stephanie jones

Rockin’ the Vote! New voters, critical literacies, and K-12 education

In communities, critical literacy, democracy, high school, inquiry, justice, politics, professional development resources, social action on October 7, 2008 at 10:43 pm

The energy is pervasive – conservatives and liberals alike are just buzzing with constant chitter chatter about debates, advertisements, polls, pundits, and SNL.

We keep hearing about historic numbers of new voters being registered across the country (check out this video from Free Speech TV) and this seems to be the perfect time to inject our K-16 education system with some real political education. If every public education student could leave high school understanding the fundamental philosophies (social and economic) of different parties in the U.S. and feeling a sense of urgency regarding political engagement, I’d say we would be heading in the right direction. No wonder we have several generations of politically apathetic folks (including my own generation and many dear friends) – we have nearly erased real political education from K-12 education since WWII, leaving millions of people feeling things must be “fine” the way they are, so why bother?

My first grader went along with me to register new voters over the weekend – the final weekend to register in Georgia – and she had a ball. I made sure to give her the lecture about what “nonpartisan” means and that she should not mention either candidate to anyone. Instead she created tables of “registered/not registered” and made tallies to represent folks’ responses to us. She also made posters and hung them up pleading, “Please Vote,” and paced back and forth singing her ever-changing song that included lyrics like, “Please vote and help our country be happier, help us save our charities, help us be a better country…” and on and on. She loved having a real audience – something we can make happen for kids everywhere…

What could kindergarteners and first graders do in their schools? How can we inspire them to not only pay attention to current social and economic issues but also to think deeply about various “solutions” offered to us through candidates’ perspectives?

Here are some ideas off the top of my head that might be fun in various k-12 settings:

-Critical readings of television advertisements: What is the purpose of each campaign’s ads? How are they positioning one another? How are they positioning American voters? Are they talking about issues? Distracting from issues? How would students re-write those advertisements?

-Collect newspaper and magazine articles, Internet videos, etc. to share during “show and tell” (or similar sharing times during the day). Get students talking about these things every day.

-Research voter registration strategies by different groups and come up with new strategies for a local push for registration even after this election (there will be more elections folks!)

-Graph new voter registration state-by-state, then compare that to the turnout on Election Day.

-Research “early voting” rules in different states and compare them, thinking about issues of equity and access.

-Research “election day voting” in different states and compare the rules, thinking about issues of equity and access, including people who are in jail and/or people who have served their sentences.

-Brainstorm, more than one time, the reasons why it’s so important that people vote – AND – why so many people have decided not to vote in the past.

-Create brochures, films, email messages, speeches, posters, songs, artwork, and other texts to motivate people to vote in this election – and in the local elections that will also be coming up soon.

-Research any other issues or candidates that will be on the ballot in November and construct texts to advertise those issues beyond the Presidential Election.

Have Fun and let’s Rock the Vote starting with our youngest future voters…

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