‘It all depends…’: Helping students understand normative positions

As you might have noticed this weekend, much of Europe voted in elections for the European Parliament. Notice that I’ve not phrased the first half of that sentence any stronger – that’s a different issue, but one I’m happy to discuss with you at some length.

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They let anyone on these days

Apart from finally giving me my big CNN breakthrough (critically acclaimed by my mum), the elections present an excellent learning moment.

More particularly, the elections can be viewed in a number of very different ways, each of which tells us something about both the event and the observer.

Thus we might – like much of the media – focus on the rise of eurosceptic and far-right parties across the continent.

We might instead talk about the continuing dominance of the centre-right and centre-left coalitions, that between them still hold a working majority.

We might discuss whether any of the Spitzenkandidaten (lead candidates) will become president of the European Commission and what this might mean for the next election in 2019.

And in all of these things, we might very well talk about ‘what it all means’, together with its more jejune colleague, ‘who’s to blame.’

All of this is the very essence of learning about politics.

I spent much of Sunday evening/night at the European Parliament’s offices in London discussing the results and it was very instructive for me to see how narratives and frames got set up, knocked down and rearranged as the event wore on. Added to this the local election results from the UK from Thursday and you have the perfect demonstration of the way in which meaning and consequence is imputed to political events.

This is partly about media coverage and asking ourselves and our students to think very critically about what we are (and aren’t) being told, and how we’re told it. But it’s also about how political actors do the same.

From my perspective, the weekend has been a good sense-check of my social media networks. In my mind, I think I follow a good range of people who can provide an inside perspective across my areas of research, but it has also been apparent that I have tended to focus overly much on those I particularly agree with and those I particularly disagree with, with relatively few in-between.

At one level, that’s not a surprise, since I know the literature tells us about such dynamics in social media, but it’s still instructive to see it at first hand. Indeed, it is that first-handed-ness that we should be striving for more generally in our teaching, given those who are learning something direct to experience and internalise.

And with that thought, I’m off to my other blog to consider how to frame my own piece about what it all means…

4 thoughts on “‘It all depends…’: Helping students understand normative positions

  1. Congratulations on the big CNN breakthrough. An interesting piece. I was struck by how the narrative had been framed as big gains for the Euro-sceptics, based mainly on the result in the UK and France. I’m not so sure that this was the real story though I can see why the media thought so. I’ve been surprised at how little scrutiny is being given to the implications of enacting the UKIP policy of withdrawing from Europe. I wonder what your students would make of all this.

  2. That’s just the sort of thing I was thinking of, in terms of creative engagement with real-world events: following through logics to assess their viability/consequences.

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