Thursday, September 06, 2012

Elections 2012 - Watching and Learning

Today has been spent in front of the TV.  Yea, you read that right, TV School.  Well, a little writing, a little chart creating and a lot of conversation has taken place as well.

We are continuing with our Elections 2012 study, and we have learned a LOT!  Today was time to sit down, watch a few convention speeches, and see what we could discover from them.  We watched Ann Romney, Mitt Romney, Michelle Obama, Condoleezza Rice, and Elizabeth Warren.  As I sit here writing this, the kids are at the table writing as well.  You may wonder what we do when I say we "watch" something on TV.  Let me share what we have spent the entire day doing, it might give you a picture into how we are homeschooling.  Because, after all, I just KNOW that is super important to you! HAHAHA!  Here is our approach:

1)  We stop every few minutes and explain words that are unfamiliar or concepts that are new.
2)  We talk about delivery...what is effective and what is not.
3)  We point out literary devices used, such as alliteration, metaphors, similes, and onomatopoeia.  For Matthew we are listening for examples of hyperbole and sarcasm.
4)  We discuss content.  Are the speakers really saying anything? Are they being specific, or could anyone have delivered their speech?  Are they pointing out problems or offering solutions?  Are they accurate?  Are the quoting others?  Regardless of whether we agree or disagree, are they being truthful?  Are they revealing only half truths to support their arguments?
5)  We create charts.  In this case, we charted and rated each speaker on a scale of 1-10 in areas of "content", "delivery", and "crowd response", then we rated each speaker.  We also are learning gradually how to create a chart on the computer with Matthew doing so easily, and Kenny and Josh learning how to use their new Pages software on their iPads and Josh wanted to learn how to insert a photo, but not yet charting.
6)  I come up with some sort of creative writing assignment.  Today's is "You are the Candidate" and after listening to all the speeches, each of the kids is writing their own Convention speech as if they are the candidate.  They have been instructed to "Sell Yourself", to "Say Something of Substance" and "Do Not Alienate Your Constituents"...and yes, we learned a new word for some of the kids with "constituents".  After we hear Barak's speech tonight, then we will be writing a "compare and contrast" paper.
7)  Convention speeches will be practiced, and then delivered to their Constituent of One...Dad.

I offered to cut Romney's speech short as I will Obama's, because they are so long.  Romney's was 45 minutes long.  Much to my surprise, every single one of the kids wanted to watch it in it's entirety, urging me to leave it because "This is actually pretty interesting!"  Funnier still is that Josh was the only one who really wanted to watch Clinton's speech, so he is sitting beside me after completing his paper, watching the entire Clinton speech on YouTube.  Yes, our kids are indeed weird.  (As I am finishing this post, Josh pulled the earplugs out, looked over at me and said "Mom, I think I like Clinton a lot.  He is like everybody else.  I like a candidate who feels like they are like me.  Also, he is not picking on the Republicans, it doesn't feel like he hates them.")

Ann Romney was initially not a favorite for a few reasons.  Joshie asked "Mom, why does her face look like plastic? ".  They also found her speech to be very simplistic. This surprised me because I thought it would be enjoyed more because it was more easily understood, but Kenny pointed out "Mom, it sounds like the 'Dick and Jane' writing you always are bugging me about."  I was pleased he was able to identify that, even if he can't quite make that leap in his own writing consistently yet.  However, as we discussed Ann's history, the fact that she is a housewife plugged into a role which she undoubtedly never imagined early on, the kids cut her a lot more slack and felt some real compassion for how hard it must be to be thrust into the spotlight like that.  We talked about it being unfair to compare her and Michelle Obama, who have very different life experiences, training, and skill sets.  Ultimately, though they gave Ann low marks overall for delivery and content, they said that if she had been compared to others like herself she actually would have done  quite well...and that while they couldn't relate to her very much, they thought she was probably a pretty nice person.

Mitt was graded quite highly by all, being seen as very polished and professional, and a better speaker than they would have imagined him to be.  Angela said "He is making some good points." but Matt remarked "Are all politicians like this?  Do they all say they will fix things and never really tell you HOW they will fix them?".  Uh...yea,'s part of the gig.  They felt his content was solid, but Olesya, Josh and Angela all disliked the approach of focusing too much on the opponent and not enough on what Romney himself will do.  We all decided we would look specifically at Obama's speech and see if he does the same thing, because it is traditional in politics to try and score points by knocking the other candidate.  Mudslinging IS effective, and we talked about the Willie Horton/Michael Dukakis situation as a way of explaining it.

Angela's idol, Elizabeth Warren, was liked by as avidly as by Angela, but everyone commented that she had something "real" to say.  They gave her medium high marks for delivery and higher marks for content.

It was Michelle Obama who scored straight 10's from every one of the kids, and it was easy to see why.  Remember, we are not doing this as a "party" thing, but in an attempt to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of political speeches.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with Michelle Obama's political views, one would be hard pressed to deny that she is quite an accomplished orator, whose speech was very well crafted, whether it was written by her or with the aid of speechwriters.  It was very literary, actually, a finely woven and well nuanced piece of work, and I found myself pausing the video time and time again to point out "word pictures" she was creating, which is something I am emphasizing with the kids in their own writing.  We spoke about how she drew the listener in, and how if it was read it would have the same effect.

Afterward, I wasn't at all surprised to see that the First Lady had delivered a speech at the highest grade level of the past several First Ladies...12.8 grade versus Ann Romney's 5.8 grade.  I discovered a web site that discussed this issue and what factors are considered to increase the grade level here:  It was helpful with instructing the kids about what exactly makes writing a higher level.  We also discussed how many speeches are intentionally "dumbed down", as are many news articles in certain magazines and newspapers, so that the content is not above the "average" reader today.  I drove home the point with the article as it shared the grade level of some presidential speeches as well.

There were a couple other observations too, Mitt was seen as a pretty good guy who they learned more about and could trust to run the country, and Michelle Obama was identified with by the girls because "Look Mom!  She has broad shoulders just like we do!  Do you think it is hard for her to find clothes that fit well too"...hahaha!

What fun it is to be able to have conversations with our kids about things that matter!  What a joy it is to watch their world enlarge, to see them begin to connect the dots that what happens in the adult world affects them as well.  Watching, learning and growing, that's what these years are all about.  What's best about it?  Around our kitchen table, there is respect for differing opinions, there is an acknowledgement that there are truths on both sides of the "aisle".  There is a lack of demonization of candidates that has become part and parcel of elections in our time which sickens me.  All are seen as having valid points, and different approaches to solving our problems are not viewed as hating America and having an agenda to ruin us all.  Why, oh why, can't that be the way it is everywhere?  Where people are allowed to have different opinions without accusations flying, where people can agree politely to disagree and not become enemies, where differing approaches are not cast as "evil" or intentionally trying to hurt others, but are viewed as they really are...different ideas about how to reach success.  Nothing evil, no agendas, no ripping people apart.  I fear we, as a society, have no clue how to accept others and their differences and not place it all in an "us versus them" category.  It doesn't have to be that way.

Well, at least it isn't like that in our house, and I guess taking care of our house is all I can do.


Mishelle said...

If I lived close to you I would beg you to let my older daughter attend your school. I'm serious! I would figure out a way to pay tuition. What a great education you're giving your kids!

schnitzelbank said...

Hi - A little off-topic, I came across this link on FB, and thought your kids might enjoy it. It's a look at rare color photographs from 100 years ago in the Russian Empire. The photographer took 3 rapid black-and-white photographs to be later filtered through red/green/blue to make it colorized. What a cool social studies and science lesson this could be!