Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Recently, I was revising the political science theory section of my book for its 5th edition (coming about March 1).

(Theory is a neglected part of the AP course. Except for distinguishing between empirical and normative statements, when has the exam asked about theory?)

About the same time, Rebecca Small, who teaches at Oakton High School in Virginia, sent me links to two articles she'd read in The New York Times.

I'd seen both articles and decided not to post them on this blog.

This conjunction of events led me to think about what political science and pedagogical theories I use to choose what to post here. Why had I decided not to post the articles?

I choose to post articles that I think
  • are more than just current events
  • are relevant to the comparative study of government and politics -- especially relevant to the Advanced Placement course
  • illustrate important features of one of the six countries in the AP course
  • illustrate important concepts in comparative political science
  • offer opportunities for comparison and analysis
  • would be useful in creating teaching plans

But, my approach to the course is decidedly not historical. I suspect that most teachers who teach the course come to the project with backgrounds in history, not political science. And I think it's important for successful teaching that each of us teach from a perspective that makes the most sense to us. Thus, when I see articles like this one that Rebecca sent me, I'm likely to be skeptical about its value to a political science course like comparative government and politics.

China Says It Will Overhaul Sprawling System of Re-education Through Labor
China will start overhauling its draconian system of re-education through labor in the coming year, according to the state news media, signaling the incoming leadership’s determination to alter one of the government’s more widely despised cudgels for punishing petty criminals, religious dissidents, petitioners and other perceived social irritants.

The brief announcement… lacked details, but legal advocates… were hopeful that the five-decade-old system for locking up offenders without trial would be significantly modified, if not abolished altogether…

Established by Mao Zedong in the 1950s to swiftly neutralize political opponents, re-education through labor has evolved into a sprawling extralegal system of 350 camps where more than 100,000 people toil in prison factories and on farms for up to four years. Sentences are meted out by local public security officials, and defendants have no access to lawyers and little chance for appeal…

When I first read the article, I saw it as more a history lesson than a comparative politics lesson. Reading it again, I think I was wrong. I recently posted an article about the re-education camps, Efficient law enforcement, and this second article offers good context for the first one.

There's only one paragraph about history, and that one is wonderfully relevant.

The second article Rebecca suggested, was about the recent kerfuffle over censorship of a newspaper editorial in southern China.

Protest Grows Over Censoring of China Paper
Hundreds of people gathered outside the headquarters of a newspaper company in southern China on Monday, intensifying a battle over media censorship that poses a test of the willingness of China’s new leadership to tolerate calls for change.

The demonstration was an outpouring of support for journalists at the relatively liberal newspaper Southern Weekend, who erupted in fury late last week over what they called overbearing interference by local propaganda officials…
I passed on this article because it didn't explain things well to me. I chose to post the BBC article on the episode because I understood it better than The New York Times version.

I guess that illustrates another bit of theory I use in choosing what to post here. I want clear explanations with enough context that make sense to me. I expect the articles to be comprehensible to AP students, even those just beginning the course in January and February.

Let me know what you think. Use the "Post a Comment" link at the bottom of each blog post.

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