Teaching the Election, Part Two

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In the last post, I suggested using Steven Johnson’s “Listening to Feedback” when addressing the 2012 election so that students could think about the feedback loops that create media frenzies. Specific examples are always abundant during election time. Another great essay for this time of year is James Surowiecki’s “Committees, Juries, and Teams: The Columbia Disaster and How Small Groups Can Be Made to Work.”  Surowiecki’s larger work, The Wisdom of Crowds, focuses on how any given group is smarter than the smartest individual within the group—simply, groups work. But in this chapter he looks at all the ways that groups can go wrong. Many of the concepts he introduced to explain group dynamics—such as group polarization and confirmation bias—are effective in helping students to think about politics on a large scale. How parties operate, how people respond to candidates, how they make decisions in voting… all of these can be pried open using Surowiecki essay. The essay would also sequence well with Johnson, since he looks at the role that groups play in feedback loops. Students should be able to connect the concepts of both authors to look any what’s going on as we near the election.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.