Philadelphia, Here I Come! Cultural Context

So, it’s clear that with nearly 15,000 downloads of the audio version of the play this year, most students are doing Philadelphia, Here I Come! for their ‘Comparative Question’ and obviously haven’t had a chance to go and see the play itself…

Philadelphia, Here I Come! Cultural Context

A useful addition to that resource might be this 4-page exploration of some of the ideas that students might want to engage with around the text’s Cultural Context.

I give a brief general introduction before diving a little bit more deeply into the ideas by analysing Religion, Love/Marriage, and Migration through three key scenes, illustrating how students can integrate the relevant quotations that support some of the conclusions that I draw.

Feel free to pick and choose elements of this handout for your own approach to working with this text.

If you find the resources here useful and you want to help support the work of the site, you can do so here:

LC Pol Soc 2021 – “Known Unknowns” – DBQ Question ‘G’

(Click below to download the student handout that seeks to give my best guess as to what a solution to the problem I describe in this blog might look like… But please do read the thought process below to see how it might best be used with students Making Recommendations based on Data Sets)

One of the hardest parts of helping students to prepare for this year’s Leaving Cert Politics & Society exam is the fact that there’s a lot we DON’T KNOW.

I’ve been generally really pleased with how the SEC has reduced the scope of the upcoming exams in other subjects. I know that both English and History are a lot more accessible for students, particularly those who have had limited opportunity to access digital learning, or who have been impacted by Covid in any number of ways.

The best thing the SEC has done is to give clarity and certainty to students about what exactly will be examined. For example, knowing that all three ‘modes’ in the Comparative Study in English will be on the paper means that students and teachers can effectively side-line a significant portion of their revision. This makes it easier on everyone and, crucially, reduces student anxiety in the run up to the exams. The range of choice in History is equally good. Lots of choice = less stressed students!

Unfortunately, this is not the case in Pol Soc… (sad face emoji). What the SEC has done in our case is to remove one of the ‘Discursive’ essays, but leave the Data-Based Question intact (in terms of mark allocation). What does this mean in real terms? In theory, it looks great because the students will have more time to do the exam and have a good choice of essay topics – very important when we consider that the course is based on ‘Strands’ which are designed to interweave throughout the 2-year build up to the exam.

However, that means that the Data-Based Question becomes disproportionately important. And what other allowance did they HAVE to make on account of this? Well, in order to make sure that all students could attempt the final (50-mark) question in this section, they had two choice. Firstly, they could have stipulated exactly which topic would appear in this topic, giving students and teachers 6-8 weeks to make sure that that part of the course was covered, allowing them to continue the reasonably well-established practice of asking a longer question “based on their learning” throughout the two years. Secondly, they could have (as they have done) said that the 50-mark question will only be based on the information included in the documents themselves – an enforced requirement if some students hadn’t covered certain parts of the course and can’t be disadvantaged relative to their peers.

What’s the problem with this? Well, it means that they have removed a form of assessment that students have been preparing for and which most students are able to get their head around, and replaced it with a type of question that not only has never been asked, but a type of question whose phrasing we can only guess at (i.e. they have removed some certainty and replaced it with uncertainty, which I think is a big downside). Consulting any reasonably experienced Pol Soc teacher would have highlighted this issue almost immediately. A pity and a lost opportunity.

So, bear in mind that this handout (link at the top) is only my best guess (albeit an educated guess) as to how this question will be approached in the exam after a few years of trying to put together sample DBQs and mock exam papers. Students still need to be ‘expecting the unexpected’ and should use the guidelines I suggest as practice at approaching a new type of question, rather than as a prescriptive way to address the question that might be asked…

But as Donald Rumsfeld would say, at least we know that it’s a “Known Unknown”!!!

Anyway, I hope it helps teachers and students as they face into the final, final, final stretch…

JD – 10/5/21

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!)


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:

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:

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…)