Being ‘Cross-Curricular’…

When students ask me “Which subject do you prefer teaching English, History, or Pol Soc?” I always give the same answer: “English is how you feel; History is why you feel it; Pol Soc is how you change the feeling…” This is a sentiment that has seemed progressively more and more significant in my teaching as time goes on.

Almost every day that I teach Pol Soc I find myself asking one or other of the following questions of my students: “Where are my Economists?”; “Where are my Historians?”; “Where are my Theologians?”; “Where are my Geographers? Obviously, it depends on what specific aspect of the course we’re covering at the time, but I generally cover the entire spectrum of the secondary curriculum in any given month. It isn’t that I’m trying to be lazy. I’m actively encouraging the students to draw links between different parts of their Senior Cycle courses that normally feel quite pigeon-holed or atomized, to them at least. I think that one of the great opportunities of the course is that students can have this kind of “meta” experience in our Pol Soc classroom…

It isn’t only just in the Data-Based Question that I call on my Mathematicians (which in theory should be everyone). I do it when trying to explain the process of deductive reasoning where the logical steps that should be followed have an almost formulaic structure, when I’m hoping to explain the calculation of the Droop Quota in PR-STV, or when exploring the concept of the ‘Margin of Error’ formula in opinion polls to assess their reliability…

Maybe it’s the case every year, but in the last two years, one of the most fruitful points of curricular “Cross Pollination” (to borrow a phrase from the Biology students…) that I’ve noted has been in Higher Level English. (For full disclosure, I teach English and History too). Not only have the comparisons between Lear and Trump been obvious and a useful ‘short-hand’ for students, but the poetry of Paul Durcan has helped with criticisms of the Irish Constitution and the limitations of Irish identity.

But perhaps the most interesting overlap that I’ve seen in recent months has been the ideas that link Eavan Boland’s poetry to aspects of the Pol Soc course. It’s reciprocal. I can say with absolute certainty that my growing knowledge of work of Sylvia Walby and Kathleen Lynch has massively influenced how I understand Boland’s poems. I found myself in recent months beginning to apply idea from the Pol Soc course to some of Boland’s work to see what synergies I could find. I found that the “threat and use of violence” in LO 3.1 and ideas of “Patriarchy” and “Marginalization” and “2nd Wave Feminism” were particularly revealing when thinking about The War Horse and The Famine Road respectively. So what emerged was a collaboration with the new INOTE (Irish National Organization of Teachers of English) “Members’ Voices” podcast of which I’m quite proud.

I’d encourage Pol Soc students to listen to the two (very short) podcast episodes below and see not only if it helps their student of LC English, but to also consider ways in which elements of LC English could be constructively applied to their work in Pol Soc. Perhaps this has been obvious to many other teachers in the last few years, but it’s only really now that I’m able to properly articulate how much more engaging both subjects become when viewed as being “in conversation” with each other.

I hope they’re of value and interest to some at least…

LC History USA Case Studies

Another brief digression from my normal Politics & Society blogs and resources…

Now that the Leaving Cert History projects are snuggly submitted and ready for the SEC, many History students and teachers are focusing their attention on revision. As I’ve been working my way back through the USA Case Studies, I’ve been trying to draw up single-page revision sheets. These are based upon the old leavingcert history dot net website (don’t type in the “url” as it’s a ‘dodgy link’ now apparently), but are perhaps a little bit denser in terms of content and quantitative data.

They’re not by any means definitive, but are designed to be the ‘last pieces of paper that students look at’ before going in to the exam. If you don’t like them, then feel more than free to ignore! They’re not ‘novel’, but might be useful…

(Obviously, I’m leaning towards providing more for the ‘Space Race/Moon Landing’ case study as that’s the one that hasn’t been examined yet. But I’m not putting the house on it…)

Anyway, I’ll pop them in here for the time being…

LBJ and Vietnam Part 2 – After 1965

Space Race – WWII to Moon Landing

Space Race Consequences

Montgomery Bus Boycott Key Events

A Sample Human Rights Revision Article

You may have noticed that my overriding principle in the resources that I post here is that they have to be ‘classroom ready’, i.e. they don’t require the teacher to do too much fiddling with the resource before they print it and bring it in to class. In that spirit, and with the gracious permission of the original author, Dr Vittorio Bufacchi of UCC, dip in to this Human Rights and Responsibilities revision comprehension.

Here is the article: Coronavirus Rights and Duties Article – “Coronavirus: do we have a moral duty not to get sick?” I’ve appended some additional information, key comprehension phrases, and a number of questions at the end which (I’m hoping) will help students to apply Key Thinker ideas to the contemporary Covid-19 situation. Should stimulate some interesting classroom discussion too! It builds on the other John Locke comprehension that I posted previously. Find that here.

This is the kind of article that I’d be delighted to see a student of mine cite, particularly in the conclusion to a Human Rights essay. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of Dr Bufacchi’s book “Everything must change: Philosophical lessons from lockdown”, it seems pretty reasonably priced, but by the look of it, will have lots of applicable ideas for Pol-Soc teachers and students…

JD 19/04/2021

Episode 13 is Live! – Ireland, the UN and Human Rights

Jerome is joined by Dr Lucy Michael (@drlucymichael) of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to discussion the relationship between Ireland and the UN Human Rights system, covering the “Universal Periodic Review”, the Treaty Bodies, CERD, and numerous specific concepts drawn from the LC Politics and Society subject specification.

Check out the Episode Notes here: (Episode Notes Page to follow shortly)

Download the ‘Ep 13 Listen Along Guide‘ to help with your note-taking…

Students would be well served by paying particular attention to how Dr Michael deals with Learning Outcomes 6.2 and 6.3 towards the end of the episode! This is as close to laser focused on the exam as it is possible to be! 12 minutes of incredibly useful material alongside lots of useful details and case studies (Traveller Education) in the episode as a whole.

Listen here

I hope it’s of use…!

JD 13/4/2021

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!)

Enjoy…!

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…

Best,

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