It’s Sunday night and I’m previewing the news summary from the PBS Newshour. The ritual has taken place nearly every night for my entire eleven years of teaching; an idea that I got from my old Social Studies teachers Carol Kirk and Rex Moseley from the Paradise High School days. The students watch the news (except APUSH, no time) every morning (about 4-7 minutes) and on occasion a gem shows up in the focus stories. Tonight will be a gem night.
At the very beginning of the Newshour there is a preview of the entire program and I notice a story that mentions a popular American girl in China.
Hmmmm. Could be interesting for AP Comparative Government. China from an American point of view. I’ll check it out.
After the news summary I fast forward to the last part of the show and find the story when my television screen is assaulted by a peppy blond girl who looks fifteen and speaks Mandarin Chinese and English.
What in the hell is this?
It’s a total Spock eyebrow raising experience that has my complete and total attention. The blond is 25 year old Jessica Beinecke, a college graduate who decided to make a series of web videos that teaches people in China how speak American slang. She produces them in her dining room and the web sensation has gone big-time viral in China.
Not gonna work for Comp Gov. It’s about her, not really about China. But wait a minute. Human capital…entrepreneurial spirit…something is here. I’m smelling an economics lesson.
We finished our Factors of Production segment of Economics but the nice thing about teaching the subject is that everything really nicely ties in with everything else. Our current focus is Economic Systems, and it won’t be hard at all to attach the ideas of the Free Market into Jessica’s use of human capital to meet a demand for American culture. Plus, I’m always looking for examples of positive use of human capital to show students. We are, after all, living in a new economy.
I need a hook. I need a hook. Ok, one of her videos.
Her show is called OMG! Meiyu, or OMG! American English, and the production has an entire Youtube channel dedicated to everything from snot to “crazy fresh” to coffee to boyfriends. What can I get students to be interested in?
Coffee. Yeah, who doesn’t like coffee?
The coffee video is fine, except that I’m teaching Seniors and I want something that might be the slightest bit edgy. I look for another one.
Boyfriends….ahhhhhh dating. The Romance Night video shows promise.
Sure enough the perky blond brings the drama and the teaching to her video Date Night Romance. She talks about a date she took with a guy that involved dinner, a movie, and playing hard-to-get. It’ll be perfect pre-Valentine’s Day fodder.
But I need something else. I need something for the kids to assume in terms of human capital. Introducing the video isn’t inquisitive enough. I need something simpler.
I find a picture of Jessica online that has her looking young, blond, and a tad bit frazzled. Perfect. I bring the picture, bring the Youtube video (3 minutes), and then finish it off with the Newshour clip that talks about Beinecke’s impact within China (about 7 minutes). Will it work?
I wait until the last 17 or so minutes of class as we transition from how human capital is used in different economic systems (traditional, command, market) to a picture of Jessica Beinecke on the projector. The question is simple; based on what you see here, what could this girl’s human capital include? The answers are slow to come out; mainly because it is unusual to see a picture of what appears to be a teenage blond girl on the projector. But eventually they do trickle; she seems to have energy, she seems like a blogger, she looks like she knows the Internet. Then I bring up the video. Jaws drop. The blond is now speaking Chinese and has a video online? Then come more human capital characteristics. She’s bilingual. She knows technology. She can produce videos. She has energy. She’s great with expressions. She’s hygienic. Finally I show the Newshour clip and the whole thing comes together. Jessica is college educated, innovative, and has the kind attitude that is almost addictive. Basically she’s a teacher.
The conversation evolved in some classes into different things like China evolving into a more market-based system, learning Chinese as an element of human capital, and even some conversation about the expansion of American “soft power” to China. And yes, a couple of students initiated the conversation about soft power.
Overall, it worked.