Monday, November 5, 2012

Teaching Politics

I made a mistake today. Well, the mistake was yesterday, actually. Yesterday, I assumed that I would have enough time in the morning -- because I normally have no classes on Mondays before lunch -- to cobble together a quick lesson on American politics and the upcoming election for my first-years.

In Korea, never assume.

As soon as first period had started, one of my co-teachers came by my office and told me that the schedule for the second-years' college prep English conversation course had been finalized. Oh, yes, I forgot: November has been ushered in with a complete reshuffling of my second-year classes. Now, I had known this, but I forgot how soon the change would occur. To my dismay, the new schedule had bumped one of my first-year classes up to Mondays. Mondays at third period, to be exact. Which would begin in less than two hours.

I definitely had to scramble to get the lesson done, and it wasn't great. I essentially talked at my students for half an hour and then had them watch a snippet of Obama's acceptance speech at this year's Democratic National Convention. It was boring, some of them fell asleep, and the fault is entirely mine.

My co-teacher, always supportive, told me she thought it was a great lesson and that my timing was perfect. I thanked her for the compliment, but I completely disagree; it was a crappy lesson, and I should have begun planning it last week. I sat right back down at my desk after third period, and worked on it during fourth, fifth, and sixth, as well, to fix it for the next class. I did some quick research. I made a ballot box out of an empty box of chocopie (always useful; I'd like more). And I went to seventh period armed and ready!
My MacGyvered ballot box, made from an empty chocopie box, plus ballots.
Fortunately, version 2.0 of the Election Day lesson went wonderfully. I began the class with hangman, which, I have discovered this late in the game, all of my students love unconditionally. "Exercise your right to vote!" And then I had them brainstorm types of government. This was hilarious, as I got some of the usual, "democracy", "kingdom", "socialism"... and then some more creative answers: "non-government" (anarchy), "priest-government" (theocracy), and "dictation" (dictatorship). And then a poor student tried to say "vassalage", and I have no idea where he learned that word -- even I couldn't decipher what he was trying to say (or spell; he tried V-A-S-S-L-L-G-E) for several minutes. So, yes, today I went on a tangent and told my students about feudalism.

After introducing the current candidates for tomorrow's election, with some awesome coincidental mnemonics (Democrat, Donkey, Obama, Biden, Blue, Left-wing vs. Republican, Elephant, Romney, Ryan, Red, Right-wing), I actually had my students vote! I presented Obama's and Romney's stances -- extremely simplified, and non-partisan -- on education, the environment, the economy, healthcare, and same-sex marriage (information grabbed hastily and gratefully from aljazeera), and then passed out mock ballots for the "state" of Changwon Science High School. Our constituents were voting on President and also the passage of a certain Proposition 31, which would continue funding for English classes at our school even though "we suddenly have no more money".

I am happy to report that in Class 1-3, Obama won and Proposition 31 was passed, both by a landslide. Here's hoping for the best come November 6th! (My absentee ballot still hasn't been received by Delaware County...)
Look, this voter wrote "I like gay~!" Warms my heart, especially since the average Korean high school classroom is fairly homophobic. When I introduced Obama's and Romney's stances on same-sex marriage -- actually, as soon as I said "same-sex marriage", the whole class went, "Ooooohhhhhhh!!!!1!!1!11" as if I had said a dirty word.


  1. Woah that election day lesson plan has a lot of really great ideas there. I will replicate this as faithfully as I can. You had me at "Priest-Government." Also, I guess we can count 'I like gay~!' as progress.

    Don't your students hassle you about who you're voting for, or your own political beliefs? I walk a fine line in my classes (and at the American Corners).

    1. Thanks, Brice! My students are actually more interested in political issues than they appear to be, once you give them the right tools to talk about them. Would you like me to send you my lesson plan and materials, by the way?

      My students didn't hassle me about my own beliefs. I try to keep the classroom as partial as possible (impossible while I was watching election updates, but that's a grand exception), and my students so far have not been too intrusive. They're great.