Democracy and Dissent: Three Days to Insight


This article originally appeared in Issue# 58

From Israel comes a creative model for a class unit or workshop to explore the challenge of airing dissent in a democratic media culture.

A major challenge in democratic education is teaching young people about the need to air opposing views and provide channels of expression for dissenting voices.

In the highly charged atmosphere of modern Israel, communications researcher Elihu Katz searched for a method to make tangible to young people the legitimacy of opposition at each level in the democratic process. A brief description of the three-day workshop he and his colleagues developed may provide tips for other teachers and educational leaders around the world.

Day One: Workshop is announced as a communications seminar (a more appealing, often less controversial subject). Game and role-playing sensitizes students to the pitfalls of accurate observation, selective perception and witness psychology. Student "journalists" pair up to research subjects for inclusion in a group "newscast" about their school. The assignment forces them to consider problems of selection, expert testimony and reliability. The whole group selects the newscast story lineup, usually provoking intense discussion. Issues of administration censorship, loyalty, school spirit, etc., may be debated.

Day Two: Students repeat the procedure for the national news, using yesterday's newspapers to "create" a television broadcast. News selection criteria are reviewed. During discussion, students may note that their evaluation of school events was more critical and more change-oriented. They are encouraged to compare their views of school and national authorities. Broadcast of an actual newscast provides a chance for comparison.

Day Three: Analysis of a set of video news items dealing with all aspects of an episode mishandled by authorities provides another view of authority decision making. Because they featured various points of view and demonstrated evidence of authority bungling, Israeli researchers showed reports of nearly successful invasion of an Israeli beach by terrorist. Students wrestle with the apparent conflict between the "facts" and their attitudes toward participants.