Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Watching Korean Students Learn About American Elections

The official course name for Professor McCuan’s class is “Comparative Elections and Mass Political Behavior – U.S.”  The course covers a number of different aspects of the American electoral processes, including the influence of media, how money has changed elections and how the American political landscape has changed in the last fifty years. It is an upper division political science class with advanced look at elections, it is not a basic course trying to teach the system of elections rather it is an in depth analysis of the various theories behind elections and examining various models to explain trends in elections.  It is a complex class that assumes a firm understanding of the culture and political structure of the United States of America. We had two Korean students who decided to stay enrolled in the course. One is an English Literature major and the other is a Political Science major but this was her first class at university ever she is an incoming freshman next year. They both speak English very well, although there is a fair amount of political science jargon which they needed to have clarified.

Professor McCuan encouraged the Korean students to go first to the American students for help, as this class is in our major and we all enjoy and have an interest in the subject.  I like trying to explain words and the structure of our government and culture when I get asked. It tests my knowledge on a given word or concept and helps me understand it better. I always thought the American political system was fairly straight forward but when I started to explain how our government works I realized how odd and confusing it really is. Explaining how the number of  Representatives the each states gets in the house is proportional to the population but the number of Senators is set at two per a state was a difficult concept to explain. But that was not nearly as hard as trying to explain the electoral college, and this was just the base of knowledge needed to understand the larger concepts that we were learning about. The course expected all students to know these things about the American governmental system. In addition to organizational knowledge needed to understand elections there also must be an understanding of the social aspect of the American electorate. All of the American students know that the white working class votes for conservatives even though fiscally it is not in their benefit. How do we even begin to explain the social cleavages that make up America. It is completely foreign to them. We did our best to try and explain the American political landscape in the short amount of time that we had. 

In the class we have a few sections that focus on campaign advertising. We are shown a number of classic campaign ads and we are asked to interpret them, to see what techniques they are using to convince the average person to vote a certain way. It was easy for me as a Political Sciences student to get caught up in how truthful the ad is or trying to place it into the context of the election. The Korean students however were viewing the ads for the first time ever with a limit knowledge about their context. Their perception of the ads provided valuable insight to the ads effect on neutral voters. One memorable moment was after we watched one of the "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth" ads that ran during the 2004 election. After we watched the ad one of the Korean students asked "So they are denigrating a war hero? Why would they do that?" The answer was because they wanted Bush to win. Her shock at the ads into perspective how divisive and cut-throat the American political system has become when attack ads of the likes "Swiftboat Veterans For Truth" are seen as a the norm. It is easy to get caught up in your own way of doing things so much so that you only have the insider view of how you do things.

I asked Kim how the Korean professors taught at Jeju University. She said that most professor lecture as the students take notes and the professor does not engage the students with questions or like to being asked questions. This is the polar opposite of Professor McCuan's teaching style. He is very animated constantly calling on students to answer questions to keep the students engaged and welcomes questions by his students. So along with taking a college course in a second language the Korean students also had to work in a completely different classroom environment. I really enjoyed the class it went from nine in the morning to noon which got us up early and allowed us to have the rest of the day to do as we please. It was engaging and I learned a great deal in a short amount of time. I have not talked to the Korean students about what they learned from the actual class but if it is something as simple as "the American election system is incredibly complex and nuanced" then they have learned a great deal about the American political system.

A badly posed class picture!

Professor McCuan giving us a compacted lecture on his specialty, direct democracy.

We made the newspaper!
Lectern from the future.

This is where I drank coffee drinks during the breaks in class. Probably the most interesting photo on this blog.


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    1. Click on the actual picture in the editor then there should be a bar that comes up and there is an "add caption" section.