The Teachable Moment: Election 2004: Every Social Studies Class Holds Special Importance This Fall. Thoughtful Young Citizens Are Being Formed and in Presidential Election Years, No Future Voter Can Be Left Behind

Article excerpt

THE ORIGINAL IMPETUS BEHIND the creation of free public education was the need for an informed electorate. Social studies stands at center stage every four years in American schools, and in a welcome reversal, English teachers collaborate with us as they assign political topics for essays and term papers. In elementary classrooms, teachers affirm the importance of the election with their bulletin board space, tricolored bordette and all.

Yes, we will teach about the election. But what will we teach? Most importantly, how will we teach it? Charles Quigley, of the Center for Civic Education, describes best practice this way: "Democracy requires citizens with the capacity to inquire, evaluate, advocate, and defend positions on civic matters. Democratic citizens must also learn how to monitor and influence their government in the many ways that are available to them. Development of these capacities requires both attention to appropriate content and the use of methodologies that bring the subject to life and help students develop the necessary intellectual and participatory skills."'

The activities below emphasize active learning and respect for K-12 students as individuals who can indeed inquire, develop an opinion, and even influence the electorate in their own age appropriate ways. A child who can write can help to bring out the vote with a postcard or an e-mail to his grandparent, and a high school student can work at a political headquarters years before she or he can actually cast an official ballot.

Gather and display bi-partisan election materials.

Start the collection off yourself, and then turn the task over to your students, who will enjoy acquiring the colorful posters, buttons, brochures, bumper stickers, flyers, and varied campaign freebies--from pencils to flyswatters. The class bulletin board offers a good introduction to the issues of the campaigns, which the class will soon study in depth. What is the message a candidate seems to repeat in his campaign articles? How is the candidate attacking his opponent, directly or obliquely, in his slogans or brochures?

Subscribe to a set of newspapers for your students.

Use the newspapers for Sustained Silent Reading or for "bell work." You might split the class into two parts, those who will seek out and read articles about the national election, and those who will read about state and local contests. Hundreds of newspapers donate free copies to schools through the Newspapers in Education Program, which you can contact via e-mail ( or by telephone at their headquarters in Michigan (248-879-2133).

Obtain sample ballots for your community, one per student. Review the offices and propositions on the ballot as an excellent introduction to the election. (One caveat: sample ballots may not be available in certain communities, even online, until October.)

Assign one candidate or proposition for each student to investigate and report on. This activity should continue over several weeks before the election, so that each student has "ownership" over a single election race. Give out graphic organizers (charts, diagrams, etc.) for students to use in recording viewpoints and events. During full classroom reports, use organizers to compare candidates on the issues. (Covering the presidential candidates may be shared among several students, a Bush/Cheney group and a Kerry/Edwards group.)

Require all students to watch the televised presidential/vice presidential debates. Hold a classroom debate (secondary students).

Debate dates are:

* Thursday, September 30, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla.

* Tuesday, October 5, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio

* Friday, October 8, Washington University, St. Louis Mo. (Vice Presidential debate)

* Wednesday, October 13, Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz.

The Commission on Presidential Debates publishes, with Kids Voting USA, Debate materials for even the youngest students. …


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