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“Anarchy Dr. Beach…Anarchy.”

One of the first questions I pose to the freshmen in my American Government & Citizenship class each fall is, ‘what is the purpose/role of government?’  Their answers never disappoint – here’s a brief, paraphrased list of some of the more interesting responses:

  1. “Government is supposed to make our lives better but all they do is argue so nothing gets done.”
  2. “I think the role of government is to make sure we have parks and libraries and stuff.”
  3. “I think government is what they do in Washington, D.C.”
  4. “My dad said all the government does is tax you and waste money.”
  5. “Doesn’t government take care of our schools and roads?”

I started this year by looking back at 2013, and selecting the ‘Scenes from My Classroom,’ in an effort to reflect on significant images which helped me grow as a teacher and professional.  This image is a reminder to me of where students begin as they construct their learning.

As the students discuss the purpose/role of government, I often ask the obvious follow-up question: ‘What if we didn’t have government?  What would our lives be like?  What is the absence of government called?’  Occasionally some students know the definition of the absence of government – anarchy.

For some students, anarchy is a fun word.  They like the sound of it or perhaps they associate it with rock music or the television drama, Sons of Anarchy.  Whatever the case, upon further questioning, it’s clear that students haven’t truly thought about the consequences of the complete absence of government in our lives, such as complete lawlessness and a survival of the fittest culture.

This lesson is a reminder to me about how students construct their learning.  Throughout the conversation (the purpose/role of government) I watch students as they wrestle with their preconceived ideas of government and compare them against the thoughts and feedback being contributed by their peers.

Students are then asked to analyze in writing, the roles of government, and their responses often reveal a shift in their thinking from the initial discussion.  Where the concept of ‘anarchy’ was initially a “cool idea,” this particular student now fears the idea of lawlessness: “Anarchy, Dr. Beach…Anarchy.”