Sunday, October 23, 2011

4 Ideas for Teaching about "Occupy Wall Street"

Source: NYTimes,
Seymour Chwast
With the Occupy Wall Street movement growing in global strength as it heads into its second month, our students increasingly have been asking questions about its origin and message. Since we constantly press them to pay attention to the news, it seems counter-intuitive to avoid a lesson about this particularly topical "current event."

Source: NYTimes, Triboro
We've talked before about incorporating visual analysis into current event discussions. For us, these news chats often occur on Monday mornings or after primary debates, as both students and teachers are warming up to class time and reacting to louder-than-normal headlines. For the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests, as with presidential elections or foreign invasions, it might be worthwhile to devote more time to a full, educational investigation. Here are four possible ways to incorporate visual methods into teaching about OWS:

Source: NYTimes,
Chermayeff & Geismar
Many questions are being posed about the purpose of the marches or the demands of the protestors. The New York Times recently commissioned leading graphic artists and marketers to design possible logos to brand the OWS movement. We've used branding lessons before with our students as part of our media literacy curriculum. Here, the OWS events offer keen opportunities to combine media literacy with financial literacy. The two literacies lie on the same spectrum and are more closely linked than most students might realize. Integrating media and financial literacy, rather than isolating them in simplified units, helps students see connections between stock markets and corporate identities, between profit seeking and advertising. In the coming months, we will be sharing ideas about blending media and financial literacy at the annual NCSS and AMLE conferences. If you are planning to attend either of these valuable gatherings, look for our presentation, "Where Financial Literacy Meets Media Literacy: Integrate, Don’t Isolate."

Source: NYTimes, Ji Lee
With our seventh graders, we took the creative New York Times illustration and split it into individual slides. We then showed each of the logos to the students and asked which emblem they found most compelling. We first displayed the images, and then we revealed the designers' rationales. Each description offered a chance to talk about regional movements, wealth concentration, and graphic icons. The students voted that Triboro's circle logo was the best badge to capture the heart of the OWS message. Some of their comments were: "It has a hidden meaning." "I like the circles, because they're easy to recognize and anyone can draw them." "It's simple like Nike or McDonalds." "It relates to America."

Source: NYTimes,
Project Projects
To survey popular perspectives about the OWS movement, political cartoons can offer a sampling of clever opinions (check out this earlier post about cartoons in the classroom). Daryl Cagle's Political Cartoon Index features the leading editorial cartoons each day from all major news categories. Cagle's collection of OWS cartoons presents sharp commentaries from both the pro- and anti-protester camps. In working through these drawings with students, we use four discrete steps to understand an image. These steps include: Substance, Scaffold, Story, and So What?. Our students enjoy finding cartoons in newspapers and magazines and bringing them in for our class bulletin board. Their student-initiated habit helps inspire self-motivation and visual thinking.

Primary Sources
In order to get a sense of the actual people populating the protests, we showed several photo slideshows from Zuccotti Park. Putting faces to the movement helped students identify the human side of the rallies and camp outs. It allowed students to make up their own minds about whether they supported or disdained the characters in the demonstrations. Many news sites feature high-quality photographs. C-SPAN Classroom also assembled a brief educational video vignette. These organizations each offer slightly different slideshows and interactive displays to give a sense of the activists:
Source: NYTimes, Drea Zlanabitnig

Finally, income gaps and wealth disparities can be difficult concepts for students to internalize. Fitting today's statistics into historical lessons about the 19th-century Gilded Age or the Roaring 20s credit balloon can help put profit and debt into perspective. Also, several pages from the U.S. Census and other sources can help students view actual figures of current household earnings. This article from Yahoo! Finance's Daily Ticker, titled "The Top Five Facts about America's 1%," is a straightforward, data-driven look at the "99%" message motivating the OWS protestors. For a more visual (and opinionated) look at wealth disparity in infographics, check out these meticulously curated collections from Mother Jones, titled "It's the Inequality, Stupid" and "Who Are the 1 Percent?"

 Source: Mother Jones, Emmanuel Saez

Update: A new website, Occupy Design, aims to build "a visual language for the 99 percent."

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