Teaching the Election – The Internet Way
Here are the things I’d be working into the mix if I were teaching English, government, math/stats or history in this fine political season.
Lifehacker pointed out this cool little Greasemonkey script “Memeorandum Colors script colors sites that usually link to conservative topics red, and sites that generally link to liberal topics blue (the colors get darker or lighter depending on the sites’ linking activity). The result is a quick visualization of what kind of political site a link points to using colors.” Let them read how it works and think about how that might slant things in strange ways (what if I’m conservative but am consistently linking to liberal blogs in order to attack them?)
This would be the start of a conversation between the class and myself.
- What purpose does this script serve?
- In what ways can we use the data it generates to inform what we’re reading?
- What happens to readers and the way we consume information as ideas like this become more commonplace?
Red vs Blue Book Buying
Here’s a chance for some discussion of voting demographics and a chance to really get some good critical thinking going with data and causation. The maps are of “red” and “blue” books and their purchase rate (through Amazon) prior to 2004 and 2008 elections. The great folks at Junk Charts really get into whether this data actually means anything.
In class I’d show them the book information and then the 2004 results and see what they thought. Then I’d tear it down with them by asking the questions. The Junkcharts stuff would make for a great start when questioning the relationships between the data.
The Electoral College
The Electoral College is a key aspect of the US presidential elections. Its mechanics and distribution of electors are crucial for presidential campaigns and determine the so-called battleground states – and possibly also distort the will of the people. I was interested this last effect, so I did a little analysis.
A presidential election in the US is essentially 51 separate elections (50 states plus the District of Columbia). All but two states have a winner-takes-all system, with Maine and Nebraska using a slightly more differentiated way of splitting up its delegates between the candidates. There are a number of consequences of this that I don’t want to discuss in detail here, but what I was interested in was the boost this system gives to the strongest candidate.