Students assess the degree to which individualism, collectivism, or a combination of the two, best promotes the common good by describing the implications of extreme forms of individualism and collectivism in a fictional society in which one of the ideologies has become dominant.
- Assess the degree to which individualism, collectivism, or a combination of the two, best promotes the common good.
The purpose of the challenge is to help students realize that proponents of individualism and collectivism have different perspectives on how best to promote the common good. Invite students to discuss their understandings of individualism, collectivism and common good. To provide students with various understandings and definitions of individualism, collectivism and the common good, see Understandings of Individualism, Collectivism and Common Good (Background Information).
Set the context
Both literature and popular culture are full of examples of societies past and present where either individualism or collectivism dominates. Novels, such as George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, are examples of literature that explores this theme. Movies and television series also include portrayals of societies dominated by either individualism or collectivism. Examples may be found in the Mad Max movies, the Borg in the Star Trek series and the Arthurian movie First Knight.
Suggest to students that some thinkers, e.g., Ayn Rand, Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, believe that individualism contributes to the common good while collectivism in the extreme may be contrary to the common good; e.g., totalitarian regimes. Other perspectives, e.g., Karl Marx, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, would suggest that collectivism contributes to the common good, while individualism in the extreme may be contrary to the common good; e.g., extreme market reforms.
Encourage students to read a selection from a relevant novel or to watch a segment of a movie to prompt discussion about the attributes of an ideal or utopian society.
Ask students what criteria could be used to determine whether actions and ideologies will significantly advance the common good. Such criteria might include the following:
- benefits all members in society
- is sustainable over the long term
- considers all perspectives of the common good
- can be attainable.
Using these criteria as a guideline, discuss the degree to which individualism, collectivism, or a combination of the two, would be the basis for an ideal or utopian society.
- Create a plausible description of a society in which either individualism or collectivism has become dominant.
Create a fictional society
Invite students to create an account that describes a society in which either individualism or collectivism is dominant. The account must reflect clearly the challenges and opportunities such a society would face. Students may use the following criteria:
- accurately reflects either individualism or collectivism
- makes clear and plausible connections to the implications for the common good
- effectively communicates the ideas to the intended audience
- uses vocabulary associated with the concept.
The account could take the form of a short story, a ballad, a comic strip or a dramatic script. Suggest that students first prepare a draft of their fictional account in the form of a rough copy, a storyboard or a mind map.
Peer critique fictional societies
Invite students to exchange their drafts with at least three other students for a peer critique. To ensure that the critique is instructive, share guidelines for a productive peer critique. Encourage students to revise, edit and polish their work, paying careful attention to the feedback from the peer critiques.
To structure and assess this activity, you may wish to adapt Peer Critique (Support Material).
Share fictional portrayals
Invite students to share their fictional accounts with the class. This could be done either through short presentations or through a storefront presentation in which students display their fictional accounts around the room. The class then does a walkabout, visiting as many tables as possible within a set time.
Evaluate Canada as an example of individualist or collectivist society
Hold a class discussion during which students identify where they would place Canada on a continuum from extreme individualism to extreme collectivism. Remind students that they must provide evidence to support their positions.
Invite students to respond to the question “To what extent should Canada adopt extreme individualism or extreme collectivism to ensure the common good?” Be sure that students use the criteria to justify their responses.
You may wish to use Justifying My Choice (Support Material) to help students present ideas and consider other perspectives.