Is it possible to teach 19th century theories using sweets in a secondary school classroom? I have found a new way of teaching abstract concepts like “private ownership of industry,” “classless society,” and “economic competition” in a way that it is more appealing to my students. I got excellent results and that's why I want to share this class with you.
OBJECTIVES: Learn the core concepts of the Communist theory of Karl Marx.
VOCABULARY: private ownership, classless society, industry, economic competition, state, class struggle, unequal economic classes, workers revolt.
Give all but three students three sweets each and give the remaining three students ten of the same candies. As you listen “that’s not fair” and “why do they get more?” comments flooded the room, take note of their complaints, while those with more candy gloat. The students then compete with each other in Rock, Paper, Scissors, with the loser having to give up a sweet to the victor. Once a student ran out of candy, they are instructed to sit down and watch. Again, the teacher must take note of their complaints as this happened. The remaining students continued playing until only a few students had candy left.
Ask the students several questions regarding their experiences: How did you feel at the start of the game? How did you feel when you ran out of candy and had to sit down? What tactics could you have used to get back into the game? (Steal, bargain, buy someone off, lie) Was the game fair? What could the teacher have done to make it fair and should he do it? Once again take note of their responses.
As a class, then discuss the communist theory of Karl Marx, aided by a flow chart that showed side-by-side the key points of capitalism, class struggle, workers revolt, socialism, and communism with the events of our Rock, Paper, Scissors game. For example, the box for capitalism had three points: private ownership of industry (students started with their own candy), freedom of competition (students played rock, paper, scissors), and results in unequal economic classes (some students won, most lost). The class struggle was played out in the students’ complaints and the workers’ revolt through their responses about how they could have gotten back into the game, and arguments about the game’s fairness.
As you approach socialism,inform the class, that you , being the government, had decided to collect all the candy and redistribute it equally. Those with empty hands rejoiced while those who had been incessantly staring at their candy, unable to eat it, voiced their complaints. I asked them how they felt now, and if the action was fair. We then proceeded to the box on socialism: government ownership of industry (teacher collected candy), goal is to bring economic equality (teacher redistributed candy equally), and aims for a classless society (students now all have the same amount of candy).
Finally, ask the class if they wished to play again. Only a few brave souls were interested in my classroom and that led us to our final box, communism: goal of classless society achieved (students would refuse to play game again and choose to share candy) and no government needed (teacher would no longer need to supervise).
Remember, it is essential to bring history to life. Make it tangible and apply it to something kids can relate to. History is fun, and if you as the teacher, buy into that and create an environment that brings history to life, your students will buy into it too!