Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid: A Process Paper

by Nancy Munoz & Clara Jekel

munozWhen we decided on a topic, we remembered that one of our moms saw a documentary on the Jonestown Massacre. She mentioned it, and we decided to do out National History Day project on it. Once we confirmed our choice, we realized we had no idea how ity would fit into the theme. When we dug a little bit more, we found that the Jonestown Massacre involved numerous rights and responsibility abuses. Then we began to wonder how it occurred. The Jonestown tragedy happened after Jim Jones, a ruthless leader/preacher, left for Guyana with his followers; the authorities found his abrupt departure suspicious, so Congressman Leo Ryan arranged a tip to Jonestown, and a panicked Jones convinced his followers that it was their responsibility as well as their right to commit suicide.

We could only find one solution to our question: research. At first, we were looking at the basic information. Then we started looking for the more complex information. We spent most of our time looking for information. Most of the websites said the same thing: Congressman Ryan coming to Jonestown and the bloodshed that followed soon after. We did numerous searches for our project and met up a few times to do research and make our exhibit.

From all the information that we collected, we discovered that it would work best to show it visually. Then we decided that the exhibit would be perfect, because the Jonestown Massacre can’t be fully described without how much it has an impact. When we figured out that it’d be best to present our exhibit visually, right away we took out the ones that wouldn’t fit into that category. A historical research paper wouldn’t work because we are a group. A website was no good because we thought it wouldn’t be a good way to represent the Jonestown Massacre. Performance was off the table as well; neither of us thought we would have much fun doing it. That left two options: either an exhibit or a documentary. We decided the exhibit would be better because one of us was familiar with the way the category exhibit works, from the previous year. We also thought that the exhibit would be good for us because we are both pretty literate, and we’re both good at displaying our thoughts visually. When we’d decided to the exhibit, it was time to figure out, more specifically, how it would fit into the theme.

In the events leading up to the Jonestown Massacre, Jim Jones took away the people’s rights and some of their responsibilities. There are lots of smaller things, but we decided that was the main point. We found out, through deeper research, that Jim Jones was the one behind all the lies. He was the one who made people believe that committing suicide was the right thing to do. Jim Jones was the one who was mainly responsible for the Jonestown tragedy. It is important for people to understand the horrible tragedy that happened on November 18, 1978, and why it happened. The Jonestown Massacre happened because Jim Jones seized control of the people’s rights and responsibilities, and some people responded negatively.

(The paper written for the National History Day project is here.)

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