“From Cold War to Hot Peace: An Ambassador in Putin’s Russia,” a book talk for educators by Ambassador Michael McFaul

Michael McFaul speaks with teachers at an EPIC workshop, January 2019. Michael McFaul speaks with teachers at an EPIC workshop, January 2019. Jonas Edman

On January 18, 2019, Stanford Global Studies and the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) hosted a book talk by Professor Michael McFaul. McFaul served for five years in the Obama administration, first as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council (2009–2012), and then as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation (2012–2014). He is also one of several contributing scholars to Inside the Kremlin, SPICE’s lesson plan on Soviet and Russian history. McFaul’s talk was given to approximately 30 community college and secondary school educators from the San Francisco Bay Area. Three of the educators—Nancy Willet, Phillip Tran, Don Uy-Barreta—are 2018–19 Stanford Education Partnership for Internationalizing Curriculum (EPIC) Fellows, and this article highlights their reflections.

Ambassador McFaul has described From Cold War to Hot Peace as “three books in one.” First, it is a book that explains the arc of U.S.–Russia relations since the end of the Cold War. Second, it a book that describes the “reset” in U.S.–Russia relations and its aftermath during the Obama presidency. Third, it is a book about McFaul’s life that describes how his involvement with the debate team at Bozeman High School, Montana, sparked his interest in Russia and led to his subsequent study of Russia at Stanford University, Oxford University, and in Russia itself. During his talk, he touched upon all three.

McFaul’s reflections not only provided the educators with important content on U.S.–Russia relations and insights from his youth to his ambassadorship, but also prompted the educators to consider effective teaching and pedagogical strategies. McFaul’s use of storytelling, presentation of multiple perspectives, emphasis on interdisciplinarity, and sharing of first-hand accounts gave the educators a glimpse into McFaul not only as an academic and diplomat but as a teacher.

EPIC Fellow Nancy Willet, Co-chair of the Business & Information Systems Department, College of Marin, noted, “I was most impressed with Ambassador McFaul’s engaging storytelling. His first-hand insights of his time spent studying and working in Russia challenged some of my misguided assumptions and helped expand my understanding of the complexities of U.S.–Russia relations. I grew up during the Cold War and the Ambassador disrupted some of my deep-rooted misconceptions about the former Soviet Union and further opened my mind for a more nuanced understanding.” In a follow-up communication, Willet said that she is devouring From Cold War to Hot Peace and plans to share McFaul’s scholarly insights with her law students—particularly when discussing democracy and rule of law—here and abroad.

EPIC Fellow Philip Tran, Instructor of Business, San Jose City College, remarked that “Ambassador McFaul’s talk reinforced the complicated notion of human relations and the importance of an interdisciplinary study of it—including political science, business, economics, etc. Interdisciplinarity is a key to grasping a better understanding of human relations.” He continued by noting that the biggest take-away from McFaul’s talk was that it cautioned him as a teacher to “refrain from the natural ‘knee-jerk’ reactions and to seek a deeper understanding of the situation from all sides…. Even though Ambassador McFaul is a subject matter expert on U.S.–Russian relations, he displayed humility and acceptance of ambiguity in his responses to some of the toughest questions regarding the U.S. relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin.”

EPIC Fellow Don Uy-Barreta, Instructor of Economics, De Anza College, reflected upon the significance of sharing first-hand experiences with students. He noted that “Reading about Ambassador McFaul’s experience is very informative, but being able to ask questions and hearing it from the source is a whole different level of experience. As he was telling us about his days in Russia, it felt like I was right next to him, and it gave me goosebumps.” Uy-Barreta found inspiration in McFaul’s talk as he prepares for his presentation on global economics at the EPIC Symposium on May 18, 2019 during which the 2018–19 EPIC Fellows will present their research at Stanford.

McFaul has given numerous talks on From Cold War to Hot Peace but this was the first geared to an audience of educators. As I observed his talk, I was primarily attentive to the pedagogical strategies that he utilized to engage the educators. For me, his effective teaching made the history and insights in From Cold War to Hot Peace come alive and feel more like “four books in one.”

This book talk was made possible by a U.S. Department of Education Title VI grant that provides professional development opportunities for K–12 teachers and community college instructors. Among these opportunities is EPIC, a program that provides one-year fellowships to community college instructors. Title VI grant collaborators include Stanford Global Studies (SGS), SPICE, Lacuna Stories, and the Stanford Graduate School of Education’s Center to Support Excellence in Teaching. SGS’s Denise Geraci and SPICE’s Jonas Edman organized and facilitated the talk by Ambassador McFaul.

SPICE also offers professional development opportunities for middle school teachers and high school teachers. To stay informed of SPICE news, join our email list or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.