By Judy Galens
What does autumn bring? For many, the season means visits to cider mills, the return of jacket weather, and spectacular treetop displays of red, orange, and yellow. For sports fans, it’s weekend afternoons of football and evenings of post-season baseball. For all of us, in even-numbered years at least, the fall season also means the peak of political campaign season: a seemingly endless supply of junk mail, the intrusion of dinnertime robo-calls, and inescapable television and radio campaign ads.
So much effort is put into campaign communiques, and yet the results don’t typically communicate much. They don’t clarify a candidate’s stand on the issues, or clarify the issues themselves. Particularly in the case of negative campaign ads, in fact, the purpose seems to be the opposite of clarity: words are twisted and facts obscured.
Observing political campaigns in action offers great opportunities to students. They can watch democracy at work, learn about the intricacies of campaign financing, analyze the most effective campaign strategies. But when it comes to obtaining a deeper understanding of the complex social issues upon which many elections hinge, students must go beyond the campaigns themselves.
So where should they go for such understanding? Google? Without question, that will be the first stop for most students. But a Google News search on the Affordable Care Act, or immigration, or gun control, for example, could yield hundreds of thousands, even millions, of hits. Do most students have the inclination to wade through a lengthy results list? Such a task can be frustrating even for seasoned researchers. Furthermore, a search on the open web yields masses of data but very little context for all that information. Background information on an issue like immigration can go a long way toward understanding an editorial on the topic. Knowing something about the author is useful as well: Understanding the purpose and meaning of the message depends on knowing who has crafted it, and to what end.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), as well as other national and state curriculum standards, encourage students to hone their analytical and critical-thinking skills. Specifically, CCSS calls for students to analyze the development of ideas, summarize key supporting details, assess the impact of the author’s point of view on the text, and evaluate the validity of an author’s argument. A search for articles on the open web offers very little in the way of support toward achieving that level of understanding.
Greenhaven Press, with longstanding series such as Opposing Viewpoints, Current Controversies, and others, offers in-depth examinations of intricate social issues, collecting myriad previously published articles from varied perspectives. Contextual information accompanies each article, offering background information on the issue, a summary of the author’s argument, and details concerning the affiliation of the author. Sources include journals, newspapers, congressional testimony, Supreme Court opinions, position papers, and many more. Articles are often accompanied by guided reading questions to help readers focus on the author’s main ideas; in addition, charts and graphs supplement the text, encouraging readers to analyze information visually as well as textually.
During this election season and beyond, it’s vitally important that students understand the issues that shape their world. These issues are not black and white: they are complicated and multi-faceted. New titles such as Current Controversies: Immigration and Opposing Viewpoints: Syria, as well as a number of other new and forthcoming Greenhaven Press titles, offer in-depth content to help students go beyond what they see in the headlines, and in the process to sharpen their critical-thinking skills and engage with the world around them.
About the Author
Judy Galens has been involved in reference publishing for twenty-three years. In her current role as content developer with Gale, part of Cengage Learning, she oversees new title development for Greenhaven Press and Lucent Books as well as shaping content for other print, database, and digital archive products. In a previous role, Judy spent six years as an acquisitions editor for Greenhaven Press, immersed in the world of nonfiction reference works aimed at high school and middle school students.