Friday, November 7, 2008

Citizenship in the classroom

This past week we witnessed history in the making. Not only did we have record turnouts for an election but we also elected our first African American President. I will be honest and say this makes me proud to be a citizen of this county. I hope that you took part in the election by voting, volunteering for your candidate, and possibly hosting a mock election in your classroom or school (if you work in the education field). I held one in my tech classes and the school did one on Election Day. The comments by the kids were both interesting and insightful.

I like talking with students about election time about their thoughts and feelings. In the past many really didn't care about what was going on and wondered why I was even bothering to do a mock election (although they sometimes wonder why we do anything but play games and chat). During this lesson/time I encounter all sorts of comments and reasons for supporting candidates. These comments range from those students who choose their candidates based on what parents/guardians have said, to the more informed ones, to my favorite (and new this year) reason of "I am voting for him because he is hot!" There are the usual arguments/discussions about the popular candidates in which I need to step in to make sure feelings are not hurt and political neutrality is respected. There are all during all this I have to very artfully dodge the question of who I am voting for, although it does lend itself to a nice discussion about privacy and why voting is done in private. It is an interesting time during the election process but this year I surveyed my students after the election process on the thoughts, feelings, etc. and received some interesting comments.

I found the comments of students who voted (and those who didn't) to be very interesting and insightful. I asked my kids how they felt and their thoughts about the voting process (regardless of the outcome of the election). Here are some direct quotes:

  • "I didn't vote because I knew it wouldn't have an effect"
  • "I didn't get any of the candidates"
  • "It was frustrating having to register" (I use a website that requires a simple registration process)
  • "What are initiatives?"
  • "Why were all the drop outs listed on the ballot?"
  • "I wish I would have had more information" (Even after pointing out where they voters pamphlet was)
  • "I gave up after X position because it took too long"
  • "I was sick so I didn't get a chance to vote, Can I still cast my ballot?"
  • "What is a Superintendent of Public Instruction?"

What I found interesting about these comments is that I could relate each one to a frustration or reason one of us would give for being frustrated with the voting process. It lead to some great discussion on voting and why it is important to vote. This eventually led to the topic of them being just students who couldn't vote so why should they care. In talking about this I encouraged them to find ways to get involved with the political process whether it be something simple like talking to their family members, to running for an ASB office, or something more advanced like starting up a club. It will be interesting to see what grows out of this simple lesson.

I am curious to hear from you how you worked this year's election into your teachings?