Powers and Issues

This week I watched a violent mob in Washington attempt to stop the confirmation of Joe Biden as the next President of the United States.

To date, five people have died as a result of this action. The protest had been encouraged by the outgoing President, Donald Trump, who despite having no evidence which has been upheld in any court of law, claims he actually won last November’s presidential election.

In pre-Covid times this would have the buzz in a Modern Studies class. if there’s online teaching going on, I’m sure this is an event youngsters would wish to discuss with their teacher. Almost a ‘JFK moment’ as they say.

It made me realise though that there is little scope in the Higher and National 5 Modern Studies courses to analyse

a) why this event happened

b) why Biden won the Presidential election and not Trump

c) why also on that same night The Democrats took control of the Senate

d) who votes Democrat and Republican and why

e) why there is a culture war in the USA which has created a toxic political culture

In short, if you teach The USA as a world power in Higher or National 5 Modern Studies, you miss out a lot of what makes that country unique and worthy of analysis.

The reason for this goes back to the design of the courses. We used to teach specific countries in Modern Studies because there were specific, bespoke exam questions on these countries.

The questions for the USA were different from the questions for China (and South Africa too, back then a few schools taught about South Africa) because, er, they are very different countries with different social/economic and political issues.

Nowadays ‘one size fits all’ World Powers questions are asked which try to be accessible to the candidate who has studied a ‘major world power’.

Candidates may choose a major world power from any members of the G20 group of countries, including the EU, but excluding the UK. SQA Higher Modern Studies Course Specification

The decision to do this was well intentioned. The idea was to encourage teacher innovation and reward teachers’ expertise of a specific country which may be broader than just one of the SQA determined ‘big three’. Why should choice be restricted to a few countries? If teachers and learners want to study Italy, for example as a World Power, why not?

Current G20 members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union. Spain is a ‘guest’.

The problem is, I don’t know a single teacher who teaches any country other than the USA or China. There may be a school out there which still teaches South Africa but there won’t be many. I don’t think anyone teaches Italy.

So, why don’t we just accept this reality and abandon the generic ‘World Power’ stuff and go back to teaching about the nuances and wonders of a specific country.? The Course Spec can be tweaked towards the nuances and wonders of these countries. The exam questions too.

History does this. In Higher History’s ‘European and world’ Section, there are nine specified historical periods, each with bespoke issues, content and, ultimately, exam questions. SQA Higher History Course Specification

History doesn’t try to come up with a one size fits all question to cover all these countries and issues because it just wouldn’t work. I think it’s time we accepted in Modern Studies

a) that not all World Powers have the same issues.

b) It would be more enjoyable to teach a World Power if the teacher knew the issues, content and exam questions were bespoke to that world power.

c) we could then focus on teaching the really important and enjoyable content in that world power rather than shoe horning what we teach into these generic questions.

Personally, I’d just accept that we only really teach The USA and China, although Russia really should be an option too.

I think a lot of teachers teach a World Issue rather than a World Power because, quite frankly, under the current arrangements, the World Issue exam questions are easier.

Again though, World Issues could be improved. The same issues don’t affect all World Issues. And how many World Issues are there actually being taught? Terrorism? Climate Change? Under-development? All valuable issues to teach, I’d say, so why not specify these and create better, bespoke content and exam questions and move away from the one size fits all?