Posted to WPA-L, Tech-Talk, AACW-L, WCenter, NCTE-Talk, and TechRhet on 11/5/00.
When I began gathering ideas for writing about elections, I found I had more than 10 in fact, I had enough to do at least 2 lists. So here is the second list on election issues. As with the previous list, I've tried to make the assignments generic so that you can use them for any election you'd like. You might modify them to focus your students on a particular election campaign or issue.
It's a little late at this point, but many of the questions could be easily modified for any election (even student government elections). Further, many could be used to examine any politically event. For instance, rather than writing a white paper on an issue affecting the election (#2), you might have students have write papers that help people decide which way to urge their legislators to vote. And rather than participating in a contest to ask a question at a debate (#10), students might participate in a contest to ask a question at a press conference or other public appearance. So here they are...
Originally Posted on the NCTE Web on March 27, 2001.
[MEDIA] Choose a particular issue or event in a recent campaign or political event and consider the role that the media has played. Your paper will have three things to attend to. First, you'll need to define and explain the role of the media in a society, and explore how that role is fulfilled or not. Second, you'll need examine the media's coverage of a particular issue. What has the media reported? How? When? Third, explore how your definition of the role of the media and the role that the media has taken in the coverage of a particular issue fit. Finally, in your concluding section, you'll need to state whether the media has fulfilled its role in relationship to the particular issue.
[TEACHING TIP: you may want to help your students define "media" for this assignment. Focusing on one aspect of "the media" will help student look at more specific details. For the purposes of this assignment, you might have students brainstorm, or you could provide your own list (e.g., television news, radio news, talk radio, print newspaper news, web-based news sites, entertainment television shows such as late night talk shows, and tabloid).]
- [OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS] You work for an organization that urges people to get out and vote on election day. One of the services that your organization provides is white papers on the specific issues that seem influential in the election. You've been assigned to write one of these white papers. Choose a specific issue that has been discussed in relationship to the current election. Find as much information as you can about this issue. Determine the positions on the issue. Once you've gathered all the information that you can on the issue, write a white paper that objectively informs readers it. Your job is not to explain your own feelings about the issue nor to urge readers to choose one side over the other. Instead, you're writing an objective analysis that gives readers the information that they need to make up their own minds.
[TEACHING TIP: You might give students a specific list of issues to explore (or create a list of taboo topics) to ensure that students don't work on a topic that could cause difficulty. In particular, you'll probably want to rule out discussion of the pro-choice/pro-life language surrounding the abortion issue. Choices that might work are drug laws, racial profiling, gun control, prescription drug programs, and standardized testing. You know your students and community better than anyone be sure that you choose issues that will be acceptable to your administration, parents, and others in the community.]
- [THE PERFECT CANDIDATE] Here's your chance to design the perfect candidate. Choose a position currently open for election, and outline the qualities that would make a perfect candidate. You should think of at least five descriptive words, adjectives that describe your candidate. Define what the qualities that you choose mean (what for instance does it mean to be "honest"?), and explain why that quality is important to a candidate in the particular position that you're considering. Finally, be sure to bring the characteristics together. Think about how they combine to create the perfect candidate for the job.
[FOLLOW-UP: After writing these candidate descriptions, students might be asked to assess the candidate running for the office and choose one, writing a follow-up that explains how the person whom they've chosen fits the criteria that they've established.]
- [REVIEW] Listen to or watch a speech on a particular political issue (or issues). If you can, use a transcript of the speech to study the text more carefully. Write a review of the speech (just as you might write a book review or a movie review). Your job in this paper is to write a critical analysis of the speech not just a summary. You'll explain what you heard, but you'll also talk about how well the speaker performed and how well the ideas in the speech were developed and supported. Begin by thinking about questions such as the following: What was the main point, or thesis, of the speech? How was it supported? Were the facts that were referred to valid? Were there holes in the logic or supporting information that was missing? Was the speech formal or informal? Did it suit the audience? Were terms and ideas explained appropriately for the audience? In what ways did the speech show (or fail to show) that the speaker was knowledgeable, had good judgement, and seemed reliable? Is the speaker persuasive why or why not? Finally, how did the speech help you understand the topic that the speaker addressed?
- [BEDFELLOWS] You've probably never heard of Charles Dudley Warner, but it's likely you've heard something he said. Warner is the person who penned the saying "Politics make strange bedfellows." Examine a current political situation, and use it as an example to explain what Warner means.
- [EXPLAIN IT] Choose a particular part of the electoral process a key term that is bandied about and that anyone following the election needs to understand in order to follow the discussion. Appropriate terms include electoral vote, electoral college, primary election, town meeting, absentee ballot, incumbent, caucus, debate, soft money, matching funds, poll, straw poll, precinct, referendum, proposition, and grassroots. Once you've chosen a term, write an explanation for a foreign exchange student who doesn't understand the term.
- [ENDORSEMENT] Write a letter of endorsement (or an endorsement speech) for the political candidate (or position in the case of a referendum) that you support. In your letter, you should state which candidate (or position) you support and provide a complete explanation for the reasons that you've chosen your position. Be sure that you provide support for the candidate (or position) you select. The information in your letter needs to convince readers (or listeners) that you've thought about the issues involved and have concrete reasons for the choice that you've made.
- [AUDIENCE ANALYSIS] You've been hired by a political candidate (you choose which one) to help the candidate prepare for a public appearance. Analyze the audience that the candidate will be addressing. What audience is the candidate trying to appeal to at the event? What voters is the candidate hoping to gain? What is the educational background of the audience? What are their personal and political interests? What can the candidate expect them to know, and what will have to be explained? How old are the audience members? Where do they live? What is their gender, ethnicity, race, religious background, and so forth? How do these factors affect the information that your employer will convey? How much variability is there in the group? Are these potential voters focused on certain campaign issues more than others, and if so, which issues? Write a brief for your candidate that explains everything you've found and that makes suggestions to help the candidate gain the audience's trust and interest. Your brief should include details on the candidate's appearance, the appropriate level of formality, and content information that should be included (or excluded).
- [PERSONAL ATTACKS?] You work for the newspaper in your town. Typically, you cover local and state news, with a particular emphasis on political and legislative issues. Your editor has asked you for something different however. Because you've followed political campaigns so closely, your editor says you are uniquely qualified to write an editorial piece exploring the differences and ethical validity of personal attacks in campaign statements and advertising. Your editor tells you that your piece should answer the following questions: What is the difference between a "personal attack" on a candidate and "fair criticism" of that candidate? How can you tell the difference? When do comments cross the line, moving from a fair commentary to an unfair statement? You've been asked to use concrete examples from recent campaigns, but you're not limited to the last few months. Any example that people are likely to remember is ok. However, the boss warns you that your examples must be absolutely factual. You'll need to use exact quotations and details from the campaign because the paper wants to avoid the perception that they are twisting the truth. Your examples should be as balanced and fair as possible also. In other words, try to find examples from a candidates from all political parties. Avoid situations where, for instance, all the "personal attack" examples are from one party and all the "fair criticism" examples are from the other.
- [ASK A QUESTION] One student from your school will be allowed to ask a question of a candidate at the next debate. The debate organizers have devised a contest to choose the lucky student. To enter the contest, you have to write the question you want to ask, as well as a justification for the question that explains why the issue is important to voters and why it matters to you. Entries are limited to one typed page. The candidate will read the winning entry before the debate, so the background information that you provide will help the candidate understand the purpose of your question. The debate organizers will select the winner based on the originality of the question, whether others would be interested in the question, and the persuasiveness of the explanation that is included. Write your entry for the contest.