A Real-Life Learning Opportunity

Recently, I saw posts from educators on Twitter about whether teachers should be discussing the Presidential election with their students. Would parents consider it a controversial subject, and would they be offended if their children came home with a different viewpoint from theirs? Our elections are an essential component of our democracy; we have the right to choose our leaders by exercising our right to vote. We need to cherish that right, one which citizens in other countries might not have. I believe that schools and teachers should be able to discuss the election without being political. The teacher needs to be the moderator, pushing students to ask questions, to research and to discuss their findings with their peers, and to think beyond their own selves in order to make an informed decision. 

Last week, like many Americans across our country, I was glued to the TV and my phone watching the election results. This was a new experience for me; now that I am retired, I could literally watch  the news 24/7 if I wanted to. It was exhausting but also eye-opening. Upon reflection, I realize how we often teach about elections on a surface level. We have information about the winners and losers, but we might not look at the history, or the different issues prevalent at that moment in time, or delve deeper to determine why a candidate won or lost. 

On Tuesday evening, the night of the election, our son called me from the mainland where he lives. It was past midnight for him, and he said, “Mom, I think Joe Biden is going to win Georgia.” I looked at the map and the vote totals and asked him incredulously why he thought so. He then explained the data, and although it made sense, it didn’t seem probable at the time. After that, I started clicking on the interactive maps on my iPad or iPhone and listened more carefully to experts like John King or Stephen Kornacki who were able to dig into the weeds to predict the trends and results for different states. I will never look at an election in quite the same way again, and as it turned out, our son’s prediction might be right. Joe Biden is leading in Georgia although it has not yet been called.

Teachers can use real-life situations such as elections to engage students in their own learning. Start with questions from students and as they do their research and discuss their findings, more questions will arise. As students learn more, they should be addressing essential standards in language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science. Through this process, they are also learning important skills such as listening respectfully to different viewpoints before making a decision, asking questions for clarification, learning to distinguish between an opinion and a fact, or how data can be used to make projections. They will be more aware of issues that impact us now and in the future and may realize why people in different areas of the country might have conflicting priorities. 

It’s never too early to start. I remember our kindergarteners having an election for their favorite cookie. The students made posters, wrote persuasive speeches, and then they voted. I can’t remember which cookie won, but it was the process that was important.  Students in Hawaii and around the nation participated in Kids Voting even during this pandemic. Young activists are getting involved in issues that concern them and sharing their messages. We need to encourage them to continue to be engaged in our civic processes.

We need an informed citizenry, and our students are future voters. Rather than learning civics education through textbooks, schools can use real-life issues, including elections, as learning opportunities for students to delve deeper before making a decision.