Let’s talk politics: A Sociology Professor’s Activity Idea

Author: Dr. Jennifer Harrison Professor, Warren County Community College

Teaching Sociology can be difficult, especially for incoming freshmen from a conservative area. It is often assumed that all professors, especially Sociology ones, are liberal.
It doesn’t matter if that’s true, it is our job to teach our students how to think for themselves.
My unit on politics was scheduled to take place during election week (insert gasp). I was aware that I would be confronted with interesting discussions, but I hoped they wouldn’t become aggressive.
So, as any professor nervous about a lecture I dug into my old lecture notes, reviewed past classes, and reviewed coursework activities. I wanted to know if there was anything I could remove or add to make sure that we learn and also to prevent fake news from getting into our virtual class discussion.
Activity Idea: Have students take a political quiz
Each year, my students take the Political Quiz before they go to class. The quiz is part “an independent, self funded, non-partisan voter educational website” (as stated clearly before you enter the site).
This flipped-class method allows students to bring some awareness to the many political issues that affect political party affiliation in the country.
This quiz has a variety questions and tons of information on specific topics. Students can use this activity to learn about politics and to understand the issues.
Ask for follow-up questions
As an assignment, I ask my students to take the quiz and then answer two simple questions.
(1) Were your results different from the party you tend to vote?
(2) What was the most fascinating thing about your results?
These questions are very stimulating and prompt many interesting responses. They encourage great discussion in class and during the assignment.
Many students are surprised that they don’t choose to side with the party they once supported. Many students are also surprised that there are other political parties than Republicans and Democrats.
My students realize that there are many issues that could influence their vote. These issues go beyond the hot-topic issues being discussed by their peers or the media.
Teaching tip: Focus on facts
Politics is a difficult topic. My goal is to help my students gain an understanding of the politics of our country. I also know that this lesson could influence their political stances.
My job is not to change their beliefs. I want to help them discover what they believe and determine if their beliefs are based upon facts.
This quiz is a great tool to learn politics. The best part? The most rewarding part? When students tell me about their friends and families who took the quiz. It prompted open dialogue.

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