Teaching About Cancel Culture

Introduction

The meaning of the term “cancel culture” is widely debated. Put simply, cancel culture is “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure” (Merriam-Webster). The debate, however, lies in whether “cancel culture” is truly “accountability culture” or bullying on a larger scale. In general, liberals tend to view cancel culture as a way to hold people of power accountable, while conservatives see the phenomenon as harmful and dangerous, but this is not always the case. By teaching students about cancel culture, educators are not only helping students understand cancel culture in the media but also giving them the chance to form their own opinions about the practice.

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching about cancel culture. With students seeing people being canceled on social media left and right, this may serve as a good opportunity for them to learn about why people may support or disapprove of this practice. Because there are opposing views on the meaning of cancel culture and its implications, there are articles provided for both sides of the argument. 

Lesson Plans

  1. How Do You Feel About Cancel Culture?: This student opinion from the New York Times encourages students to consider how they feel about cancel culture, specifically whether they think public call-outs are an effective way to hold others accountable for their harmful actions or if it is better to call them in and work toward a resolution. After a brief introduction, students will read the article “Tales From the Teenage Cancel Culture” and then participate in a discussion guided by the questions provided about their opinions on cancel culture and its overall impact!

Articles

Both Sides of Cancel Culture 

  1. Americans and ‘Cancel Culture’ – Where Some See Calls for Accountability, Others See Censorship, Punishment: The Pew Research Center has compiled research on Americans’ opinions of cancel culture. The article provides statistics on who’s heard of cancel culture, how Americans define cancel culture, whether calling people out on social media represents accountability or unjust punishment, and more related concepts! Educators who want their students to learn about the divide in how Americans view cancel culture should take a look at this resource!
  2. Why We Can’t Stop Fighting About Cancel Culture: Vox has published an article explaining why we can’t stop fighting about cancel culture. The piece starts off by discussing how to many, cancel culture is an important tool of social justice, but to others, it is considered a mob mentality. It then goes on to talk about the origins of cancel culture, the impact (or lack thereof) being cancelled has on celebrities’ careers, and what the debate around cancel culture is really about.
  3. The Second Wave of “Cancel Culture”: Vox offers an article discussing the second wave of cancel culture, which talks about how the concept has evolved to mean different things to different people. The article focuses on how conservatives are using fear of cancel culture, the fact that few canceled public figures suffer major career setbacks, what the debate around cancel culture is ultimately about, and how cancel culture is becoming culturally and politically entrenched.
  4. The Mental Health Effects of Cancel Culture: Verywell Mind provides an article on the mental health effects of cancel culture. The article discusses what cancel culture is, the origin of cancel culture, mental health effects of cancel culture, and how to protect your mental health. For educators who want their students to understand the possible negative consequences cancel culture may have on a person’s mental health, this article will be very helpful!
  5. Cancel Culture – Have Any Two Words Become More Weaponised?: BBC has published an article that discusses how the term “cancel culture” has become weaponized in modern times. The article provides a brief introduction to cancel culture and takes a look at a few recent examples of the phenomenon, including Donald Trump’s Twitter exile, a New York Times writer’s ‘intent,’ Marjorie Taylor Greene’s slippery slope, and Abhraham Lincoln High School no more.

Cancel Culture as a Detriment

  1. Speak Truth – Cancel Culture: InspiredTeaching provides a brief article in which the author discusses how a group of high school students gathered shortly after the election to talk about cancel culture. Their discussion centered around the definition of cancel culture, the effectiveness of the approach, whether an apology is enough, and the implications for their generation. This resource will benefit students greatly by helping them understand how some students their own age view the issue at hand!
  2. Obama on Call-Out Culture: ‘That’s Not Activism’: The New York Times provides an article explaining Obama’s view on cancel culture after an interview he gave about youth activism at the Obama Foundation summit. According to Obama, calling out people is not activism because it is not bringing about change in any way. In addition to discussing this concept, the article offers the responses of a few politicians’ (both conservative and liberal) to give readers an idea of how his comments sat with people.
  3. When Republicans Attack ‘Cancel Culture,’ What Does It Mean?: npr offers an article that explains what it means when Republicans attack cancel culture. In general, Republicans tend to oppose cancel culture and use the term to criticize the left. Therefore, this article (which is also available in the form of an audio recording) discusses where the term “cancel” came from, cancel culture and the GOP’s future, and linguistic evolution and devolution.
  4. One Way Forward – From A Cancel Culture To An Accountable Culture: Forbes offers an article focusing on how we need to move from a cancel culture to an accountable culture. In this article, the author talks about their experience with being canceled and ultimately losing a job over it, leading into a discussion about the dangers of cancel culture. Then, the author shifts into explaining how we move toward a culture of accountability in the future!

Cancel Culture as Accountability

  1. It’s Time to Cancel This Talk of “Cancel Culture”: CNN provides a brief article discussing why it is time to cancel this talk of cancel culture. The article argues that cancel culture, as it is understood today, is not real and the concept is a way to distract from actual systemic forces of suppression. It explains why people are almost never canceled, how we have seen this before in history, and the fact that there are things that cancel culture does not fight for.
  2. So You’re Being Held Accountable? That’s Not ‘Cancel Culture.’: The Washington Post has published an article explaining how being held accountable for actions is not cancel culture. In this article, the author discusses how public figures have been “cancelled” for their actions and details a recent conversation with a leading First Amendment lawyer and scholar. For educators who want their students to learn about the connection between cancel culture and the First Amendment, this article will be helpful!
  3. Cancel Culture Is Not Real—At Least Not in the Way People Think: Time offers an article discussing why cancel culture is not real, at least not in the way people think. The author explains why cancel culture is a “catch-all for when people in power face consequences for their actions or receive any type of criticism.” She not only uses current events but also draws from personal experiences with cancel culture to help readers understand why cancel culture is not what we think it is.

Informational Sites

These two sites will give students and educators alike a decent understanding of how cancel culture is officially defined.

  1. Dictionary.com – What Does Cancel Culture Mean?
  2. Merriam Webster – Definition of Cancel Culture

Conclusion

Teaching students about cancel culture may not be an easy task, especially since students, like the rest of the public, will most likely have different opinions on the practice. Regardless of what students’ opinions are on cancel culture, it is important to emphasize that bullying is never okay. Holding people accountable for their actions is important, but we should do so in a way that does not attack or demean them on a mass scale.

Additional Resources

  1. ProCon.org – Is Cancel Culture (or “Callout Culture”) Good for Society?: ProCon.org provides an overview, pro/con arguments, discussion questions, and a “take action” for the question of whether cancel culture is good for society.
  2. GOP Targets ‘Cancel Culture’ in School Lessons, Political Speech: Though most discussions center on people losing their positions because of controversial/offensive comments, in other cases the term is used to describe the attempts of people of color, historians, and others to highlight racist beliefs and actions of historical figures and remove that which honors them. Therefore, this article from PEW discusses how the GOP is against the “cancellation” of American history and the difference between being cancelled and called out.

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