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Bringing the Election to the Classroom

By Kim Korona

With elections, I think there are three important things to address with youth. First, we want to teach them the history and value of voting. We should also consider how this election is affecting them. Lastly, we should educate them on the current topics being covered in the election and provide them with opportunities to research the candidate’s positions.

As humane educators, I think it is our duty to help youth connect what we teach to the election. We educate youth on issues related to human rights, animal protection, and environmental ethics. We discuss with them how they can make changes in their own lives to make a difference, but we also want them to be aware of how laws have an impact on these issues. When youth decide how they think and feel about these issues, it can help them decide which candidates most align with their opinions and who will work towards creating policies they support.

1.) The History and Value of Voting

We can always teach youth about the history and value of voting in the United States. However, during a presidential election year, it becomes such a prevalent topic in our everyday lives that it is a particularly prime opportunity to bring up these issues. During a presidential election season, students can easily make real world connections between learning about the history and value of voting to its relevancy to their own lives.

Consider educating youth on past and present voting laws. Discuss how those laws have evolved over time, including the sacrifices that people made to gain the right to vote. Discuss the struggles that African Americans, women, youth, and Indigenous people went through to gain the right to vote.

This time is also a perfect opportunity to teach youth about previous presidential candidates, their positions, and how current laws and people’s lives are affected by their policies and the decisions that they made. Explain how voting today can have the same implications for students’ futures and their children’s futures. Consider asking them to choose a political topic that has been discussed in the debates and predict what the country would be like if either candidate was able to implement their policies.

Let students know that elections are about more than the choice for president, as well. Ask students to research their local election to find out what else is being voted on such as the legislature, judges, and school board, as well as any proposals.

2.) How the Election Affects Youth

This election has caused a lot of stress to adults, and we must wonder how some of the campaign messages this year are affecting children, as well. In the second debate, one concerned voter even raised the question, “Do you feel you are modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today’s youth?”. It is not surprising that this question was asked, as many people are likely concerned that there has not been a lot of appropriate behavior modeled for youth. Not only has this election cycle been filled with critiques of candidates because of opposing policy positions, but with outright name calling, racial insults, and even the instigation of violence. The organization, Teaching Tolerance, surveyed 2,000 teachers, and they found extremely concerning results. Educators shared that “the campaign is: eliciting fear and anxiety among children of color, immigrants and Muslims; emboldening students to mimic the words and tone of the campaign; and disrupting opportunities to teach effectively about political campaigns and civic engagement.”

To assist educators in addressing these obstacles, Teaching Tolerance developed effective resources for discussing these issues in the classroom. To learn more about some of the negative effects that this election may be having on our youth, read this Time article. The first step in addressing these issues is being aware of them.

3.) The Current Election

There are a lot of strong opinions regarding this election, and youth may wonder what it is all about. While some educators may want to keep the classroom a neutral territory, it is actually a wonderful place to provide youth with a safe space to delve into the issues, to better understand the political parties, and to discover which candidate aligns with their beliefs and values. Once youth have the opportunity to discover these things for themselves, it can lead to a lot of learning opportunities. Allow youth to practice their speaking and listening skills by sharing their opinions and to allow them to learn from one another. Teach them that sharing perspectives does not have to be about changing someone else’s opinion; it can be about understanding someone else’s perspective to gain awareness and to look at an issue from a new point of view. At the same time, encourage youth to enter into dialogue with an open mind, and let them know it is okay to change their opinion if they learn something new. Additionally, through dialogue and understanding various opinions, encourage youth to see if, in some instances, they can find common ground or a compromise that they agree on. It can be challenging, and they may not change their minds, but creating policies and laws starts with working towards a middle ground. To bring all of these topics to your classroom, see this collection of activities and lessons, compiled by the New York Times.

Photo credit: Personalincome.org /www.personalincome.org/vote 

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