Since the beginning of January, my students have been learning about the Industrial Revolution. In the past few lessons, we have had a discussion about capitalism versus the rise of socialism and communism. Often when students read about communism, they think either think it sounds fantastic, or go off of the few extremist views of communism and say it’s the worst thing ever. These opinions are almost always accompanied by a lack of true understanding. As a teacher (and a person in general), one of my biggest goals is to impress upon people the need to have intelligent thoughts behind their opinions. So, in order to provide my students with an up close and personal experience with communism, we played a little game. Now this activity has been published in several places, so I don’t feel all that comfortable giving credit anywhere, but a quick Google search should find you with several other sources.
First, I gave Hershey’s Kisses out to all of the students. Some of the students were given more, to simulate how capitalism can sometimes provide some people with advantages before they are even born. The students were then told to play Rock, Paper, Scissors against each other. Each time you won, you took a piece of candy from the loser. Play continued until we have a handful of people without any candy, as well as some people who have quite a collection.
Play is then stopped, and we make the comparison that the game was similar to the free market. Some people make money, some people lose money. In the process, many people become completely broke. In a truly capitalistic society, no one is there to give you a handout if you lose everything. Now, there were a few people who would give their friend one of their pieces, and these we compared to charitable organizations. We heard many people asking for candy from others, and other people being very greedy with their candy. We pointed out these sentiments so that students could see some of the problems with capitalism. We then polled the students on whether they were happy or not with their results. The class was split about half and half, with the majority of those who were happy being the ones that still had candy.
We then enforced socialism, saying that everything needed to be fair. We took candy from those who had lots and gave it to those who had little or none. We then polled the students on their satisfaction with this scenario. The results were about the same but opposite, as those who now had candy were awfully happy. We even got to see some of the shortcomings of socialism – complaining among those who had candy, even some of the students hiding candy in their desk so they didn’t have to share.
We then went on to question the students about their interest in playing the game again. Most people said no, which we said symbolized the goal of socialism: for people to be happy sharing what they have with others. We pointed out, however, that some students were still greedy and were actively looking to take from their neighbors. These people, we said, would cause the whole system to collapse.
We then made comparisons to the current economic system in the US, mentioning things like welfare, Social Security, and more. We even got into a little discussion of capitalism in our country and how those that have a lot (Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, etc.) have so much more than we do that it’s hard to comprehend. While we are not economic experts and didn’t go into too much detail, it did give us a great opportunity to make some connections to some very important ideas, as well as mix in a few current events.
This is a great activity, and if you teach anything about communism or socialism, it should happen in your class. The students stay incredibly engaged, they get to experience true emotions that help them to see the benefits and faults of the various systems, and they get candy at the end. What’s not to like?