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Is Liberalism Viable?

Identify and rate the impacts of responses to various contemporary issues in order to determine to what extent the responses reflect liberal or nonliberal principles/values.

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

In this possible culminating critical challenge, students assess the extent to which contemporary issues challenge liberalism and then determine the extent to which such issues would be addressed effectively by actions reflecting liberal principles/values.

Identify and categorize the issues
Ask students to brainstorm examples of how specific events or issues have affected life in the last five years or how events or issues could impact life in the next five years. Caution is advised as the discussion of some of these events and issues may be stressful for some students. Students might suggest the following events or issues:

  • terrorist attacks (9/11)
  • war
  • food safety
  • climate change
  • oil shortages
  • water shortages
  • air pollution
  • natural disasters
  • people living below the poverty line
  • homelessness
  • taxation levels
  • censorship.

With assistance from students, group the brainstormed examples into more general categories of issues. Examples of general categories and grouping of brainstormed examples may include the following:

  • environmental concerns (climate change, air pollution, water shortages, pollution, food safety)
  • resource use and development (oil shortages, water shortages)
  • debt and poverty (people living below the poverty line, homelessness)
  • taxation levels
  • racism
  • pandemics (HIV/AIDS)
  • terrorism (terrorist attacks; 9/11)
  • censorship
  • natural disasters
  • illiberalism(30-1).

Create a web of effects to explore the impact of the issues
Invite students to complete a web of effects illustrating the consequences of a particular problem, condition or action. For instance, in considering the impact of environmental problems, students might consider the consequences of global warming. You may wish to ask the students to use these steps:

  1. Write the basic problem, condition or action in the middle of the web; e.g., water shortages.
  2. Working outward from the middle, fill in the ovals in a chain of consequences; e.g., without water humans have difficulty meeting the daily challenges of life, which may lead to people becoming frustrated and angry, which may lead to additional violence in society.
  3. Repeat step two for each additional chain of consequences; e.g., lack of water causes reduced plant growth.

You may wish to refer to Web of Effects (Support Material) to structure this activity.

Prompt students to consider impacts on liberal principles and values by asking them to rank the issues from the greatest positive impact to the greatest negative impact on the viability of liberal principles/values.

Rate impacts
Explain to students that their next task is to assess the effectiveness of responses to these issues. Invite students to identify actions that were used to address one of the issues or events. Using the 9/11terrorist attacks as an example, students might suggest the creation of no-fly lists, greater use of wiretapping and increased scrutiny at airports.

Ask students to identify aspects of the actions that reflect liberal principles/values and aspects that do not reflect liberal principles/values. Students might indicate that an action such as wiretapping might not reflect the principle/value of rule of law.

You may want to adapt the chart Rating Impact in Rating Options (Support Material) to structure this activity. Guide students in recording the actions in the appropriate places in the chart.

Ask students to rate the impacts of one of the responses to the event in each of the categories developed in the web of effects. The following criteria may be used to assess impact:

  • breadth: Did the response affect many or few people?
  • sustained or short-lived: How long were the effects of the response felt or noticed?
  • profound or trivial: How effective was the response? Did it have profound or trivial effects on the desired issue?

Rating Scale:

–2 –1 0 +1 +2
Very negative impact Modest negative impact No impact Modest positive impact Very positive impact

Using this rating scale, students might rate an action such as wiretapping as a +1.

Invite students to consider perspectives on a question such as "Are there ever times when it is appropriate to violate liberal principles/values?"

Participate in a U-shaped discussion
Invite students to participate in a U-shaped discussion on the question "Should we be more or less liberal in our responses to contemporary issues?"

See U-shaped Discussion (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

As an alternative or subsequent activity, students could prepare a written response on the issue. You may want to adapt one of the charts and the rubric in Justifying My Choice (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.

Last updated: January 30, 2009 | (Revision History)
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