Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Politics -- but not as Usual

"The arts humanize the curriculum while affirming the interconnectedness of all forms of knowing. They are a powerful means to improve general education." - Charles Fowler

Some people say, "We teach children not subjects." Try to spend 45 minutes of your life using the skills from just one subject area. "Okay, now it's time for Geography!" The arts especially show students amazing ways that one subject connects to another.

Our current fourth grade project is a chance to look for visual symbols in current events. I enjoy collecting political cartoons to show my students. I especially like to find examples that use the symbols of elephant to represent the Republican party and the donkey to represent the Democratic party. When I show one of these images to my students, they will undoubtedly laugh. Not many of them are aware of the symbolism behind them. This coming school year is a good time to do this unit, since by then, most of them will be aware of the presidential race that is going on. When I explain to them, that there are two teams – the elephant stands for McCain’s team and the donkey stands for Barak Obama’s team, the illustrations I show them take on new meaning. I also show them examples of political cartoons that use the Uncle Sam symbol to represent the United States. Before we begin to try to interpret the different cartoons, I explain the difference between fact and opinion. I explain that these cartoons have a message from the cartoonist. He is trying to tell us his opinion about something. We may or may not agree with his or her opinion. I tell them that opinions are not right or wrong. You have yours and I have mine.

After looking at several examples, we practice drawing the elephant, donkey and Uncle Sam. The homework assignment is to go home, watch the news, talk with parents and pick a side. Most children choose the political party that their parents support. As I work with the students, I am careful not to express my own political opinions, but just give suggestions as to how they can present their opinions effectively. At the next art class, the assignment is to make a funny drawing that makes one side look bad or silly or foolish and to present the other side in a better light.

This project has something for every kind of learner and is a great way to look at the humorous side of our differences -- something people tend to get contentious about. In the days to come, I'll start posting some of the political cartoons the students make.

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