I know it’s beguiling, but it’s not what we’re looking at…


Another week, another big pile of British politics news (find your own links).

This made me a) weary, and b) think again about the whole “teaching fast-moving topic” issue that we’ve covered before.

Usually when we talk about this, we try to focus on giving students tools to make sense of not just today’s headlines, but of political processes more generally. The hot news becomes a way into Big Questions of Academic Interest.

But what if the hot news isn’t really all that important or doesn’t open up those Big Questions?

Despite my country’s best efforts to convince otherwise, most of its politics is still pretty mundane, so another leadership crisis/vote isn’t necessarily the key to opening those door for enquiry (although I’m sure you can find links if you want).

The basic dilemma here is that while the news can be your friend in building student engagement, it can also be your foe, distracting rather than illustrating.

Of course, since everyone loves a good dumpster fire, and since dumpster fires aren’t that hard to find, this is a problem.

Two strategies here. Note that ‘don’t mention it’ isn’t likely to work, since it’ll pop up at some point, so you should really own that discussion before it happens.

One: acknowledge and contain. Note the elephant as you arrive in the room, but then clearly mark it off-limits for the rest of the class. If it’s something really contentious and still really not linked to your class, then maybe make time for a discussion at the end of the session, or after.

Two: contextualise. Assuming the overlap to your class is minimal, get the class to mark out the overlap they see, then highlight how the ways it doesn’t map to your subject.

Neither is great, and neither is very clear-cut, mainly because so much depends on what the news is and what you do, so take every case as it comes.

Key point is that hoping it’ll work out by itself is probably not the best choice. That’s as true for your classroom as it is for politicians…

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