Editor's Notebook

By Simpson, Michael | Social Education, September 2004 | Go to article overview
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Editor's Notebook


Simpson, Michael, Social Education


A CLOSELY FOUGHT ELECTION, such as the contest we anticipate this year, puts the social studies classroom "at center stage" in schools and offers many unrivaled teachable moments to ensure that our future voters understand the principles and practices of democracy. Much of this issue consists of a special section that will help teachers educate students about the elections.

Syd Golston leads the section off with a general overview of the most effective strategies for getting students interested, informed, and involved in the electoral process. Making the point that no future voter should be left behind in understanding our electoral process, she recommends activities ranging from the evaluation of debates to service learning projects that bring out the vote.

After the election of 2000, the Electoral College is sure to be a subject that looms large in classrooms across the country this fall. David Dulio and the staff of the National Student/Parent Mock Election present basic information about the distribution of electoral votes among states this year, and stress the importance of the "swing states." They suggest classroom activities that will help make students avid watchers of the state-by-state results on November 2.

Two special Social EDUCATION features look at the importance of the presidential debates and voter turnout among young people. Our "guide to the presidential debates" provides the background to the debates and explains their carefully constructed format. Special tips for teachers suggest ways of getting the most out of debate watching. The feature on voter turnout examines the low incidence of voting among the younger age groups, and compares overall voter turnout in the United States with that in other countries. Experienced social studies teachers share their best strategies for encouraging young people to register, get interested in the campaign, and then vote on election day.

Appeals by the presidential candidates to different sets of social values will play a major role in the upcoming election. C. Frederick Risinger underlines the difficulty of discussions of values in the classroom, pointing out that, "in a presidential election year, some teachers would just as soon avoid the controversy that might ensue from heated arguments in the classroom and, even more frightening, among parents who might learn about the discussions from students." (330) The values debate is, however, too important for teachers to avoid, and he recommends websites that will help examine it in the classroom.

This issue of SOCIAL EDUCATION marks the inauguration of a new column, "Democracy Education," edited by Diana Hess, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who can draw on many years of prior experience as a classroom teacher. She discusses the benefits of inviting local, state and federal office holders and political activists to the classroom, and argues that guest speakers are most effective if they engage in interactive lessons rather than speeches or lectures. Teachers will value her strategies for maximizing interaction during class visits.

Two articles in this issue examine the challenges and rewards of teaching younger students about the presidency and presidential elections. S. Kay Gandy outlines a set of ten classroom-tested lessons on the election process that are taken from her own experience as a fifth grade teacher (but are also adaptable for a wide range of grade levels).

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