Part of Lesson Plan: Personal and Media Bias
Activity Overview / Details
By assuming the role of a political marketer, students will learn about a specific piece of legislation or important governmental policy, including historical context, arguments for and against, and ultimate impact. Students will also understand the impact of word choice in constructing a persuasive argument, as well as the impact of modern marketing techniques on citizens’ knowledge about issues.
Student Handout: What Difference Does A Name Make?
Remind students of what Frank Luntz does:
“Frank Luntz doesn’t do issues, he does language around issues. He figures out what words will best sell an issue and he polls them and he tests them and he focus groups them and he comes up, issue by issue, with how to talk about it and how not to talk about it.”
Then tell students that they are each going to become a political strategist like Frank Luntz, but without using focus groups. Also let them know that each will be assigned a specific policy or piece of legislation to “wordsmith.”
Help students practice what their process might be like by discussing two phrases that Luntz introduced into debates over U.S. policies: “Global Warming” became “Climate Change” “Estate Tax” became “Death Tax”. Ask students to consider: Is the phrase truthful or does it mask the content of the policy or legislation? Which target audiences are likely to see the phrase as accurate? Which target audiences are likely to see the phrase as misleading?
Divide students into small groups (three to four). Decide ahead of time whether every group will work on the same issue or whether each group will be assigned a different issue. Choose the policies or pieces of legislation you will assign according to what you are covering in your core curriculum. For example, if you are studying pre-Civil War America, you might assign students to examine the Homestead Act (1862).
Other options that would work well for this exercise might include (but are not limited to):
Pre-Civil War Monroe Doctrine (1823) Emancipation Proclamation (1863)
1900-1945 Selective Service Act (1917) Sedition Act (1918) Prohibition (1920-1933) Emergency Quota (Johnson) Act (1921) Social Security Act (1935)
1946-1979 Internal Security (McCarran) Act (1950) Peace Corps (founded 1961) Voting Rights Act (1965) Affirmative Action (1970s) Equal Rights Amendment (approved by Congress and sent to states for ratification 1972)
1980-Current Patriot Act (2002) Clear Skies Initiative (2002) No Child Left Behind (2002)
Students should research the policy or Act they have been assigned so that they know enough about the topic to answer the questions on the Student Handout included in this guide. You may wish to distribute two copies of the Handout to each student –one for notes and one for the final copy to be turned in at the end of the lesson.
Once students are clear about the historical facts, they might divide responsibilities and brainstorm how different demographic groups might re-craft the name of the Act or policy. For example, white settlers who were eligible to get land from the Homestead Act would likely want to keep the title, but Native American tribes whose land was confiscated for those settlers might prefer a title like “Indian Displacement Act.” In addition, Ranchers who saw the potential of farmers controlling the land as an infringement on their rights to open-range grazing might opt for something like the “Farming Rights Extension Act” or the “Anti-Grazing Act.”
Let students know that they will be asked to present their final recommendations in a video or multi-media presentation on whether to keep or change the name to the rest of the class, and that every group member must be involved in that presentation.