Monday, September 3, 2007

Jon Stewart

I've recently told a friend or two that if I need news on a disaster, I'll turn on one of the networks, but for politics, I prefer to get my news from sources that can deliver it with the hilarity it deserves. For that reason, my DVR records both Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, and Stephen Colbert's The Cobert Report every day of the week. I don't get to watch it every day (like my friend in the previous post, I don't watch much TV), but if I watch anything, they're it. Turns out, I'm probably in pretty good company. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed,

At a session on innovative teaching techniques, [Ryan Lee Teten, assistant professor of political science at Northern Kentucky University] described how he has replaced [the original textbook for his class] with Jon Stewart’s America the Book . . . .

If you compare the table of contents of America the Book with those of traditional texts, Teten noted that they cover much of the same ground, with chapters on the presidency, Congress, the courts, the media, the world outside the United States, and so forth. To be fair, Teten noted that traditional texts don’t have chapters like “Congress: Quagmire of Democracy” or “The Rest of the World: International House of Horrors,” but the content covered is similar. Teten also cited research finding that “The Daily Show” is as substantive these days as the traditional news shows that a traditional political science professor might encourage his students to watch.

Of course there is that little issue of factual accuracy. But Teten has given that investigation and thought, too. First, he said that a review he did of America the Book convinced him that it was 90 percent true, with the rest satire. He assigns his students to write short essays on each chapter identifying what is and isn’t true (it’s not always obvious, he said), so he’s drawing attention to places where things aren’t quite complete, and teaching them to question what they read.
This sort of turning the 10% falsehood into yet another useful exercise is not just innovative teaching; this is genius.