A bit of PARSNIPing, i.e. mock presidential election

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The topic of the last #Eltchat was controversial topics in teaching. We discussed some of the taboos and issues that make us cringe in class and the things that we normally tend to sweep under the carpet.

Some of the topics that came up during the chat were religion and politics. In the slow-burn mode of the chat, Cathy Bowden, an English teacher based in the Czech Republic, pointed out that here in the Czech Republic, “religion is just a non-issue for most, politics elicits waves of cynicism but no one gets upset”.

I agree with Cathy that there’s not much to worry about but still – I’m always on pins and needles whenever one of the above taboos comes up in class. Ironically, the reason behind my concern is not the knowledge of my own culture but rather the notion that some people in other parts of the world may actually find the topics disturbing. In other words, if I weren’t a member of an international community of English teachers, it wouldn’t even occur to me that I may get into trouble by discussing some of the PARSNIPs in class.

Anyway, as I’m typing this post (Saturday morning), here in the CR, we’re halfway through the 2018 presidential election. Although the Czech president doesn’t really have much political power, it’s a very important event. The thing is that the current president is a very controversial figure; he’s admired by half the Czech population while hated by the other.

Thus it isn’t really surprising that it was the election which my 18-year old students brought up in class yesterday. As they only recently came of age, this is actually their very first opportunity to vote for a president. So I understand that they are really enthusiastic about it. However, I was a bit reluctant to go into the discussion simply because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. Apart from the fact that politics bores me to death, I knew next to nothing about the nine presidential candidates. In other words, I was a bit behind schedule in this respect but I was planning to study the ballots later in the day. However, my students were so keen on the debate that I finally surrendered.

What options did I have apart from making myself look like a complete ignoramus? Well, for example, I could let my students teach me what they knew. Which I did.

I googled an image showing all the nine candidates and asked my students to tell me what they knew about their backgrounds. I encouraged them to share facts, not opinions at this stage but I asked for the impossible. They were so keen on telling me who was great and who was hopeless that they almost lost it.

 

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Image retrieved from https://www.denik.cz/z_domova/prezidentsti-kandidati-maji-sva-cisla-zeman-pujde-do-voleb-se-7-drahos-s-9-20171215.html

By coincidence, I had prepared a paper ballot box (this aid was actually used for a different activity but I suddenly found it handy). I asked each student to anonymously jot down the name of their favorite candidate on a piece of paper. Only one student refused because he hadn’t decided yet. Then we dropped the ‘ballots’ into the box. Finally, I removed all the votes and we counted the results. It was fun and I hope it was a bit educational, too.

On my way home I remembered the #Eltchat. I wondered whether as a teacher, I have the right to ask for information that is essentially personal and confidential. But since my students had asked for the topic, I concluded to myself that it was OK.

Anyway, off to the real ballot box! Catch up with you later. 🙂

 

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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6 Responses to A bit of PARSNIPing, i.e. mock presidential election

  1. That’s so interesting. I don’t think I would have done it differently – it was a go-with-the-flow kind of situation, right?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sounds like your improvising went well and I’m so glad to hear your young students were keen to talk about the election. Maybe in the future Czechs won’t be so cynical about politics.
    If there’s a run-off (which looks likely), you could plan something. They could research facts about the 2 remaining candidates or have a debate on the issues.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a teacher based in Slovakia, I agree with Cathy Bowden who you mentioned at the beginning of the post. Religion and many other topics don’t seem to cause many problems in my classes. Most of the typical PARSNIP issues are non-issues here. I count myself lucky really, as I know in other cultures and countries these issues would be a problem for teachers and students!

    I like the way you handled the mock vote, and it’s as close to a ‘real life’ conversation as possible, so beneficial for the students. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks for your comment. I’m happy to hear that Slovaks are as easygoing as Czechs in this respect. Language teaching is much easier when the teacher doesn’t have to worry about the students’ reactions to potentially controversial topics. Still, there are certain areas, such as the family background, one should be careful about in any case. These, I think, are common to all teaching contexts and can be equally unpredictable.

      Like

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