What Does Politics Have to do with Science?


At the moment I am ready to abandon my science curriculum for the next two weeks!  Yes, that’s right!  Ditch it all together and teach something else…at least until November 5th.  If you’ve read this blog for long then you know I am a huge proponent for teaching students about civic engagement.  I’ve mentioned it here, here, and here:-)

Tonight I was looking through my Google Reader account and found a gem for teaching Presidential Politics on eSchool News.  What first caught my eye as I skimmed along was a quote by Kristen Hokanson,  regional director of the Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communication and Technology,

“In 2004, MySpace was one year old, Facebook had just launched, and YouTube didn’t exist,” she writes. “For the 2008 election, all of the candidates have accounts on these and many other social networking sites. YouTube You Choose is a common source of political videos, and MySpace Decision 08 is reaching out to younger voters.”

Before reading this article I hadn’t really given much thought to the fact that YouTube and Facebook really weren’t around in 2004.  Doesn’t it seem like they’ve always been with us?  In 2008 YouTube has provided voters with both the Barack Obama and John McCain channels along with a separate YouChoose08 channel.  They also worked with CNN to host the CNN/YouTube Debates during the primary.  Did you miss either candidate’s convention acceptance speech?  Well, here is Obama’s and McCain’s.  Did Sarah Palin really tell Katie Couric she had foreign policy experience because Alaska is close to Russia?  You can see for yourself.  YouTube has, however, been more than a repository for all videos related to Campaign 2008.  Everyday citizens are producing their own political satire and commentary, including Hey Sarah Palin, Obama Girl, and Sarahcuda. More people have watched the Saturday Night Live Sarah Palin skits online than on TV! Through Facebook users can join support groups for any issue or candidate they choose.  Its also amazingly easy (just a couple of clicks) to share videos, websites, and online articles with all of your friends.  Note – nearly all of the links I shared with you above were originally shared with me by one of my Facebook friends.  Social networking is so powerful with young (or youngish in my case) voters that both McCain and Obama’s campaigns have social networking components to their websites.  I didn’t even know this until my middle school students started telling me about their profiles last spring.  In California I have learned more about Prop 1A, our high-speed rail bond, by reading pro and con blogs, and the High Speed Rail Commission’s website.  Even in my town of 31,000 residents the mayor has both MySpace and Facebook support groups for his reelection bid.

Needless to say, social media is changing the way voters interact with candidates and the political process.  If more voters than usual turn out on November 4th my guess would be that social media will have played a role in making that happen.  Realizing the way these tools are changing the political process, PBS has created a curriculum called Access, Analyze, Act: A Blueprint for 21st Century Civic Engagement. Here is the description from the inside of the curriculum guide:

Welcome to Access, Analyze, Act: A Blueprint for 21st Century Civic Engagement. The Internet has changed the process  of civic engagement, making it easier than ever before for everyone to participate in dialogue about the many important issues that affect our nation and  its future.  If you are looking to learn more about the use of social media, or Web 2.0, tools to promote students’ learning and civic engagement, you are at the right place.

Honestly, I was already sold after this first paragraph, but the introduction continues with….

This curriculum is designed as a blueprint for educators to discover the power of social media for teaching media and information literacy, critical  thinking, communication, collaboration and technology skills while developing students’ understanding of the political, social and economic issues facing our country at election time.  Whether or not they are of voting age, young people have a stake in and can influence election outcomes. The activities offered here can help them engage in the 2008 election in purposeful and meaningful ways and help them practice important skills that will serve them well  beyond the election.

…and for any of you social studies teachers who say, “I don’t have time for this” or “It doesn’t meet my standards”…

An understanding of civic ideals and practices of citizenship is critical to full participation in society and is a central purpose of the social studies, according to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) asserts that, to thrive in the 21st century, people need to:  Develop proficiency with the tools of technology;

  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally;
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes;
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information;
  • Create, critique, analyze and evaluate multimedia texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.

I’ve taken a look at the lessons tonight and it looks like some pretty fantastic stuff.  During the beginning Access phase students create blogs for hosting future assignments, learn about the civic process, and compare their knowledge of local and national politicians to their knowledge of celebrities.  The middle Analyze phase includes lessons where students look at how media has shaped the past three elections; learn about six genres of political discourse and three persuasive appeals based on Aristotle’s classical rhetoric and find examples in the current election; and use an online devil’s advocate tool to expand their thinking about key issues in the 2008 election.  During the final Act phase students learn about the participation gap among young people in the political process; learn to think like journalists whose purpose is to ask good questions; choose campaign issues and develop persuasive extemporaneous speeches; and team up to choose a political issue and design a short persuasive video that demonstrates their knowledge and position.

If you teach social studies, history, or government I beg you to take a few minutes and look through Access, Analyze, and Act.  The project is full of great lessons and activities for helping the next generation of voters make sense of the issues, critically evaluate candidates, and participate through the plethora of social media tools many of them are already using.


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