Thanks everyone for the awesome replies so far! This has given me a lot to go off of. I'm hoping to engage the kids in a sort of debate, but really, I'd just like them to see that our way isn't the only way and that other countries have a lot of success doing things differently. The hereditary and lifetime peers in the House of Lords is a subject I find pretty fascinating... esp since the reasoning for appointing lifetime peers based on expertise and having them weigh in on important issues seems to make a lot of sense to me.
I've ordered a copy of the suggested book and I'd love any other suggestions you guys have!
To answer a question, I normally teach science, but since we had some budget issues and we're only staffed at 93% of our enrollment, they are buying preps this year to teach the explorations electives classes, and they're trying to create a bunch of different ones tailored to specific needs (there is a class exclusively for repeaters, classes to help with math or ELA deficiencies, etc). Mine is meant to be the "good students who don't have an interest in fine arts" kind of class, so I'm really excited about what I might be able to accomplish with these kids. When I said, "What do you want me to teach?", they said, "Anything you want," so that has left me scheming all summer.
The basic outline of the class is:
-VERY brief overview of the Roman Empire, pros and cons
-Fall of Rome, Visigoths
-Dark Ages (500-1500 loosely), inc Justinian, Clovis, Charlemagne, Black Death, Vikings
-After Dark Ages, focus on the history of the British monarchy
-Modern England, cultural/governmental differences (I also like the idea of looking at differences in education)
I also want to pepper in the "mysteries" and ask kids to discuss/take a stance, things like the boys in the tower, did Charlemagne really poison his brother, etc. The fact is that these kids will get almost zero European history unless they choose to take it in college, and while I want them to be knowledgeable about their own country, I desperately want to give them another perspective. I can give a broader view the further back in history we are, but since I only have a semester, I need to narrow down as we come to the modern day. I think telling some of the more interesting stories of more colorful characters of the past will be fun, too... middle school kids can be bribed to listen to scandal!