Politics in the classroom (again)

Yesterday, in my Writing I course, I tried an experiment.  The students are getting ready to do some field research, and I’m training them to take fieldnotes, conduct interviews, gather all kinds of data, and to learn not to filter too much while they’re in the initial stages of data collection.

Because I teach in two busy, loud buildings and the morning was kind of chilly, I decided rather than sending them away to practice their note-taking, I’d show them a couple of videos and we’d practice on those.  Feeling my oats when I woke up, I decided to show one McCain/Palin and one Obama campaign ad.  The goal in choosing such loaded examples was to make it easier for me to explain and generate examples of suspending judgment on the data.

The exercise went well in terms of accomplishing its specific goals.  What was interesting, though, was the reaction of the students to the McCain/Palin ad (“The Original Mavericks”).  The last question I asked each class (I did this twice) was, “Do you think both of these ads are aimed at the same audience?  If so, let’s talk about who that audience is.  If not, what are the differences?”  Both classes, without any prompting from me, responded that the McC/P ad was obviously aimed at wealthy people while the Obama ad (7 Houses) was obviously aimed at the middle class.  When I asked them for specific evidence, they were able to make better claims about the Obama ad, which uses very muted images of suburbia and emphasizes a Foreclosure sign on a house, than about the McC/P ad.

What I find especially interesting about this, at least for now–early in the semester before I know individual students’ politics very well–is that even some presumably working class Republicans identify the McC/P campaign as aimed at the wealthy.  We didn’t have time to follow that up in class, although I might to do it tomorrow, and I need to think about how/whether to do that.  I don’t like to ask students directly about their political affiliations; it’s not really any of my business unless they choose to make it so.  At the same time, I really want to know why conservative students identify their candidate as speaking against their own self-interest but support him anyway.

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