Sie sind auf Seite 1von 9

Keith Benson

Civics, Citizenship and Social Education


11.9.2006
Dr. Beth Rubin

Think Paper: Curriculum Analysis of Frontline’s Choice 2004 Curriculum

The Social Studies, since the publishing of the Report of 1916 had, and continues

to have, documented concerns involving its content, relevancy and pedagogy. To date,

despite annual NCSS conventions and caucuses, it seems social studies remain, largely,

unchanged in terms of both curriculum and methods of instruction. As rote memorization,

textbook reliance, and autocratic instruction was recognized and decried in 1916, the

prevailing view is the traditional social studies classroom remains. Gloria Ladson-

Billings in, “Differing Concepts of Citizenship” writes, “Typical courses are organized

and taught using lectures, textbooks, and pencil and paper exams.” (Course Reader, 3)

Fortunately, the availability of current, up-to-date information has the potential to

become the antidote for the social studies status quo. Today, teachers have the ability to

access in-depth, subject related information that can supplement their daily lessons, or

employ as primary instruction tools. Especially in social studies, teachers are able to

view teaching ideas that can relate the local to international and the past to the present;

in short, the seemingly irrelevant can now be the extremely useful.

From a variety of sources like Amnesty International and the National

Constitution Center, teachers can view and utilize curricula for their social studies

classes that are aligned with individual states’ Core Curriculum Standards and, even
more impressive, designed by both university professors and high school teachers for

secondary scholastic consumption.

Teachers of the social studies at the turn of the century did not have cutting-edge

availability of instructional information and educational tools. Proper utilization of

various and fresh curricula could be the cure for the “common social studies

classroom.”

From my observations, high school students recognize something a little different

in the air this November in comparison to the Novembers of the past. Politics has

dominated every medium of entertainment (radio, TV and Internet) in young American’s

lives for the past few months. Students have seen commercials ending with “…and I

approve this message”, seen rappers and rock singers ally themselves with political

candidates, and in urban areas especially, seen signs on abandoned houses and telephones

poles reading “Stop Bush” since Labor Day. As a result, it seems more curiosity and

questions are permeating from America’s youth, concerning politics, now more so than in

the past. While some young people are aware that the elections of 2006 were midterm

elections, enthusiasm still seemed to be burgeoning among adolescents. Also, students’

interest in politics are being piqued at, arguably, the right time because while many may

have been too young to vote in the 2006 elections, many will be able to vote in the “Big

One”; the presidential election in 2008.

Where once in the past, a social studies teacher may have been the single

purveyor of information concerning the presidential voting process, the power the office

wields or insight about the candidates, no longer does the instructor have to be student’s
sole source of information. Curricula available online can assist social studies teachers in

examining the presidential elections. Likely, the curricula concerning presidential

elections that would seem most interesting to students would be the most recent

presidential election of 2004. With careful examination, students can see for themselves

the differing paths George W. Bush and John F. Kerry traveled that forged their

personalities, ideologies and party affiliations; and the consequences of America voting

for one candidate over the other.

From my observation, the Public Broadcasting System’s Frontline: The Choice

2004 is a complete, well-rounded curriculum from which instructors can teach the

presidential election of 2004 and, as a result possibly, capitalize on the rising level of

interest and desire to be heard as demonstrated in the atmosphere surrounding the 2006

mid-term elections.

Frontline, PBS’s public affairs television series, has presented the nation with fair,

accurate reporting on controversial and crucial public matters from the “War on Drugs” in

the 1980’s, to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, since its inception in 1983. Since then,

Frontline’s reporting and detailed presentation and analysis of issues has earned the series

“every major award for broadcast journalism, including thirty-two Emmys, twenty-two

DuPont-Columbia University Awards, twelve Peabody awards and nine RFK Journalism

awards.” (www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/us/david.html)

And fortunately for teachers who seek to use the election of 2004 as a mechanism

to familiarize students with politics and elections, Frontline has done a documentary on

the 2004 presidential election along with a complete curriculum guide to assist teachers

in maximizing their effectiveness in teaching this historic event. This curriculum,


designed for students from the ninth to twelfth grades, was developed by Simone Bloom

Nathan of Media Education Consultants, Dr. Sharon Jarvis of the University of Texas and

the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation and Patricia Gimmer of Carbondale

High School in Carbondale, Illinois. The stated goals of the Choice 2004 curriculum is

students will become more familiar with “partisan affiliations of George W. Bush and

John Kerry, the political parties in campaign 2004 and where each party stands on

important issues of the 2004 campaign.”

Some students may be relatively familiar with politics and with the candidates of

the 2004 presidential election. Not surprisingly, teachers and adults, in general, have the

pre-supposition that our young students, collectively, are disinterested or completely

unaware about political and civic issues. In “Political Apathy and Avoidance of News

Media Among Generations X and Y”, Stephen Bennett writes, “According to the 1998

National Assessment of Educational Progress in civics, most high school seniors lack

sufficient understanding of government to act intelligently as voters.” (Patrick, 9) We

teachers should allow ourselves to be surprised by our students from time to time. With

that in mind, the curriculum has designed a handout to be distributed to students entitled

“What Do You Know about Political Parties in Campaign 2004”. This preliminary

exercise asks students, in the form of class discussion questions like, “What policies are

favored by the Democratic Party? Republican Party?” and “What are some of the other

political parties (often called third parties) in the United States?”. This exercise is

suggested to be performed before viewing the documentary. Hopefully, students who are

interested in politics will have a chance to prove stereotypes about the apathetic youth

wrong, and at the same time, have the spotlight to display what they know – which we all
enjoy from time to time. After the pre-documentary exercises are complete, the

curriculum suggests students be shown the documentary, Choice 2004.

The keystone of the Choice 2004 curriculum is, indeed, the video documentary

that can be purchased in VHS or DVD mediums, or can be viewed online for free. The

two-hour documentary begins with introducing students to John Kerry and George W.

Bush before their public careers. It drives home the point that these two eventual

presidential candidates were living very different lives prior to 2004 Presidential race.

Further, it analyzes the differences behind both party’s ideological beliefs and

motivations. The documentary also introduces students to public figures who are often

still in the news today like John McCain, Karl Rove and Ted Kennedy. John Stone writes

in his article the “Public Service Academy” that, “The sad thing is that few young people

ever have the chance to meet any elected officials, let alone a presidential contender.”

(Patrick, 123) While this is true, increased exposure to political personalities can erode

students’ perspective that politics and its candidates are untouchable. As teachers are

attempting to progress from an age where civics and politics seem irrelevant and un-

interesting to young Americans, Frontline’s documentary allows students to hear the 2004

presidential candidates’ own thoughts through real-time interviews and letters, and

commentary from individuals close to Bush and Kerry. Hopefully, increased familiarity to

candidates and politics should produce more awareness and political activism on behalf

younger Americans.

Following the complete viewing of the documentary, which would reasonably

take 2-3 class sessions, the Choice 2004 curriculum comes equipped with discussion

questions teachers can utilize as class-wide discussion points, or be distributed for


students to answer individually in written form. This section comes with about ten

discussion questions. The curriculum guide suggests about 45-75 minutes should be

allotted for discussion time. Questions like “What did you learn about either candidate

from watching the film”, and “how did the Vietnam War affect John Kerry” serve to

review both actual and inferential concepts presented in the film. Students in the

immediate post-film question session can communicate what they, themselves, gleaned

from the film about the candidates and politics in general. This can be a time where

students are heard and can learn from one another.

The Choice 2004 curriculum suggests, following the classroom discussion, for

teachers to make the important issues raise during the 2004 presidential elections more

personal students. To relate learned information about the candidates and the parties the

represented, students are asked to complete an exercise called “Where Do You Fit”,

which is offered by the Pew Research Center. Students are asked to examine what values

are important to the student and their families; do they consider themselves Democrats,

Republicans or Independents. The election of 2004 presented Americans with an array of

issues and values to consider that, one day, students will be asked to help decide through

the voting process. Gay marriages, partial birth abortion, the Iraq War, John Edwards’

“Two Americas” were major issues that were conveyed to the American people in 2004.

Choice 2004’s curriculum allows students, though too young to vote, to contribute

opinions on these issues that are too often marginalized, or ignored completely. This

exercise allows students to begin to see themselves as part of the political process as they

should recognize their views are, in fact, shared by millions of American countrywide.

Dorothy Stoneman, in “The Role of Youth” notes, “Young people should articulate their
views on policy issues, to study whether their ideas are likely to work, to communicate

their recommendations to legislators and influence leaders at all levels.” (Course Reader,

121) Furthermore, students then should recognize their personal positions are very often

either realized or denied within the realm of politics. By looking inwards in terms of

political party affiliation, a sense of membership could develop, and lead to future

awareness and hopefully, activism.

Lastly, Choice 2004 recommends students complete a handout called “Democrats

and Republicans.” Simply, this handout is a data table that focuses on partisan issues like

the role of government, taxation, education, environment, business, social security and

homeland security. The Democrat and Republican columns are blank, and with the help

of websites like AP Government’s www.apgovernment.com , the Democratic National

Committee’s homepage www.democrats.org , and the Republican National Committee’s

homepage www.gop.org , students can retrieve information on the two parties and

complete the chart. By using the Internet to complete this assignment, students are

employing valuable research skills and, in effect, learning to teach themselves; as

opposed to being fed information from their social studies teacher. Further, students can

see the political world is a few clicks away, rather than this abstract entity. As a result,

politics becomes much more accessible and relevant.

Additional lesson ideas are included with Choice 2004’s curriculum. They include

“Candidate Character Traits”, where students will form a list of traits the ideal president

should possess. The “Exploring Political Action Groups” exercise suggests students be

put in small groups to analyze and explain the function of “527 committees” like the

infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Students are charged with finding out which
candidate these groups are endorsing and financial information in regards to how the

group was formed and amount of money donated to individual campaigns. “The Youth

Vote” is an exercise where students examine the declining rates of voters between the

ages of 18 and 24. Students are asked to examine the potential influence of youth in

politics, why so many non-profit organizations and funding agencies have contributed so

much energy toward altering the current trend, and why so many youth are apathetic

toward voting.

I believe Frontline’s Choice 2004 curriculum is ideal for the social studies

classroom of today because it changes the mechanism from which information is

communicated from the teacher to the documentary. It allows students, even before the

program is viewed as a class, to show what they know. The post-documentary questions

re-enforces information conveyed in the film and allows students to hear and learn from

each other. The exercise, “Where Do You Fit” begins to show students their views are

relevant and frequently debated in the political world. The data chart assignment allows

students to political parties and their ideological beliefs with the touch of a button. And

the additional lesson ideas show teachers how they expand on the lesson and reach

toward increased application and eventually political participation.

More than ever, the landscape of the American melting pot is becoming more and

more diverse. And just recently, America’s population soared past 300 million people.

Many citizens of this country are not actively participating in the democratic process

either because of lack familiarity or perceived lack of relevancy. In “Introduction to

Education for Civic Engagement in Democracy”, John Patrick writes, “Students should

continually be challenged to use information and ideas, and individually and collectively,
to analyze case studies, respond to public issues, and resolve or meliorate political or

civic problems.” (Patrick, 4) The curriculum presented here covers all bases in terms of

in-depth content, participation opportunities and relevancy. Students should see that their

eventual vote counts. Their vote helps determine domestic and foreign policy, laws and

war.

A new political awareness seemed present this fall as of early November that

seemed either not present or ignored in years past. Choice 2004’s curriculum can further

students’ awareness and curiosity in ways a lecturing teacher cannot; and should be

embraced and utilized in the classroom whenever possible. Hopefully in the future, after

the increasing employment of alternative curricula in social studies, our student will

become eager, informed participants in this American democratic process – one that had

seemed obscure and irrelevant to young Americans of the past.