Pol-Soc on the Radio

While Noam Chomsky might have had a thing or two to say about this, it was a real treat to have been invited by Abie Philbin-Bowman (@AbiePB on twitter) to join himself and Evelyn O’Rourke on RTÉ ‘Study Hub’ to discuss the teaching of Politics & Society since its inception in 2016. Given that our subject is still new, and relatively small, we only had a few minutes to get the message across, but hopefully the contributions from Catherine McGing (@cmcging) and myself will give a few potential Pol Soc teachers across the country a little nudge towards taking up the subject in their own schools. Or maybe a few parents might start asking for it in their teenagers’ school…

Study Hub 16 March, 2021

Our segment starts at 12:50 mins in to this episode (link below). And yes, my daughter has been slagging me consistently since the segment aired about ‘The Excellent Dr Devitt’ comment. (This is entirely appropriate on her part!)


Episode 12 is Live!

After a busy period under ‘lockdown’ students are starting to return to the classroom, it’s such a relief, but also a stressful time for many of those involved. I’ve diverted myself in recent weeks by putting together this episode on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission – which is particularly relevant to Learning Outcomes 5.4 and 5.5 of the Subject Specification. I hope it’ll be of use to people!

See the episode description below, but you can You can listen along here: https://polsocpodcast.com/ep-12-ihrec/

In this week’s episode, Jerome is joined by Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney to discuss of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission – IHREC. Chief Commissioner Gibney outlines the multiple roles played by the organization and its commissioners, as well as describing how IHREC interacts with Irish society – from the Government to Civil Society and beyond. Remember to access the ‘show notes’ (including the Listen-Along Guide) here: https://polsocpodcast.com/episode-notes-episode-12-the-irish-human-rights-and-equality-commission/

Keep well.

JD 15/3/2021

A word I now hate – “Contemporary”

One of the big problems that I have faced as a Politics and Society teachers over the first five years of the course is the fear that information I give my students, or data they gather themselves, will quickly go out of date. Unlike other subjects, where old examples of a phenomenon aren’t too much of a problem (the eruption of Vesuvius in C.E. 79 could still be a valid example of teaching about volcanoes in Geography, even if it isn’t exactly recent…), the Politics and Society subject specification consistently tells teachers that students should engage with ‘Contemporary’ examples. This applies in areas such as “Media”, “Systems of Government”, “rules and laws of contemporary societies”, and the “cultural make-up of contemporary societies” (See particularly, page 14 of the spec). All of this is fine, and even to be applauded, but there’s always an elephant in the room.

The problem is that the ‘spec’ never defines what the word “Contemporary” actually means, even in general terms. By my count, the word is used 14 times in the spec, but I’m still unsure what timeframe we’re talking about.

Now, in most instances, it’s not a major problem. Trump was around for 4 years, and everyone knows he’s gone. We had a General Election in Ireland in Feb 2020 and that government might conceivably be around for 5 years, so that’s not too difficult to get our heads around. Changes in the constitution through referendums are relatively infrequent, so there’s no difficulty there. However, laws change a lot which presents an issue. The critique of the Direct Provision system, around which I used to base many of my discussions in class, is now very much in flux. Every time I look at the news the mean of ‘Brexit’ has changed (except for the fact that ‘Brexit means Brexit’). What do we do here? Let’s consider this with a tangible example in one specific area.

I’ve recently started to plan for teaching the media module of the course. In reality, I’m constantly talking about media – where students source their information – what the reliable sources might be – the benefits and problems of Social Media, and so on. But there comes a point where you have to actually sit down and dig into the ideas of Noam Chomsky (one of our 17 Key Thinkers) in a way that is systematic. We have to put a bit of shape on the key concepts listed below and help students to gain a working definition and adequate examples of the areas we are supposed to address. A brief look at Learning Outcome 2.6 reveals that word again – ‘Contemporary’.

Where does this become a problem for the teacher? Take, for example, the seemingly innocuous sub-heading here “Ownership and Control of Media”. This is one, seemingly very small heading, in a list of other big key terms. In previous years, I had relied on an article in the Village Magazine by Roderic Flynn from 2013 (generously suggested to me by Hugh Holmes in Newpark Comprehensive) as the basis for explaining the Irish media landscape to students. Combining this with metrics like the World Press Freedom Index (here’s a Data-Based Question you could use to help students in this topic) let me feel that I was at least doing a reasonable job in this regard. But the ‘media ownership’ landscape has changed considerably in the last few months (and I would guess) will continue to change quickly in the coming months and years. Any material I had ‘prepared’ in previous years, is now largely obsolete and I have to go back to the drawing board on what seems like a semi-annual basis, and more frequently in some areas.

For what it’s worth, Hugh Linehan’s recent Irish Times article is going to be the basis of this section of the course this year. Here it is as a classroom-ready pdf with comprehension questions and an example of an extension question that students could engage with:

Irish Media Ownership – March 2021

This general problem makes it very difficult to ‘teach’ that material and causes anxiety amongst both teachers and students. But we have to find some kind of way around this in a classroom setting. So, when a student asks me, how up-to-date does ‘contemporary’ have to be, I give them this rule of thumb:

With the exception of massive global events (like Trump losing the election to Biden), think of the word ‘contemporary’ as meaning “if it was true during your Senior Cycle course of study (from TY to 6th Year) then it should be considered as up-to-date for the exam”.

This obviously isn’t the definitive answer, but it’s my starting point. I’d be keen to hear how other teachers are dealing with this issue, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on getting any specific clarification or guidance from the NCCA/SEC/DES… Even with students gathering a large proportion of the data they use to support their ideas, their own data will still be out of date by the time they get to the exam. One can only hope that examiners will remain reasonable in the face of the wide array of ‘contemporary data’ that students are likely to present to them each June.

This is a problem in-and-of-itself, but combine it with the problem of having little guidance as to how much detail students are supposed to have at their fingertips about each of the sub-headings in the Learning Outcomes, and you’ll see how guidance around and clarification of the exact meaning of the word ‘contemporary’ might make the life of both students and teachers considerably less stressful.

Overall, this is a problem that I describe as ‘Spec Creep‘, but will have to be a topic for another day…

JD 7/2/21

Indian Farmer Protests – ‘Flexible’ data and case studies for exam prep!

It’s always tricky to know how ‘topical’ we should be in a Politics and Society classroom. I always try and balance 3 perspectives – Theoretical, Global & National, and Personal. It can be exhausting as a Pol Soc teacher when you feel like you have to keep up with every bit of news that’s happening around the world, just on the off chance that a student asks you about it and you’re afraid that you’ll look like you don’t know what’s going on. Therein lies the path to ‘burnout’ (trust me on this one…)

The result of this, as a Pol Soc teacher, is that I’m always on the lookout for events that link in directly with ‘Key Thinker Ideas’. In particular, I’m constantly looking out for stories that seem like they can fit in with multiple different strands of the course. Well, the ongoing Indian Farmer Protests are just such a story. It’s got Vandana Shiva written all over it (and she has said a lot about it), but it also touches on parts of the course like ‘Civil Disobedience and Right to Protest’, ‘Global versus Local’, ‘Development Institutions – IMF & World Bank’, Left- and Right-wing perspectives on policy, ‘Sustainable Development’, ‘Social Class and Unionization’, Traditional and Social Media, and many, many more.

Here’s the handout in PDF and MS Word format, so that you can tinker with it to your heart’s content…

Indian Farmer Protests Feb 2021 – PDF

Indian Farmer Protests Feb 2021 – MS Word

So, I put together this handout that tries to walk students through these events (who may have never heard of many aspects of this particular story before) in a way that tries to help them form links between those different aspects of the course. To do that, I took an article from Marie-Claire Magazine, not what you’d think of as one of the big centres of ‘investigative’ journalism. The fact that such a story is even printed in a magazine that describes itself as “the site that women turn to for information on fashion, style, hairstyles, beauty, women’s issues, careers, health, and relationships” should be an interesting way to get this process started with a class of students. The article also draws in from a wide variety of other news sources from the New York Times, to The BBC and Guardian, to Al Jazeera  (I’ve left the links live so students can dig into the source material). The last section of the handout is some tweets from Shiva herself about the issues in the protests, and also some ‘fodder’ material from the various Navdanya blogs (2019 and 2021) about the protests, so that students have something a little more background and weighty material to directly to quote from in their exam… (Think about how engaging it would be for a student to be able to say “I came across this article in Marie-Claire, but then wanted to dig into a few more reliable sources, so I.….”

The handout includes a set of boxes to try and get students to ‘draw out’ the different kinds of essays that this material might be able to adapted to fit. They can’t learn everything off, but there should be a bunch of multi-faceted stories, like this one, that students can do detailed investigations of and gather sufficient details to get to the 20/20 range in their essay marking scheme! (very exam-focused, I know, but that’s the nature of the beast…)

Learning Outcome 2.2 – Selecting an Executive

Don’t worry, there are handouts below!

One of the difficulties that teachers face when it comes to teaching the new ‘Subject Specification’ is that it can be very difficult to work out from reading the ‘Spec’ how deeply we should dive into each sub-heading. Despite having an SEC ‘Sample Paper’ and a couple of past exams to go on, I’m still none the wise in this regard. Some areas are pretty straight forward, but Learning Outcome 2.2 is an example of where it’s almost impossible to tell the depth of study that’s required. Is it designed so they can ask 4 potential short questions for the ‘Ireland’, ‘Northern Ireland’, ‘European Commission’, and ‘Non-Democratic States’, or are students supposed to be able to combine those sub-sections into a broader essay on the powers of the Executive Branch??? (see the full L.O from the spec at the bottom of the page)

Your guess is as good as mine. In previous years, I’ve just touched on the idea as I’ve worked my way through each of the different forms of government. This year, however, I’ve decided to teach it more explicitly. In part this is because it’s a relatively straight-forward part of the course with specific ‘deliverable’ facts that I can communicate clearly in an online classroom. The other reason, is that I want students to be able to incorporate this information into their LO 2.5 Essays (To what extent does the Irish System of Government reflect the ‘will of the people’?). How the Taoiseach and Cabinet are chosen would, surely, be considered relevant to this topic??? Wouldn’t it???

My guess is that for a H1 in one of those essays, students would be expected to engage with the ‘Strengths and Weaknesses’ of the different system to show a critical evaluation of the process in each country. To show a personal engagement, students could also be encouraged to think about possible reforms that they could suggest to improve how our (or another country’s) executive branch is chosen.

So, as is my wont, I made up a ‘classroom-ready’ handout (below) that I include here as a pdf and MS Word Document (so that you can adapt it to your own needs). I’m always afraid that I’m ‘over teaching’ certain aspects of the course, so if you want to refine this handout down to its core elements, be my guest.

Selecting an Executive pdf

Selecting an Executive MS Word

So basically, I broke down the 4 areas naed in the spec and added the perspective of the US President because it’s a fairly topical issue right now and the student can use it as a comparative/alternative perspective for lots of different types of essay (governmental or electoral systems). I also chose the ‘Vatican’ as an example of a ‘Non-Democratic’ Executive, which is specifically done to provoke a bit of debate and to tease out the point at which something might be considered to tip over the line between democratic and non-democratic. It also gives a chance to differentiate between an ‘electorate’ and a ‘selectorate’ (which could also apply to how leaders of Irish political parties or primary candidates in America are chosen).

What I intend to do next week is to try and use ‘break out rooms’ with 5 students in each and get one student to become an expert on each area and then present their newly found expertise to the rest of the group. In order to make sure that they’re engaging with each other they’ll have to attempt with the last part of the handout, which is an exercise that tries to give students an opportunity to practice a ‘short-question’ style of answer.

The final way that I’ll check in on the students’ leaning will be a digital quiz. I’ve also done up a self-correcting Google Forms quiz that is tailored specifically to go along with this handout. It adds up to 100 marks, so should be easy to incorporate into a scheme of work. I’ll eventually add it to the ‘Key Thinker Quizzes page’.

What??? You mean this ISN’T how you spend your Friday nights?

Best of luck next week in your Lockdown Teaching. It’s tough going, but hopefully this might make it a tiny bit easier…


JD 22/1/2021

P.S. A special thanks to Dr Paddy Mulroe of Our Lady’s Secondary School – Castleblayney, Co.Monaghan for casting his ‘expert eye’ over an early draft of this document. His input, corrections, and suggestions greatly appreciated…! (@PaddyMulroe on Twitter. If you’re not following him, you should be…)

Episode 11 – The Irish Constitution is Live!

Just in time for the dreaded return to ‘Remote Learning’, the episode is finalized and ready!

In this week’s episode, Jerome is joined by three guests: Dr Jennifer Kavanagh of Waterford Institute of Technology, Sean Garvey of the Referendum Commission, and Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Mid-West.

They discuss the background to, the workings of, and some of the possible future changes that might be expected to the 1937 Irish Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann. The role of the Referendum Commission is explained to students, and Deputy Ó Broin’s proposal to include the Right to Housing in the Constitution is examined as a case study.

A huge thank you to our participants this week, who gave so generously of their time during a chaotic Christmas period, in order to make students’ lives just that little bit easier!

Listen to the Episode here:

As ever, the ‘Listen-Along Guide’ and numerous additional resources can be found on the ‘Episode Notes’ page for this episode at http://www.polsocpodcast.com/episode-11-notes/

If you would like to support this project, or have any further questions or queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by visiting our Contact and Support page: https://polsocpodcast.com/contact/

I hope you find the episode useful in the run up to the Mock exams.

JD 11/1/2021

Transition Year Politics and Society ‘Taster’ Module

I’m including both an MS Word and PDF format version of the document so that teachers can easily adapt the contents for their own needs. Please remember, nothing here is designed to be prescriptive. These are only suggestions and my goal in presenting them here is to make a potentially chaotic return to online teaching a little bit less daunting and difficult.

TY Politics & Society 8 Week Taster Module (pdf)

TY Politics & Society 8 Week Taster Module (MS Word)

This is based upon an 8-week module, 3 periods per week (one ‘single’ and one ‘double’). It aims to give students some insight into what studying Politics & Society at Leaving Cert level might be like. It hopes to facilitate students to investigate valuable material that will (hopefully) be interesting and have contemporary relevance, while also being of some use for students who will not be pursuing the subject at a later date. The course is also structured so that more motivated students, or classes, that move through the material more quickly will have plenty of ‘extension exercises’ to allow them to engage with key concepts more fully. It can’t cover everything, and doesn’t try to…

The overall goal is to introduce the subject structure in general and then engage in four main areas of study (Human Rights, Children’s Rights, Civil Disobedience, and the Use of Violence against Undemocratic States) in sufficient detail as to making the experience worthwhile and illustrate to students where they could further engage with the course ideas, beyond just the materials covered in online class. It integrates materials already available on www.polsocpodcast.com and introduces a number of new resources that I’ve tested in (on-site) class this term. Obviously, if you don’t have a TY ‘taster’ module, these materials should also be useful for 5th years who are already studying the content. I hope you find them useful. Please remember, that nothing here is designed to be prescriptive and should be adapted to meet your needs and the needs of your students. I know, from a personal perspective, that if one of my classes became particularly interested in one specific topic covered in the course, then I’d be more than happy to do a ‘deeper dive’ into that area at the expense of some other aspects of the course. I think that’s the way the subject should work, particularly while the dreaded LC exam is still far off in the distance

P.S. The ‘Google Form’ assessments (linked in the document) “should be” set up to be ‘self-correcting’ and give instant feedback, but individual teachers might want to adapt them to their own purposes (I always like to add in a short paragraph answer to get bit more engagement and insight, but I sure as heck won’t be marking them for ye all!), so feel free to make a copy of the quiz and adapt it as you see fit!

Best of luck in the inevitably chaotic weeks ahead and please all, keep safe and distant!

JD 05/05/2021

(if you missed my recent post on Sylvia Walby and the Patriarchy, you can find it here: https://polsocpodcast.com/2020/12/30/sylvia-walby-and-patriarchy/)

Sylvia Walby and Patriarchy

I finally got around to doing up proper ‘Sylvia Walby Notes’. It only took me four and a half years… There are two things to be aware of here… Firstly, I’d welcome any feedback on the notes as I found it particularly difficult (bearing in mind that they are focussed not on being a full history of Feminism, but rather a means to address the spec question as to whether Ireland is a Patriarchy or not?). Secondly, the third page looks like it’s accidentally empty, but is intentionally so. Let me explain…

Here’s what I do with my own students (often using lots of group work, but in a more limited way in Covid-world obviously). I start off the week doing a little bit of work on how ‘Deductive Reasoning’ works (I found this video a useful summary: https://youtu.be/3jvQrpVQaYM). I then move on to a brief history of Feminism to put events into context. Once students have a grip on the historical (and geographic) variations within the different ‘waves’ of feminism, I dive into the whole “Public” and “Private” Patriarchy idea.

When the students have engaged with how the public and private patriarchies might be seen (or not!) in their own lives, I introduce the ‘Six Structures’ of Patriarchy that Walby outlines in Theorizing Patriarchy. Once we have given due consideration to the various elements of the different components, I ask whether BASED ON THIS DEFINTION OF PATRIARCHY Ireland could be categorized as a patriarchy. My initial goal is to get a sense of what the students’ gut reactions would be, then I follow it up by introducing an ‘evidence-gathering exercise’ where I break the class into groups and set each group the task of doing a detailed ‘deep dive’ into just ONE of the areas. Their goal is to gather 4-5 pieces of key data in their category, with sources clearly identified and 2 or 3 of those sources being evaluated in terms of their reliability, contemporary relevance, verifiability and so on.

Once the group has gathered their data, I ask them to ‘Prioritize’ their ‘qual’ and ‘quant’ data and rank the information in terms of how well it addresses the specific terms of the Spec’s requirements. They often have trouble with this, but I’ve seen some really interesting debates emerge in class on the back of this aspect of the student’s investigations!

Then comes the feedback section where each group presents its findings and note down the findings of the other five groups. (This could easily be done by a google doc, but I prefer to do it orally). I usually distributed an enlarged A3 version of the third page to make this a little easier to do. The students then have to return to the ‘deductive reasoning’ model and make their final assessment as to whether Ireland is a Patriarchy. If they are struggling to come to a judgment, I often present a range of options: 1. Yes, it’s a full patriarchy; 2. No, it isn’t a patriarchy; 3. It is largely a patriarchy; 4. It was once very patriarchal, but has made significant progress (you get the idea…)

Finally, I ask them to consider how they would frame their conclusions. In this instance, I ask them to focus back on the areas they spent time researching in detail and suggest which policy/policies might be most useful in terms of reducing the “domination, oppression, and exploitation” of women in our societies (yes, I’m overtly trying to get them to re-engage with Walby’s definition at the end!) and suggest how this could be achieved. If time allows, I ask the students to share their policy conclusions with each other in the same way as they did with their data. Depending on the time of the year that I’m covering this topic, I might also point students to SDG 5 and/or CEDAW, but this might be something that I come back to later when I’m covering those specific topics, though this will also depend on how engaged and enthusiastic each individual group is with the material… Once I’ve finished doing Kathleen Lynch, we return to the specific essay title and the students draft their own essay for a more formal assessment (I’ve told them about this in advance!)

Anyway, as always, none of this is designed to be seen a prescriptive, and obviously should be used at your discretion, but it might at least give some ideas to teachers as to how this topic could be covered. And again, I would really welcome any ‘constructive’ feedback on the handout. It’s one that I really struggled with.

Obviously, I’d love to hear how other teachers end up engaging with the patriarchy question and would love to learn about other, more successful approaches.

Happy New Year and good-bloody-riddance to 2020…

JD 30/12/2020

Episode 10 “Children’s Rights and Policies” is Live!

Many thanks to the contributors to this week’s contributors – The Ombudsman for Children Dr. Niall Muldoon; DCU student Holly Farrell; and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman TD.

Listen to the episode here: https://polsocpodcast.com/ep-10-childrens-rights-and-policies/

All of the additional resources, such as the Listen-Along Guide, Case-Study Materials, links to our “Children’s Rights Essay Screencast”, and other relevant sites and resources can be found here: https://polsocpodcast.com/episode-10-notes/

As always, if you want to support the podcast and help with the upkeep of the site, please consider doing so here: https://polsocpodcast.com/contact/


JD 15/11/2020

Pol-Soc Podcast “Log Tables”

I’ve noticed it a lot recently, but only in a way that confirmed my previously held belief, that Pol-Soc students really struggle to negotiate the process of ‘gathering and analyzing‘ data, as the subject specification suggests they do. This, I suspect, is partly because I’ve never had to teach this kind of data gathering before and partly because no other subject on the Leaving Cert asks students to do anything like this (as far as I can see). With the newly enforced Covid-19 restrictions, the kind of group work that I had been doing to let students gather, analyze, compare, and evaluate data seems to have gone out the window. So I’ve really been struggling to do this effectively in a classroom context…

Having partially anticipated this difficulty over the summer, I began a long-term project, that some of the Cohort 1 teachers had discussed at different stages (over a quiet beverage in the Killeshin Hotel…!) – trying to create a set of “Pol-Soc Log Tables” that would at least give students a bit of a start on the process. I think they call it ‘scaffolding‘ in the many education books that are (only slightly perused) on my shelf at home. It won’t (by any stretch of the imagination) be comprehensive, but should model the kind of process that we’re hoping that students will begin to gain at least some mastery of during their two years of LC Pol-Soc.

I decided to focus almost exclusively on the various Index-Rankings that we see these days, some of which are a little problematic at times, but some of which (at least) are useful starting points for exploring different topics on the course. I include a summary page at the start with “Headline Data” that might make it a little easier for students who struggle in this area to get their heads around. In that table, I give the Index Name and year, Ireland’s position in the Index, and contextualize that by giving the top and bottom 3 or 4 countries in each category. What follows in the next 20-ish pages is A brief summary of each index, how it works, some of the methodologies/maps/graphs that often accompany these Indices, and a box for students to complete that helps them to make the link between the Index and (most importantly) the kinds of essay titles to which those data best apply. That’ll take some work on the part of the student, but is (I hope) where this serves as a scaffolding exercise, rather than just a spoon feeding extravaganza…

Anyway, this is still in draft form, and I’m sure there’ll be some typos and mistakes, but I just can’t find any more time to devote to it. So, I give you, in its interim format, the…

PolSocPodcast Log Tables 2020-21

Ideally, I’ll return to these every year or two to update them, but if you knew the hours that have gone into this process already, you’d forgive me for my apprehension at this prospect!

The final thing to note is that nobody really knows what providing “up-to-date” info really means. I’ve basically said to my students that in my head, this means being within 2-3 years of the exam (or basically at any point after they started studying Pol-Soc in 4th or 5th year in school). But that’s just my best guess.

And my final CAVEAT… There really is no substitute for students digging into reports and reliable data for themselves. That’s where they solve the big problem of being able to anticipate some of the issues that they may come across in an unseen Data-Based Question themselves and recognize trends within those data. But for the moment, if I can just get my own students through this stuff, I’ll be reasonably happy!

I hope it’s useful, and if (as usual) you want to support the website, then please consider making a small donation on the Contact and Support page here: https://polsocpodcast.com/contact/

JD 10/11/20