Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, April 05, 2010

Ambiguity and Nuance

One of the themes of What You Need to Know is ambiguity. I use the concept to emphasize that for many questions in comparative politics, the best answers are contingent upon context (often comparative theory).

I was reading an article this morning about Snopes.com. that emphasized that theme.

Debunkers of Fictions Sift the Net
For the Mikkelsons [David and Barbara, authors of Snopes.com], the site affirms what cultural critics have bemoaned for years: the rejection of nuance and facts that run contrary to one’s point of view.

“Especially in politics, most everything has infinite shades of gray to it, but people just want things to be true or false,” Mr. Mikkelson said. “In the larger sense, it’s people wanting confirmation of their world view.”…


Even though the AP exam is full of questions with right and wrong answers, many of the answers have "infinite shades of gray." Take a look at the responses that have been submitted to practice questions 4 and 5 at Studying Comparative. As almost any AP exam reader will tell you, it's very rare to evaluate a student's response without thinking carefully about its validity.

David Mikkelson talks about "nuance." Keep your mind alert for nuances. They're almost everywhere -- especially in comparative government and politics. Students can make their teachers crazy by pursuing nuances, especially when they're nearly irrelevant or non-sensical. Teachers can make their students better students by insisting on the consideration of more than black and white analyses.

Oh, and if you don't know about Snopes.com.. Now's the time to get familiar with it. If only for fun and Barbara's smart alec sign offs.

What You Need to Know


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