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Teaching & learning with the NYT: Moving the Movement: Analyzing the Future of Occupy Wall Street PDF Print E-mail
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Written by SARAH KAVANAGH, KATHERINE SCHULTEN and HOLLY EPSTEIN OJALVO   
Saturday, 19 November 2011 15:05

November 15, 2011, 1:12 pm

Marcus Yam for The New York Times
Some of the protesters evicted from Zuccotti Park on Nov. 15 reconvened in Foley Square.
Overview | What is the current status of the Occupy Wall Street movement? What effects has it had so far, and where is it going from here? In this lesson, students react to current news, read an Opinion piece about its role in history, and do an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the movement to make predictions about its future.

Note to Teacher | This lesson involves students exploring and expressing their political views. Please establish ground rules that will allow for the full range of views expressed to be welcomed and heard, and permit students to keep their opinions to themselves if they are not comfortable sharing them with the group.

Materials | Student journals, computer with Internet access and projector.

Warm-Up | Ask students what they have heard about Occupy Wall Street, also sometimes known merely as “Occupy,” or “OWS,” and jot ideas on the board. Next, show the slide show that goes with the article “Police Clear Zuccotti Park of Protesters.” Discuss what the photos depict and what happened when the police moved into the park. Explain that Zuccotti Park is located near Wall Street in Manhattan, and that it was the initial location of what has become an movement in numerous cities and college campuses around the United States and around the world. (The Times Topics page on Occupy Wall Street has a lengthier overview if needed.)

Point out, if students have not done so, that police have cracked down on Occupy encampments in other places, including in Oakland, Calif.

What questions does this latest news raise for them? Jot students’ responses on the board. What do the protesters want? Note that though their grievances are generally about the financial system, income inequality and a sense that the poor and middle class have been disenfranchised, protesters have not made specific demands.

Tell students that they will now express their views on the movement, regardless of how extensive their background knowledge may be. They will be using their journals to “take a stand” based on their feelings, values and impressions, but will not need to share these with others unless they choose to.

Tell students open their journals and make a chart with five columns and five rows, labeling the columns Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, Strongly Agree and the rows Strongly Oppose, Oppose, Neutral, Support, Strongly Support.

Explain to the class that you will read aloud five statements. Upon hearing the first statement, they should mark the box that best represents both how much they agree or disagree about the movement’s main goals (the columns) and the extent to which they support or oppose the methods that have been used by the protesters (the rows).

They should mark each box with the number of the statement they are responding to. After they have marked a box, they should jot down some notes about why they chose the boxes that they did. Continue the process through the remaining statements.

The statements are as follows:
1. Income inequality has contributed to the country’s problems.
2. Congress has contributed to the country’s problems.
3. The White House has contributed to the country’s problems.
4. Large banks have contributed to the country’s problems.
5. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to the country’s problems.

After the exercise is over, have students write about their choices in their journals, or discuss as a class, using the following questions: Which boxes did you find yourself going to most often? Why might that be? How would you summarize your stance on the Occupy Wall Street Movement at this point? Why do you feel that way? What do you need to know or understand in order to solidify your views one way or the other?

Update | Nov. 16: We now have a Student Opinion question that we will leave open to which you can invite your students to post: Do You Sympathize With the Occupy Wall Street Movement?

To place these decisions in some context, share with students the Times interactive feature “Public Opinion and the Occupy Movement,” on which Times readers placed themselves on a similar grid in response to the same five statements.

Ask: What similarities do you notice between the Times feature and your own chart? What differences? Are you surprised by the similarities and differences? Why or why not? A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that almost half of the public thinks the views of the Occupy activists generally reflect the views of most Americans. Why do they think that might be? After this exercise, would they include themselves in that group or not?

Related | The Sunday Review Op-Ed “The New Progressive Movement” examines the potential future of the Occupy Wall Street movement by comparing the movement to past progressive eras in American history:

Occupy Wall Street and its allied movements around the country are more than a walk in the park. They are most likely the start of a new era in America. Historians have noted that American politics moves in long swings. We are at the end of the 30-year Reagan era, a period that has culminated in soaring income for the top 1 percent and crushing unemployment or income stagnation for much of the rest. The overarching challenge of the coming years is to restore prosperity and power for the 99 percent.

Read the entire article with your class, using the questions below.

Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:

  1. What evidence does the writer, Jeffrey D. Sachs, offer to support his claim that the Occupy Wall Street movement might be marking the start of a new era in American history?
  2. Do you think the author’s argument is controversial? What arguments do you think could be made to counter his claims?
  3. What similarities does the author offer between contemporary economic realities and those of past eras?
  4. What does the author believe the Occupy Wall Street Movement should focus on moving forward? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  5. How would you characterize the main argument of this author? Do you think he offers enough evidence to support his claims? Why or why not? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

Activity | At this point in the lesson, there are many directions you could take for deeper inquiry.

You may wish to move directly to a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of the Occupy movement overall (detailed below); choose a movement or time period from the related article to explore as a comparison; examine the decisions to clear the encampments in Zuccotti Park and Oakland, focusing on the tactics by protesters and police, the government’s decision and Americans’ Constitutional rights; or skim our Oct. 11 lesson on Occupy Wall Street for still more ideas that can be adapted to the latest news.

To begin the SWOT analysis, tell students that they will work in groups to analyze the Occupy movement and then make predictions about its future. Explain that the acronym SWOT stands for “Strengths,” “Weaknesses,” “Opportunities” and “Threats.” These categories are areas of analysis that businesses and not-for-profit organizations use to determine their internal strengths and weaknesses and their external opportunities and threats for strategic planning purposes. This form of analysis can also be applied to departments or branches of larger institutions, as well as to individuals within these institutions.

If desired and time permits, delve a bit further into how SWOT analyses are performed. You can also see our previous lesson plans using the SWOT format, like one from the 2010 midterm elections ora 2007 lesson on China’s readiness for the Beijing Olympics.

Create a chart like this one, with four boxes, labeled “Strengths,” “Weaknesses,” “Opportunities” and “Threats,” on the board. Inform students that they will be working in groups to fill in their own SWOT chart for the Occupy Wall Street Movement, but that the whole class will work together to come up with a few initial ideas before breaking up into smaller groups.

You may wish to model the process using the latest reporting you can find, though students will be digging deeper in small groups. For example, using this Nov. 15 Times article, you might add the line “The [Nov. 15 police operation] in and around the park struck a blow to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which saw the park as its spiritual heart” to the “Threat” category, while the fact that the police action was quickly challenged by lawyers could be an “Opportunity.”

Tell students they may use information from the article they read as a class and other New York Times articles and features about Occupy Wall Street to complete their charts. (Teachers without Internet access might consider printing several articles beforehand for use by student groups during class.)

You may also want to pull in elements from some of our other recent lesson ideas for teaching about Occupy Wall Street. For example, you might tell groups to look at different opinions on the movement’s potential or examine the facts and figures underlying focus on the top 1 percent of the economy as part of the analysis.

When students have completed their charts, bring the class back together so groups can share their analyses with the class. Encourage all students to ask each other clarifying questions and to take notes to refer to for the next part of the activity. Next, have students reconvene in their groups to make predictions about the Occupy Wall Street movement, given the movement’s strengths and weaknesses and existing opportunities and threats. Have each small group write down at least five predictions about any aspect of the movement and its future that they investigated. For each, have them provide evidence of some sort, whether in the form of a related article, statistics, a historical parallel, etc.

When the predictions are complete, reconvene the class and have each group post or otherwise share their work. Provide an opportunity for students to read and comment on each other’s ideas, then display the full list of class predictions and a class SWOT chart for future reference.

Conclude by asking students to reflect on what they have learned. Ask: What propels movements forward? What are the necessary ingredients for making a social movement powerful and effective? What roles might Occupy and other socio-political movements, like the Tea Party, play in the upcoming presidential election? Why?

Going Further | Read the public editor column “Who Is Occupy Wall Street?”, about The Times’s coverage of the movement. Has The Times begun to address Arthur Brisbane’s concerns and recommendations?

Students follow the news about the Occupy Wall Street movement in the Times and keep personal and class logs whenever events occur connected to their predictions or to the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats identified in class.

After several weeks or months, return to your SWOT chart and discuss whether the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are the same. Have some strengths turned into weaknesses, or vice versa? Have some threats become opportunities, or vice versa? Did any of group’s predictions come to pass? What new predictions can the class make?

Standards | This lesson is correlated to McREL’s national standards (it can also be aligned to the new Common Core State Standards):

Behavioral Studies
1. Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity and behavior.
2. Understands various meanings of social group, general implications of group membership and different ways that groups function.
4. Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups and institutions.

Economics
1. Understands that scarcity of productive resources requires choices that generate opportunity costs.
2. Understands characteristics of different economic systems, economic institutions, and economic incentives.
3. Understands the concept of prices and the interaction of supply and demand in a market economy.
4. Understands basic features of market structures and exchanges.
5. Understands unemployment, income, and income distribution in a market economy.
6. Understands the roles government plays in the United States economy.
7. Understands savings, investment and interest rates.
8. Understands basic concepts of United States fiscal policy and monetary policy.
9. Understands how Gross Domestic Product and inflation and deflation provide indications of the state of the economy.

United States History
31. Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 November 2011 15:49
 

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