Politics and Persuasion for the Classroom
September 6th 2012
With the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention kickstarting the final push of the 2012 election cycle, politics, persuasion, and the 2012 election are dominating every media outlet imaginable, from major news corporations to individual bloggers and the synaptic-quick networks of social media. This creates a real-world, right-now, historical moment to open thinking and conversation in our classrooms about how power, politics and persuasion work to shape our everyday experiences. What difference will voters' decisions in November make in our lives? What will persist unchanged? What do we care about as a classroom community?
As globally-minded educators, seeking to cultivate the skills, behaviors, knowledge, and values essential to global competency, we can find in the media "stuff" of the 2012 election, endless inspiration for
• Addressing the historical forces that have shaped the current world system
• Critical and comparative thinking
• Forming opinions based on exploration and evidence
• Self-awareness about identity & culture, and respect for difference
While our students may not yet be old enough vote, they are never too young to develop the thinking and relational skills of democratic citizenship. What follows are a variety of exercises for our classroom, adaptable to many subjects to can facilitate learning about persuasion and politics.
What do students see?
- Then start with what students know by soliciting observations through writing, drawing, or conversation about what they hear and see and where. How many details can they draw out? When the color of the First Lady's nail polish is a topic of public discourse—it's clear, no detail is too small or insignificant.
- Then have students consider what they don't see. This is a trickier question, but essential to understanding how the media works. If the Hunger Games has been a popular read among your students, they may be inspired to think about how theatricality and media work to tell very specific stories for public consumption.
- Have students bring in examples of political material, printed from the Internet, cut from newspapers or magazines or found in their home mailbox. These tangible materials can inspire close looking and start the process of observation.
What do students think?
- One way to open up conversation about persuasion is to facilitate some theatrical scenarios among students. Create a scene in which one student must persuade the other to make a particular decision. This could be anything from teenagers trying to get past a bouncer at a club or a business person trying to get on to an airplane after the gate has been closed. Have students observe their classmates and take turn jumping in to try other techniques. List the techniques on the board and solicit ideas for other techniques.
- Draw upon the Greeks. Aristotle identified three primary techniques of persuasion: logos, pathos, and ethos. Logos is an appeal to reason through rational argument. Pathos is an appeal to the emotions. Ethos is an appeal through the authority or reputation of someone respected or admired. Which of these techniques are students using? Which do they find effective and in what cases? Once your students have a language for analyzing persuasive techniques they have taken a key step in building their critical thinking muscles.
- Encourage students' to apply their new technique to their collected observations from the 2012 election. Create three regions in the classroom such as the land of reason/logos, the rivers of pathos/emotion, and the mountains of ethos/authority and reputation. Go through students list of observations and based on their understandings of the concepts and personal opinion have them move to the area of the room that reflects the persuasive technique they believe is at work. Have students to ask each other why they chose take the stand that they did.
What do they wonder?
- Use the vast video resources of the Internet and really open up the conversation. In a previous post, I mentioned these resources from Independent Television Services Community Classroom which cover elections in Pakistan and 4th grade classrooms in China. Clips from the conventions are easily found on party convention websites and the website themselves offer plenty of material. What images and photos are websites using? Why? For example: How does it make students feel to see a picture of a candidate holding his children? The website livingroomcandidate.org by the Museum of Moving Image maintains an archive of presidential campaign commercials from 1952-2008 and provides a rich classroom time traveling opportunity. Having students explore particular videos from previous elections creates excellent curriculum ties to history standards.
- For mathematics classes, there is no end to political numbers! Have students research political polling and the differences between telephone polling of landline vs. mobile phone users. Do students think polling makes a difference? What do they think of this 1948 incident in the election of Dewey vs. Truman? Do numbers matter? Generate questions and take a poll in the classroom or the school using Survey Monkey. Are the results controversial?
Remember to ask your students what they wonder and what they hope for. Have them identify areas of improvement or change in their own community and articulate their reasons why. What kinds of campaigns would they like to see in their own school or community? How will they persuade others? What are allies and who will they be? Start with posters or short speeches. These lessons can become opportunities to encourage students to understand themselves as community activists, decision-makers and global change makers in their own right and they don't have be old enough to vote.