John Oliver in the Classroom


Austin Boynes, Editor

The use of the John Oliver’s show, Last Week Tonight, has become a staple in the journalism class as well as some social studies classes at DeMatha. But what do the students and teachers think about watching John Oliver as a learning tool as well as something entertaining to watch during class?

Mr. Scott Sicko is a social studies teacher here at DeMatha and discovered the show by researching different government topics. Mr. Sicko says when “covering any topic in class, I usually try to find a wide range of materials for students and this includes videos.” He enjoys letting his students watch the show because he “finds that learning is the most fun when you are entertained.” Also, Oliver, being a comedian, “brings humor into the learning process and helps to keep students engaged.”

He sees Oliver as a learning tool because “he also does an excellent job of covering issues that are not always widely talked about in detail. We will see headlines about different issues or topics, but Oliver will take time to discuss specifics and back up these stories with evidence. He cites all of his sources which is great for students to see and this evidence is a great foundation for students to develop an understanding about a given topic.”

When choosing a segment during class, Mr. Sicko says that none stand out in particular, but he also states that “I usually find that my personal favorites for class change from year to year depending on what issues most excite students and/or are hot topics in the news.”

Mr. Joseph Raymond, another social studies teacher and a DeMatha graduate of the class of 2002, discovered John Oliver while watching The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and since Oliver got his own series in 2014 on HBO, he says, “I’ve watched it pretty consistently.”

Mr. Raymond lets the students watch the show “because I believe his use of humor can make a topic more interesting.” His goal is to allow his students to be “more engaged on a topic that they read about or that we discussed and after seeing his comedic spin on it, understand it or retain it more.” He also believes that there is a similarity in what he teaches to what Oliver teaches as he states that “many of the topics he covers relate directly to content we are covering in classes that I teach or have taught. I’ve used his pieces in AP Human Geography and in Government classes that I have taught.” One segment that he has used the most in his classes is one on Gerrymandering.

Senior Thomas Krukar, the editor-in-chief of the Stagline, likes watching John Oliver because of his “incorporation of humor into his lectures and discussions about important political issues.” Thomas believes that we live in a time where news outlets are “full of negativity, so it can sometimes be hard to look at the bright side of things when we think about current world issues.” John Oliver “reminds us not to take things too seriously, which is very important to remember as society grows to be more politically charged.”

Thomas finds himself to be “more educated in areas that I never thought I’d know anything about, such as cybersecurity.” He believes “journalists need to be educated in a wide range of topics, as it helps one better inform their readers.”

Thomas doesn’t always agree with Oliver’s opinions. “There are times when I feel like he has been dangerously biased in terms of misrepresenting facts and ignoring reality. But John Oliver is certainly not the only political figure guilty of this, and just because I disagree with the things he says doesn’t mean I won’t watch him, and it doesn’t mean his lectures can’t educate me on topics that I’m unfamiliar with.”

He believes that teachers should definitely “consider showing John Oliver to their students if one of his segments pertains to a lesson being taught in class.” He adds to this saying, “I would encourage teachers to also find alternative viewpoints different from John Oliver’s if they plan on showing [Oliver] to their students, or at least discuss possible counter-arguments to what John Oliver is saying.”

Thomas states that Mr. Puffett has done “an excellent job of addressing counterarguments and different opinions in response to John Oliver’s segments.” He adds that “as long as both sides are being discussed and heard, I think John Olivers’ videos are a good learning tool for students.”