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Ask Dr. Helen: How Can I Keep My Students From Becoming Little Marxists?

It's not easy to keep young minds open to a variety of political views.

by
Helen Smith

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December 15, 2008 - 1:30 am

Scott from North Carolina is concerned with the radical views of his students:

Dr. Helen:

I’m a middle/high school teacher, of a social-libertarian, economic-conservative bent. All the talk about indoctrination of kids is extraordinarily true. I have kids pass through my class with some of the most insane, Kos-style concepts running through their heads, really doctrinaire hard-liberal stuff. It only got more blatant as the election wore on (and on, and on). I subbed for a fourth grade class in which a girl trotted out the “Bush caused 9/11″ bit. Are you kidding me?

What can I do to help counter this? I’d like to avoid a whole new generation running on Marxist ideology.

Dear Scott:

You are correct to be concerned. Studies show that students do decide whether they seek free market solutions or government ones from the style of teaching they receive in the classroom. Ray Fisman, a professor, wrote a column at Forbes entitled “We Are What We Learn” in which he discusses studies where he found that professors can turn bleeding hearts into capitalists — and vice versa. Fisman concludes the article by stating:

These findings hint at the influence that powerful ideas may have in shaping how we see the world, even late in life. It’s also a sobering message for teachers such as myself. The students in my classroom will venture forth into the world of business and management, carrying with them some of the viewpoints and attitudes that I choose to emphasize in my lectures. Students learn much more than the facts; what we choose to communicate to them is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

So obviously, what a teacher chooses to teach can have a hand in how that student thinks about the world. That said, Scott, in my opinion, it is not your job to decide the politics of the students in your class, it is your job to expose them to the critical thinking skills that will help them make informed decisions and back them up in a reasoned way. This is what is sorely lacking in our present educational system.

What about using some games that will stimulate critical thinking skills in your students as well as teach them about how to cope with propaganda? One such set of games is the old WFF ‘N PROOF games which are available at their website.  You might try the Propaganda Game in your classroom (it sells for just $30.00) and is a great way to teach the kids about media spin. The Propaganda Game is described as follows:

The PROPAGANDA GAME: the hilarious but effective antidote for the daily barrage from advertising, public relations, politics, and the mass media — all seeking to manipulate our attitudes and behavior. Inoculate yourself, your family, and students by learning to identify the many blatant and subtle persuasion techniques used by professionals. Soon you’ll be seeing them everywhere and, in the process, learn to stand firmly outside their insidious grip.

PROPAGANDA is a delightful, highly social game in which players first learn to identify techniques such as: prejudice, casual oversimplification, faulty analogy, tabloid and wishful thinking, hasty generalization, attacking a straw man, appeals to ignorance, emotion, flattery, pity, prestige, folksiness, joining the bandwagon, and many, many more.

Once the kids play a game like this, perhaps then you could help them through class discussion to understand that making hasty generalizations based on the media, popular opinion, etc. is not always correct. Plant a seed in their brain and watch it grow for some. Get the kids into debates where they have to make both sides of an argument. Make them argue the other side, one that they don’t agree with. At least the students will be presented different views, even if they never come to adopt them.

Finally, what about assigning books or extra curricular readings such as the work of J. K. Rowling, who has a libertarian bent, or Harry Turtledove books, as they have a non-PC slant. I would add the work of Milton Friedman or F.A. Hayek — true, these are middle school and high schoolers we are talking about but perhaps some would be interested. I wish you luck!

Perhaps PJM readers have some more advice for Scott on how to help the kiddies learn more tolerance for a variety of political views?

_________________________
If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email me at askdrhelen@hotmail.com. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question — if you want me to use your name, tell me; otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader,” etc.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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