“You Hafta Push”: Using Sapphire’s Novel to Teach Introduction to American Government

“You Hafta Push”: Using Sapphire’s Novel to Teach Introduction to American Government

by Christine Pappas, East Central University

Using fiction in the classroom can dramatize public policy issues and political science concepts, therefore, making them more real and relevant to students. Sapphire’s 1996 novel Push puts a face on welfare, rape, incest, child abuse, educational inequalities, homophobia, and AIDS. I also use this novel to discuss the public policy process, federalism, diversity, and bureaucracy. Push’s main character, Precious Jones is the original child left behind. Drawing on surveys and reaction papers from 176 of my students collected in 2002 and 2004, I conclude that introductory political science students learn more about American government from reading Push than from the traditional lecture format. Women particularly report that Push has helped them learn difficult concepts and that they “learned a lot from the book.” Students who read the book come to empathize with Precious even though they recognize she is very different than they are. Recognition and empathy for those different than us is a key element in citizenship.

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This Educate-JPSE collaboration brings together articles published in the Journal of Political Science Education that discuss classroom approaches related to teaching about race, racism, social justice and civic action. Our reading list offers a range of materials – from syllabi, reading lists to active learning assignments – that discuss classroom practices through the lens of identity, gender and power relations. It includes a model for professors who are interested in partnering with local community activists to design civically engaged courses, with specific examples covering research and organizing around affordable housing issues. 

The Journal of Political Science Education is an intellectually rigorous, path-breaking, agenda-setting journal that publishes the highest quality scholarship on teaching and pedagogical issues in political science. The journal aims to represent the full range of questions, issues and approaches regarding political science education, including teaching-related issues, methods and techniques, learning/teaching activities and devices, educational assessment in political science, graduate education, and curriculum development.