An easy way to make political language harder


So what do I do to help my learners get up to speed on political-economy? (I'm following up on the post below.) Well, I can tell you something that I do wrong.

Adult learners in my academic or GED preparation classes need to understand, broadly, the differences between capitalism, socialism and communism. They need to know enough about these terms to understand excerpts on the different ways nations organize their economies. They need to understand the way these terms get used, and the baggage the terms carry, in historical excerpts about the conflict in Korea or the Cuban missile crisis. As well, they need to know the associations the terms can carry in the context of political party platforms or campaign literature. In this last case, learners also need to get a grip on related shorthand like 'right,' 'left,' 'conservative,' 'liberal,' 'reformist' and 'revolutionary' (and sometimes 'tory,' 'grit,' 'whig,' and 'red').

Usually, in the early going, I talk my way through a three-column diagram like the ones pictured above and below. (By the way, this is likely my first major mistake: I talk instead of listening - but leave that for now.) As you can see, I typically stick capitalism on the left-hand side, communism on the right-hand side, and fit socialism in the middle.... And with that, already, my error is apparent.

Surely communism belongs on the left, and capitalism belongs on the right; in accordance with our shorthand way of talking about them (and in accord with how monarchists and anti-monarchists arranged themselves in the French parliament around the time of the revolution, or something... etc., etc.).

Well, Wendell, fix it. That's what you're saying.

But here's the thing. I have it bred in my bones that because capitalism precedes communism chronologically, I have to put capitalism on the 'starting side' of the board or page or whatever. I would, and do, follow suit when talking about the Creation (left) and the Resurrection (right), or the Big Bang (left) and the Heat Death of the Universe (right), or the acorn (left) and the oak (right)... though here, like the chicken and egg, things get complicated, and, well....

Anyway, its a habit and a problem. Repeatedly, I tell my learners that our society places capitalism/ists "to the right" even as I demonstrate placing them "to the left."

Is it any wonder my learners struggle with the Social Studies portion of the GED?

If I had to draw a conclusion from this, I guess it would be that I am not yet as skillful as I could be at using the many tools I have at my disposal to help my learners discover political-economy.

Telling people things isn't the same as teaching them. Teaching, I think, requires us to display, perform, articulate, demonstrate, reveal (I'm dissatisfied by all these verbs) information in a media-rich, careful and internally consistent manner; and then to clarify, clarify, clarify. Teaching well, maybe, means being awfully self-aware and aware of how things look from the other side. Better tools and techniques mightn't hurt, but they are no substitute for reflection and reflective practice.


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P.s., I am deliberately using the term "teaching" here rather than "facilitating" or "scaffolding." I know there's some discomfort with this term (I feel it too), but it fits my purpose here in a way I'll have to try to explain in a different post.

3 comments:

Kate Nonesuch said...

I've been trying to share these interesting posts, Wendell, but I can't make your links to Twitter and Facebook work. Is it just me?

Wendell Dryden said...

I dunno, Kate. Not sure what you mean by "links work." I saw your shares okay in my [desktop browser-based] twitter feed, and they seemed okay. I think there's a Google-based 'share' button for Twitter, Facebook, and +Google that I can surface if its turned off. I'll go see. In any case, don't worry too much about it. :)

Wendell Dryden said...

Hmmm... Well, I turned the "Share Buttons" on, but then found they were blocked by Adblock (or AdblockPlus). I keep my browser pretty locked down with that stuff. When I disabled the blockers, they showed up.

Anyway, like I said, the previous 2 tweets and links made it through okay to my twitter. Beyond that, I don't know. :)