils and sacrifices that must be taken on; rather, it consists in detecting, squarely facing, and conquering the deceit of the evil principle in ourselves, which is the more dangerously devious and treacherous because it excuses all our transgressions with an appeal to human nature’s frailty.

― Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace and other Essays on Politics, History and Morals


Today we started a discussion on one of the oldest idealistic views of our shared life on this planet: cosmopolitanism.

Philosophers, politicians, poets and activists have all embraced the idea, but it has yet to claim a secure position as a defining political activity that actively defines human relations. Perhaps it will never.

Kant’s quote above gets to the heart of this, and speaks to the question I have asked you to consider: What do you bring to the table in a discussion of cosmopolitanism, global politics and human relations? Kant would be more dramatic and ask us to squarely face the “deceit of the evil principle in ourselves,” but we are not going to assume that our transgressions are evil. We are going to assume that we have pre-existing notions and political beliefs that create conflicts between morality and politics–especially on a global scale–and we are going to analyze this potential to determine how it may define our world-view consciously or unconsciously.

Some nudges:

  • Do you believe your nation, ethnicity or culture is better than others?
  • Do you believe that no culture is superior to others, but all cultures are different?
  • Do you identify more with people from a similar background, or do you identify equally with any human you encounter?
  • How would you describe your political beliefs? Do you support a particular political party in your nation? Any nation?
  • How would your parents and family answer the above questions? Are your answers more similar, or dissimilar to theirs?

Feel free to expand your self-analysis. Stretch.


Some parting thoughts from Frank: Fukuyama

The effect of education on political attitudes is complicated, for democratic society. The self-professed aim of modern education is to “liberate” people from prejudices and traditional forms of authority. Educated people are said not to obey authority blindly, but rather learn to think for themselves. Even if this doesn’t happen on a mass basis, people can be taught to see their own self-interest more clearly, and over a longer time horizon.

Education also makes people demand more of themselves and for themselves; in other words, they acquire a certain sense of dignity which they want to have respected by their fellow citizens and by the state. In a traditional peasant society, it is possible for a local landlord (or, for that matter, a communist commissar) to recruit peasants to kill other peasants and dispossess them of their land. They do so not because it is in their interest, but because they are used to obeying authority. Urban professionals in developed countries, on the other hand, can be recruited to a lot of nutty causes like liquid diets and marathon running, but they tend not to volunteer for private armies or death squads simply because someone in a uniform tells them to do so.

― Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man

The Age of Obama

Obama grrove

You will learn in our classes that I have developed a progressive, if not radical, political perspective through the varied experiences of my life. (Returners know this already.)

This is why my friends sometimes make fun of me for my admiration of President Barack Obama. Barack Obama is far too moderate (publicly, at least) for my views. I am much more in line with 2016 candidate Bernie Sanders.  Pointing to this is a recent article I wrote penning an open letter to Barack Obama wherein I ask him to reconsider his views on education to better serve the United States. My points on education–at odds with Obama’s public position, are very much in sync with the more progressive Sanders’s views.

Still, I cannot but marvel at the miracle that is Barack Obama: that a black president would be so successful in a nation still so clearly torn on issues of race–it’s more than impressive: it’s historical.

Which brings us to our first extended discussion topic: the historical significance of Barack Obama as president. Ranking the historical worth and strengths of American presidents is not new; observers like to judge political figures historically. Historians, however, argue whether or not such evaluations are valid. Consider that the IB doesn’t regard any phenomena from the past ten years as “historical.” According to the historians at the IBO, a certain amount of time has to pass and a certain amount of historical literature has to amass before something can be evaluated as history.

Iran Deal

But that’s dumb. So let’s ignore it.

Read this article by economist Paul Krugman. He argues that Obama is one of the most successful president’s in history. Do you agree? What data informs your opinion? Reply to this post or bring up this issue as time in class allows.

Moral Dilemma #2: The Problem of Evil

And the Lord spake unto the philosopher, ‘I am the Lord thy God, all-loving, all-powerful and all-knowing.’

‘Surely not,’ replied the philosopher.  ‘I look at this world and I see horrible disease, hunger, starvation, mental illness.  Yet you don’t stop it.  Is it that you can’t?  In which case, you are not all-powerful.  Is it because you don’t know about it?  In which case you are not all-knowing.  Or perhaps you don’t want to?  In which case you are not all-loving.’

‘Such impudence!’ replied the Lord.  ‘It is better for you if I don’t stop all this evil.  You need to grow morally and spiritually.  For that you need the freedom to do evil as well as good, and to confront the chance occurrence of suffering.  How could I possibly have made the world better without taking away your freedom to grow?’

‘Easy’, replied the philosopher.  ‘First, you could have designed us so that we felt less pain.  Second, you could have made sure we had more empathy, to prevent us doing evil to others.  Third, you could have made use better learners, so we didn’t have to suffer so much to grow.  Fourth, you could have made nature less cruel.  Do you want me to go on?’

Discussion points:

  • Could God have made a world in which there was less suffering but in which we had the same opportunities to exercise our free will?
  • Some have characterized the answers to this question as being either that atheists claim to know better than God or that believers claim to know better than reason.  Why?  Which, in your view, is the more serious charge?



Submission Guidelines:

  • Submit your work as a URL embedded into your first name in the comments below.

October, End of Quarter Check-In


Hello all,

This week you are being challenged by a rigorous practice exam schedule, but once it is over you will be done with IB “boot camp,” and you will be ready to take more control of your study of History.  In the meantime, know that I meant what I said in class: both F and G blocs have demonstrated excellent endeavor and potential and I am very proud of how quickly you have adapted to IB-level writing. Keep up your confidence for the rest of the week and take pride in the work you have done in preparation for these exams! Parents, please encourage your children as they wrap up their first semester of IB. Either as full diploma candidates or certificate applicants, the first quarter of IB is quite a reality check.

For your further information, our class has focused on the following material this quarter:

  • The theory of History and historiography
  • Historical thinking and activism
  • Film and War (via Gallipoli)
  • Theories of war
  • World War I
  • World War II
  • Thinkers:
    • Hannah Arendt
    • Georg Hegel & Karl Marx (in terms of history)
    • Niall Ferguson
    • Eric Hobsbawm
    • AJP Taylor
    • Fritz Fischer
    • Steven Pinker
    • P.W. Singer
    • and others


Students, looking forward to what the the second quarter holds in store, you will soon:

But for now, focus on a solid end to the quarter. I will be sending out a new “check-in” early in Quarter Two.

Parents, I look forward to meeting you or speaking with you again per your availability during our Parent Teacher Conferences next week.


Check-In: It’s September


G Class Work

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” 

Well, we’re off now.

Off to an encouraging start, that is. Our classes have moved passed Phase One, into the more rigorous and content-heavy Phase Two. Now that our focus has shifted to Research and Development, several students have noticed that we are not learning in the style of a traditional history class where the teacher stands in front of the room as a gatekeeper of knowledge. This has prompted several students to ask me some form of the question:

“Do we have to remember and use all of this information?”

To which my reply has been a gleeful, “Yes!” Comforting, innit?

But relax, we are only starting Phase Two. You still have 4 weeks until your final assessments. Weeks that will be taken up by:

Tech Boardwork

  • A long lecture from me on both wars–cementing your knowledge of the data and the ideas.
  • Another critical film viewing.
  • A debate on the resolution of World War Two.
  • A cooperative review session.
  • A mastery quest sequence that will ensure you have the requisite knowledge to write your final exam.
  • Three (3!) practice essays that will not hurt your grade and that will receive full feedback from me on your way to your final paper. (First one due next week!)

In short: you just started, and you’re doing better than fine.

These exchanges also reminded me that I forgot to mention in our introductory week the best reason to study history: it’s hard. As in, really difficult. You will be required to remember a vast amount of detail, synthesize it into coherent themes and use it to judge history and history’s inventors. The skills you will develop in history are those daily practiced by the best lawyers, politicians, diplomats, activists and correspondents. Being proficient in history demarcates the difference between the hacks who create Disney Princess quizzes for Buzzfeed and the investigative journalists who interview world leaders for the BBC.

Learn to enjoy the pain now–because it won’t go away for at least two years. And be warned: the study of history is a marathon: always challenging, often painful, seemingly endless & something that non-runners cannot fathom.

But would you rather be on the sideline handing out Gatorade?