the political compass test & reflection Essay

To persuade readers with their values, students first need to know what those values are


In public discourse, facts alone are not enough to persuade others. You need to explain why those facts are significant and meaningful in light of your values. When I assigned persuasive essays, my students often submitted drafts that were expository. They were comfortable explaining the facts surrounding an issue, but not why that information mattered.

 

This was often because they didn't know what their values were, or at least could not articulate those values. As a result I created an assignment to help them reflect upon and articulate their beliefs about public policy, governance, and society. 


The Assignment

Rather than the misleadingly simplistic left-right dichotomy, the Political Compass Test reveals how political beliefs exist on a spectrum of many possibilities. For this assignment, students take the test at www.politicalcompass.org, which graphs their political ideology on a coordinate plane. Next, students copy that graph, paste it into a document, and write a reflection essay. 

 

In the essay students reflect upon what the test reveals about them and attempt to articulate and explain their values. After taking the test they might ask themselves the following questions as prompts for reflection:

  • Were you surprised by the results? Why or why not?
  • Do you think the score accurately reflects your political views? Why or why not?
  • Do you consider yourself a conservative but the test said you were centrist or liberal (or vice versa)? Why might that be?
  • How do you define the terms conservative, liberal, libertarian, et cetera? How does the test define them?
  • Might people use the terms conservative, centrist, liberal, libertarian, et cetera in ways that have nothing to do with actual public policy positions?
  • If you took the test in high school, has your score/result changed? If so, why? If not, why?
  • Did you understand all the questions? Which ones were confusing and why? What does your confusion reveal about you?
  • Where do your political values come from? Who or what taught you those values?
  • Do you hold different values today than what you were taught?
  • When did you first start thinking about politics? Why? What happened?

     

  • Do your religious beliefs inform your political values?
  • Has your race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, immigration status, et cetera informed your political values?
  • Have books, movies, or television taught you political values?

Important note to students:  The questions above are meant to get you thinking and reflecting. They are a beginning, not an end. Your essay should not answer the questions one by one or explicitly answer them. Do so and you will not receive credit for the assignment because that is not the assignment. The assignment is reflect upon what the test reveals about you, to articulate your values and beliefs, and demonstrate critical and creative thinking. It is not to provide short answers to prompts.


common problems

 

Some students don't understand the questions

The test uses vocabulary and expressions simple enough for high school students yet I always had students who did not know basic concepts like "an eye for an eye." I began having students take the quiz in class after I found out they chose answers at random just to move to the next question when they didn't understand something. Obviously that skews the test results and renders the exercise meaningless. In class students were allowed to ask me to define a term or explain a question, and I would do so in the most neutral, accurate way possible as to not sway their answer.

 

Some students see political identity as strictly cultural

The test defines one's political identity based on answers to questions about public policy. The test is not interested in whether you drive a pickup rather than an EV, listen to country and not rap, or prefer Bud Light over import beers. Some of my students, all of them self-identified conservatives, seemed not to have given much thought to public policy and instead saw politics strictly through a cultural lens. They called themselves conservative because of they wore certain clothes, drove a particular kind of vehicle, et cetera. They were insulted when the Political Compass Test identified them as something other than conservative. One student said to me, "I think this test is designed to trick conservatives into thinking they are liberals." I asked that student questions 4 and 5 from the prompts above but more fundamentally this student had a simple, binary worldview which was colliding the complexities and nuances of both the world and themselves. If these students are earnest in their reflection this assignment can lead to a great deal of self-discovery.