In the good old days, back in January 2007, gas cost just $2.20 per gallon. Your parents might even remember those four months in 1998–1999 when it dropped below $1 per gallon. And your grandparents can likely tell you stories about filling the tank for $5 — or about the cost per gallon in some parts of the U.S. in July 2008. That’s when presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain ran an ad promoting his plan for bringing down the cost of gas. According to McCain, gas prices were high because some politicians still opposed lifting a ban on offshore oil drilling. But McCain’s ad left out some basic facts about offshore drilling. In this lesson, students will examine the facts behind McCain’s false connections.
This lesson comes in a basic version, for classrooms without internet access and/or students at the 8th-9th grade level, and a more advanced version, which does require internet access and is aimed at students at higher grade levels.
In this lesson, students will:
- Examine an ad from John McCain claiming that ending a ban on offshore drilling would have an effect on current gasoline prices.
- Research the offshore drilling process and explore the connections between drilling for oil and current gasoline prices.
- Assess whether McCain is correct to link the ban on offshore drilling with high gas prices.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, had a long-term plan to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil. McCain called his plan The Lexington Project, and one of the features of that plan was to expand domestic oil production. The U.S. does have untapped oil reserves, but some of the largest of those reserves are in the Gulf of Mexico and along both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. In 1990, the first President Bush signed an executive order prohibiting offshore drilling near U.S. coasts. Congress has enacted its own bans on the procedure since 1981. McCain called for lifting those bans. In a July 2008 television ad, McCain said that gas prices – which at the time were over $4 per gallon nationally – were high because “some in Washington were saying no to drilling in America.”
- John McCain 2008 television ad, “Pump.”
- Student Handout #1: John McCain 2008 television ad, “Pump storyboard.”
For basic version:
- Student Handout #2: John McCain, “The Lexington Project.”
- Student Handout #3: Energy Information Administration, “Impacts of Increased Access to Oil and Natural Gas Resources in the Lower 48 Federal Outer Continental Shelf.”
- Student Handout #4: FactCheck.org, “A Full Tank of Nonsense.”
(Advanced version does not require handouts 3-5.)
If you are doing the basic version of the lesson:
- Make packets of Student Handouts #1 and #2. Determine how many packets you will need for small groups of 3 to 5 students each and make a copy for each group. Distribute the packets at the beginning of Exercise #1.
- Make copies of Student Handouts #3 and #4 for each group. Distribute Student Handout #3 at the beginning of Exercise #2.
- Give each group a copy of Student Handout #4 at the end of Exercise #2.
If you are doing the advanced version of the lesson:
- Divide the class into groups of 3 to 5 students each. Distribute a copy of Student Handout #1 to each group.
- Groups will require internet access. Ask students to watch the McCain ad, “Troops” at the beginning of Exercise #1.
- For Exercise #2, students should conduct research on the internet.
Exercise #1 – Asking the Right Questions
To the teacher: The McCain ad asks us to believe that the ban on offshore drilling is causing gas prices to rise. Good reasoners understand that claims have to be backed up by evidence. We have to examine all the facts before we simply accept someone at his or her word. And that means that we have to ask the right kinds of questions: What reasons are being offered for the claims you are being asked to believe? Do those reasons logically support the conclusions? How precise is the language used? Is it based on fact or opinion?
Show students the McCain ad and distribute the packet containing Student Handouts #1 and #2. (If you are doing the advanced version, you will distribute Student Handout #1 only). After students have viewed the ad, divide the class into groups of 3 to 5 students each. If you are doing the basic version of the lesson plan, have the students read Student Handout #2. Otherwise, ask the students to access and read about John McCain’s Lexington Project. Then ask each group to discuss the following questions:
- Why does John McCain think that gas prices are so high? (Note: Press students to be specific here.)
- Does the ad offer any evidence that there is a connection between high gas prices and a ban on offshore drilling?
- Does McCain’s Lexington Project offer any additional reasons for thinking that high gas prices might be linked to bans on offshore drilling?
- How would you go about determining whether or not McCain’s claim is true? What kinds of sources might you use?
Have the groups report their findings back to the class.
Exercise #2 – Cross-checking / Weighing the Evidence
To the teacher: As your students should have discovered in Exercise #1, the McCain ad offers no evidence at all for thinking that lifting the ban on offshore drilling would have any immediate effect on the price of gasoline. There’s good reason why the ad doesn’t offer any such evidence: The claim isn’t true. In this exercise, students will investigate and assess the ad’s central claim about the link between offshore drilling and gas prices.
Have students return to their groups of 3 to 5 students each. If your class is doing the advanced version of the lesson plan, then the research in this section can be done online. If you are following the basic version, pass out Student Handout #3. Then ask each group to answer the following questions:
- How much oil is currently unavailable for drilling due to the current restrictions?
- If the bans were lifted, how soon could oil production start?
- What would be the total increase (per day) in U.S. oil production if the bans were lifted?
- How soon would the new production impact gasoline prices?
- How much impact would the new production have on prices?
- Is McCain right that the ban on offshore drilling is causing the increase in gasoline prices?
Have the students report their findings back to the class. Students can then examine the FactCheck.org article “A Full Tank of Nonsense” (Handout #4) to see whether their assessments agree with FactCheck.org’s. Have the students discuss differences (if any).
About the Author
Joe Miller received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Virginia. He is a former staff writer at FactCheck.org, a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. Before joining FactCheck, he served as an assistant professor of philosophy at West Point and at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where he taught logic, critical thinking, ethics and political theory. The winner of an Outstanding Teacher award at UNC-Pembroke and an Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award at the University of Virginia, Joe has more than 10 years of experience developing curriculum. He is a member of the American Philosophical Association and the Association for Political Theory.
- English Language Arts Standards
- Information Literacy Standards
- National Educational Technology Standard
- National Mathematics Standards
- National Social Studies Standards
- Social Responsibility