In 2004, I wrote a column on the primary elections and another column focusing on American values and their role in the general election that year. One of my favorite columns to research and write was on presidential elections in song, verse, commercials, and more, written just prior to the 2004 election. This is the fourth election-related column I've written. As might be expected, some of the websites I've described in earlier columns appear in this column dealing with the November mid-term elections. There are some sites that one simply cannot leave out.
Mid-term elections do not dominate the news media as much as general elections (thankfully). Yet they can be just as important in shaping both domestic and foreign policy. They are particularly important with a lame-duck president and a vice president who has asserted that he will not run. Political pundits will have a field day--or a "field year--"beginning at the closing of the polls on November 7. Candidates for both the U.S. House and Senate, state governors, and many other offices are already trying to gauge public opinion regarding the Iraq War, the war on terror, the immigration debate, and social "value-laden" issues. Potential presidential candidates of both major parties (and of other parties) will be feverishly trying to define what the American public says in this year's off-year elections. Already some Republican leaders are beginning to edge away from President Bush on the issue of the Iraq War, while others are pressing the president to take a more aggressive stance on restricting immigration.
Currently, many national and statewide polls are predicting Democratic victories in several states, perhaps enough to switch control of the House to the Democrats. That would be a huge stumbling block for President Bush's plans to change social security, and would further complicate the debate about immigration reform.
For social studies educators, midterm elections pose a problem. While most agree that they are important--particularly this year--it's more difficult to generate student interest and enthusiasm when there is no presidential contest. Teachers have to determine if they can somehow link lesson plans and student activities on the election to local, state, and national standards and to the misconceived No Child Left Behind Act. Some may simply give up and follow standards such as this Illinois middle school standard for election processes: "Compare historical issues involving rights, roles and status of individuals in relation to municipalities, states and the nation." I'm not picking on Illinois. To me, all standards sound a lot like this one. However, a creative, determined social studies teacher can find a way to create assignments and student projects using the 2006 off-year elections that does help students meet this standard. Otherwise, can we really live up to the challenge of preparing students for effective, participatory citizenship in a democracy?
One way to teach about the midterm elections in middle or high school social studies would be to develop individual or group assignments that focus on state issues and candidates in the state where the students live. The class can examine national issues by having student groups follow another state's election, or individual candidates who are in the news. For example, will Arizona Senator John McCain's support for the war weaken him in the race for the 2008 presidential election? Or will Hillary Clinton win big enough in New York to make her the odds-on favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008? Students working in groups on specific states, or races within those states, will gain a much broader understanding of issues in other parts of the country. With student reports--or better yet, a student-developed newspaper or website--they can really get a sense of what issues are important throughout the nation.
Major issues can also be the focus of student assignments and group assignments. …