Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Using current events in the classroom
I had a teacher once who always tried to tie the theme of that day's lecture to a current event, hoping it would serve as a hook for us, her students. Sometimes it worked (David Koresh is a memorable example as an entry into the use of violence as a proper or improper form of protest--cue Bacon's Rebellion), sometimes it didn't (lots of times it was a stretch), but I always appreciated the effort.
Now I try to do a bit of the same. Sometimes I'll head straight for the big questions. My lecture on the late-19th century labor movement begins: "Who here has heard of the weekend? How about, 'workin' 9 to 5?'"
But I've found that news items seem to work best in small classes.
Recently I've been following with my class the plight of a 16-year-old atheist (a cradle Catholic who lost her faith when her mom got very sick and God didn't seem to respond to her prayers) who is protesting a huge, permanent poster in the auditorium of her high school. The poster is a pretty tame prayer about how one should act, and this student has no quibble with the central message of the prayer, just its religious overtones (it starts "Our Heavenly Father" and ends "Amen"--otherwise, not much else).
The heavily Catholic community is in an uproar and several poor florists have refused to deliver her flowers for fear of being outed as supporters. Fox News got in on the action, as did CNN and everyone else. Now a nationwide atheist group has given her a $40,000 scholarship for her bravery. All this is probably a lot more than she ever bargained for.
We're learning about the U.S. Constitution in class, and especially Article VI and the First Amendment. So our discussion has followed the case, pondering: who's in the right, not viscerally, but legally? What would our Founding Fathers do? It's less than clear, but good fun, and it forces us to look at the founding documents pretty closely.
It turns out that the prayer was put up in 1963. So I'm planning to ask my students soon (ahem...) why would Rhode Islanders put up a poster like this in 1963?
Anyone else out there using current events to teach? Inquiring minds want to know.