After Election Day

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Let’s talk about voting.  

Yesterday, we asked our 65,000 Facebook followers if they had held mock elections in their schools. We heard from one lone voice that reported her middle school had 100 percent turnout. 

I hope that teachers were just too busy – counting mock election ballots, writing lessons, preparing for November tests or responding to Hurricane Sandy – to spend time telling us about how their schools carried out our profound obligation to teach young people about this essential ritual of democracy. 

But a nagging doubt lingers. Over the last few months we’ve heard from too many educators telling us that they dared not talk about the election.  Along with a raft of other topics like gay marriage, abortion and evolution, this year’s presidential contest had become radioactive.  

Today, the election is over. Let’s talk with our students about voting instead.  

Talk with them about why people across the country stood in line for hours to cast a ballot. 

Tell them about the thousands of citizens displaced by Hurricane Sandy who made the effort to vote, often in dark and unheated tents. 

Share what people had to say about voting. 

Show them pictures of voters leaving the polls with “I voted” stickers on their lapels and a look of pride on their faces.  

And read to them Walt Whitman’s Election Day, November, 1884

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite--nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,

Nor Oregon's white cones--nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi's stream:
This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name—the still small voice vibrating—America's choosing day,

(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadrennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d-sea-board and inland-Texas to  Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:) the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.…

Costello is the director of Teaching Tolerance.

Comments

My kids had a mock election

Submitted by Mrs. B on 14 November 2012 - 12:07pm.

My kids had a mock election in class. We assigned electors and voted for candidates with imaginary party names and silly party platforms.

Because I live in rural Montana and would find myself the target of angry parent calls, etc, we focused on the process instead of the issues.

The kids really learned the process and the controversy of the electoral college.

On election day my middle and

Submitted by Becky Pierce on 8 November 2012 - 8:46pm.

On election day my middle and high school students looked at different examples of election mail media that I had collected. They were all negative messages blaming, accusing, belittling or denegrating the opponent. The students first had to identify images that portrayed the opponent in a negative way. (one guy had his face surrounded by mud, another picture showed a bicycle down in the street, an allusion to illegal immigrants with drivers licences running over kids on bikes; I couldn't make this stuff up!) Then the students were asked to identify headlines that smeared or blamed the opponents. They finally identified who paid for the ad, and then they discussed how they could tell who was telling the truth.

I would like to learn more

Submitted by Christine Bush on 8 November 2012 - 2:51pm.

I would like to learn more about the specific pressures and sources of threats teachers felt they faced around the topic of voting, and which suddenly dissipate the day after an election? This doesn't make sense. The essence of teaching voting should be non-partisan and should therefore be uncontroversial.

Cheers,
Christine Bush

Christine, we'd like to hear

Submitted by Maureen Costello on 8 November 2012 - 6:06pm.

Christine, we'd like to hear more too. Over the past few months we've read comments and heard anecdotes to this effect. It's also fitting into a larger pattern -- parents wanting to opt their children out of controversial lessons, or messages from the president -- that we've been seeing for awhile. What we've heard, simply, is that many teachers fear parental complaints around a host of topics that used to be more freely discussed in classrooms.

Nor was I suggesting it would dissipate the day after the election. But I was hoping that no one could object to a lesson or classroom conversation about citizenship.

I live in Southern

Submitted by Frances Goff on 8 November 2012 - 1:53pm.

I live in Southern California, where the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters encourages students to be poll-workers on election day. We adult poll-workers are paid a token stipend for having voters sign the Register, showing them how to use the ink-styluses, providing ballots, helping them put the voted ballots thru the reader, using the audio booth, putting vote-by-mail ballots in the ballot box and processing Provisional voters. To high school students, we provide a kind of Proof of Service so they get school credit for having helped out. We poll-workers get to see first hand how motivated voters are - and Tuesday, those people were MOTIVATED! Democracy is a process and it's fabulous for young kids to learn to participate.

I am an alternative ed high

Submitted by pamela mallory on 8 November 2012 - 11:40am.

I am an alternative ed high school teacher in Lone Pine California. All five of my seniors who were 18 voted for the first time on Tuesday! We took a field trip to the polls took pictures and made it special. Before hand I had them fill out voter registration cards in September and we studied each of the propositions and were well informed about the candidates! all of them said they voted for President Obama except one who chose to vote for Roseanne Barr! It was a great experience for all of us!

How sad that teachers don't

Submitted by Shirley Durr on 8 November 2012 - 8:10am.

How sad that teachers don't talk about the issues of the day -- especially high school level and up. Elections can be valuable teaching opportunities. My high school students are voting for the first time and are excited to talk about issues. Even when I taught junior high at one time, students engaged in the election process, collecting signs and creating presentations about the candidates and issues, learning how to support opinions with facts and read speeches to see how well candidates defended their views, and participating in KidsVoting.

True, all of this requires a great deal of work on the part of the teacher to prepare students for civil discourse, to understand the complexity of points of view and assuring they are in the mix, all while remaining objective and not unduly influencing how students express their opinions.

In 2008, I was teaching at an alternative high school for high school drop outs, teens on parole, and young parents. We discussed and wrote about national and local candidates, researched the issues and the candidates' stances, and had voter registration forms at school for those who were eligible (with discussion about eligibility). On election day, students carpooled to the polls after school.

Currently, I teach English at an evening high school diploma program for adults. Some of my students dropped out years ago and returning to school for the diploma they never got. Some are immigrants who missed their opportunity to go to school or finish school in their birth countries -- Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Togo, Ecuador, Paraguay, Ukraine, etc. As a school, we watched all three Presidential debates live. Listening skills is high on my list of objectives. We learned how they differ among themselves on social issues (immigrants and New Americans tend to be conservative on issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and crime.) yet can support the same candidates. Point of view is also on my list of my teaching objectives. My newspaper class wrote and conducted a survey and tallied the results for making charts that went along with articles for our November issue. Chart reading is one of my students' difficulties on state required tests.

Students engaged me in conversation outside the classroom, trying to discern my choices. I just kept telling them that my vote is private as theirs is. All of my students were pumped about the American election process which in the case of new Americans was different from what they were used to. Comparison and contrast is a top level reading/writing skill I teach.

After election day, everyone wanted to talk about the election results. Follow-up! Don't teachers love follow-up? Students who had been involved in elections in their home countries sometimes compared their American experience to their previous experiences (or lack of).

The election didn't consume our time but I used it when I could to re-enforce skills I was already teaching. I couldn't stop students from talking about the election. Why not use their enthusiasm to teach skills?

How sad that some teachers are in circumstances where they would rather avoid this.

I'm not on facebook so I

Submitted by James Pearn on 8 November 2012 - 7:12am.

I'm not on facebook so I didn't have a chance to respond. I teach American History & World History to 9th & 10th graders. I did not have a mock election in my classes. Instead, in response to multiple questions of "Are you a Democrat or Republican?" or "Are you voting for Obama or Romney" I did two activities. First, I did a short lesson with powerpoint about the electoral college, with emphasis on how every vote matters. At the end of the lesson I invited my students to enter two contests-an electoral vote prediction contest & a color a map on election night (who says you have to use red & blue). My second lesson was on political behavior-what factors influence our political choices. At the end of the lesson the students asked me questions about my background, education, etc. and tried to predict what political party I belong to & whom I would vote for. On Wednesday I polled my classes on who they thought I voted for and then revealed the big answers. I found it engaged the students in the election and we had some fun along the way!