Stand Up and Be Counted

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An important date awaits in April, and it’s coming sooner than April 15.

The Census Bureau has designated April 1 as "National Census Day," the date for mailing census forms to bureau offices. Households that don’t get their forms sent off by then will get a visit from a census taker.

The goal, of course, is to account for every person who lives in the United States. Census figures determine congressional representation, affect the distribution of federal funds and drive state and local planning.

The U.S. Constitution requires that a census be taken, and this offers educators an opportunity to teach students about civic duties at the core of representative government. But these lessons must go beyond the classroom. Many parents fear the census. That is especially true in immigrant communities where people struggle with English. Tell your students and tell their parents that it’s important to fill out census forms or open the door for the census taker. Also, make it clear that this is safe. The information is confidential and cannot be shared with any other government agency, including tax or immigration authorities.

One of the biggest myths about the census is that non-citizens are not supposed to be counted. In fact, the Constitution requires a count of all people living in the United States, and census forms don’t ask about immigration or citizenship status. In the census, everyone present must be accounted for. Turning in census forms is vital for all people of color because the data is used to enforce civil rights laws. Census data is instrumental in protecting voting rights and gauging the effectiveness of equal opportunity employment programs.

The 2010 census is also the younger generation’s best chance to get what it deserves. Kids in second grade today will be entering college when the next census rolls around. But will there be enough college seats? Will those students get the school funding they deserve?  Planning takes time. But it also takes accurate information. Many people don’t realize how much is riding on what looks like another piece of junk mail. Help kids understand. Help their families stand up and be counted.

Educators looking to teach about the census can find lesson plans on the Census Bureau’s site. These standards-based K-12 lessons can be used in social studies, history, geography and writing classes. So can these teaching ideas. And Teaching Tolerance offers several of its own census-related lessons. You can check them out here.