September 15th: International Day of Democracy

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” – George Orwell

Democratic participation, individual freedom and equality are the basis of many societies. Ironically, this can lead to the assumption to take democratic rights for granted. This is exactly where some of the greatest dystopian-fiction literature can help us to understand what we would be missing if we gave up on democracy: George Orwell’s Animal Farm, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Morton Rhue and Todd Strasser’s The Wave or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are stories which have a powerful message to tell about some of our current freedoms, rights and how easily they could be abandoned. If you are looking for a more recent title to explore democracy and the potential loss of it, have a look at Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games or the graphic novel Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Connie Colwell Miller. The later one discovers the history of the civil rights movement in the United States and proves that speaking up and demanding one’s rights can lead to political reforms.

We do hope that you find some inspiration in these suggestions. Also, if you have a text in mind that is suitable for democratic and political education in the EFL classroom, make sure to suggest it.

Thank you and have a beautiful week!

Rico and Simon

“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”
– Walter Cronkite

World Press Freedom Day promotes the belief that freedom of the press and freedom of speech provide a basis for mutual understanding and sustainable peace. “It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom – a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended, and closed down, while journalists, editors, and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.”( And we know, we don’t have to travel to the other side of the earth to experience the oppression of journalism. Only recently, we witnessed what happens with freedom of the press and speech during war. How people were arrested for expressing their opinion and demonstrating on the street. How news agencies were shut down or used for propaganda. And, to be honest, from a completely neutral perspective, this is quite logical when fighting a war. It only makes sense to curtail the very rights democracy is built on: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of movement. Allowing those would hinder a tactical approach because information plays a vital role in the war because the success of the next move depends upon what the enemy knows or doesn’t know. The thing is, just because something is logical under certain circumstances, it isn’t necessarily right, especially when the circumstances themselves are so incredibly condemnable. I’m sure many of you were quite confused as well as to which of the news reports to believe since biased or even false reporting was used for propaganda. And it makes me sad and frustrated and feel helpless that democracy and freedom of speech are the first to die in war.

However, I was pretty surprised last week when I learned that the UK is planning to update its Official Secrets Act in a way that, many journalists would say, restricts the press freedom because it creates a chilling effect for journalists and their sources. Basically, it concerns anyone who discloses or spreads secret information. The Home Office claims that the balance between “serious harm” and freedom of the press needs to be found. “It added that officials and journalists are ‘rarely if ever’ in a position to compare the public interest against the potential damage of publication” (BBC Official Secrets Act). I find this strange because I feel this sounds like the job description of a journalist, this seems to be the reason why the press is also called the fourth estate. I don’t want to dive all too deep into this subject here, also because it goes slightly beyond my field of expertise, but if you’re interested have a listen to the corresponding panel of this year’s Festival of Debate Official Secrecy: How Government Plans Threaten Journalists & Whistleblowers.

Last but not least, a few literature or media suggestions:

Of course, George Orwell’s 1984: here even the freedom of thought is abolished. Need I say more?

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood: It focuses on an enclosed thoroughly regulated system also including illegal and ethically condemnable activities, information is smuggled out and leaked to the press. It might not be the main point of the novel, but still an important aspect.

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden: Since whistleblowing and journalism are closely intertwined, this is a great and valuable book that also gives insights in a process of disclosing secret information.

And believe it or not, Bibi Blocksberg and Benjamin Blümchen: Although they are mainly in German, they serve as a perfect example for explaining press freedom and the role of the press in general to children. It may also be used with older students since it’s unconventional, funny, and very accessible. On a very easy level, it shows the mayor as head of town/government/regime constantly acting selfishly and arbitrarily, more than once upsetting the citizens, and Karla Kolumna the fair and diplomatic reporter keeping him at bay.

Of course, I’m always interested in and open to new suggestions!
Have a wonderful day and care for your freedom of speech by caring for the freedom of speech of others!


You have to take care of democracy. As soon as you stop being responsible to it and allow it to turn into scare tactics, it’s no longer democracy, is it? It’s something else. It may be an inch away from totalitarianism.” – Sam Shepard in The Village Voice, November 17, 2004

Donald Trump has officially left the White House, and President-elect Joseph Robinette Biden and the first female, first African-American, and first Asian-American, vice President-elect Kamala Harris are about to be inaugurated. Breaking tradition, former president and first lady Melania will not be attending the ceremony at the US Capitol, refusing to welcome the 46th president of the United States and his incoming first lady, Jill Biden. To minimize the spread of the coronavirus, hundreds of thousands of American flags, representing the people of America, were placed on the National Mall. Security Measures are high: approximately 25,000 troops of the National Guard, police officers and Feebs firmly confront terrorist threats of the last few days.

The change of government hopefully marks a paradigm shift in US politics: Lies and hateful messages have been spread by the 45th president. America faces challenges from coronavirus to racial inequalities, unemployment, environmental pollution and climate change, healthcare and educational issues, tensions in the transatlantic relations and international alliances that Harrison and Biden need to tackle and aim to overcome. US democracy has been challenged as well and must be restored, renovated and rebuilt by the new administration. What do your pupils think about the current situation in the US? This powerful poetry slam by Prince Ea might fuel your classroom discussion on key issues and future perspectives of the US presidency and politics.

Kind regards and stay safe,


One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” – George Orwell, 1984

On Wednesday, January 6th, 2021, a crowd of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump attempted to overturn his defeat in the presidential election by violently occupying a joint session of Congress, which was about to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. While the rioters violently gained access to the building just after 2:00 pm, the senators and representatives were evacuated. It was about 5:40 pm when the police declared that the Capitol was safe again. In the meantime, the mob had entered the Senate chamber, vandalised and damaged offices, looted belongings of the senators and fought security officers. Shots were fired inside the Capitol, dozens were injured, five people died, including an officer of the Capitol Police. During his speech at the ‘Save America’ rally, which took place beforehand, Trump once again declared that he had won the election and demanded the protesters “[…] to take back our country […]” and to “[…] fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Before breaking into the Capitol, Trump-supporters marched through the streets chanting ‘Hang Mike Pence’ and ‘Fight For Trump’. In response to the riots and Trump’s rather inglorious role in inciting the masses, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump a second time. To prevent Trump from causing further damage, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and other social media platforms permanently suspended his accounts – but a community of alternative social networks already exists. However, June 6th, 2021 marks an assault on US American democracy, an act of domestic terrorism and manipulation, which foregrounds a rather dystopian future: the remaining danger of Trumpist ideology even after the presidency of the man who fostered far-right-wing authoritarian populism and divided the US even more. Two weeks later, the Capitol is getting ready for the Inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, January 20th. Security measures are high: non-scalable fences have been set around the Capitol, security checkpoints and different safety areas installed. FBI, Secret Service, National Guard and Homeland Security are working hand in hand – but they fear an insider threat…

If you are looking for literature and media that cover power abuse, manipulation and ideology, the following works will be useful:

  • T.C. Boyle’s novel The Harder They Come (2015) explores paranoia, ideological obsession and the Sovereign citizen movement – a militant group of people who regard US laws and law enforcement as illegitimate.
  • His novel The Tortilla Curtain (1995) foregrounds the social split in US American society, offering the perspective of Mexican immigrants and the fear, hate and racism against them. 
  • Noughts and Crosses (2001) by Malorie Blackman is a dystopian series of five novels that were adapted into a TV series, which offers perspectives on racism, oppression and the abuse of power.
  • Dave Egger’s The Circle (2013) is a dystopian novel that was adapted into a movie. It explores the danger of a social media company: manipulation, surveillance, data privacy, totalitarianism and indoctrination. 
  • The Wave (1981) by Morton Rhue and Todd Strasser explores the corruption of power, violence and a social experiment that gets out of control.
  • William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) follows a group of teenage boys who, after a plane crash, establish a government on a remote island, which results in a civil war.
  • The film The Hunger Games (2012) by Gary Ross and the novel (2008) of the same name by Suzanne Collins, show the danger and manipulative tendencies of autocratic governments.

Even though we are in distance learning at the moment, I do hope that you find reasons and time to talk with your pupils about these current affairs. Let’s hope for a safe and secure Inauguration Day.