The Nov. 2 election for President of the United States comes at a pivotal time in the nation’s history–and it gives educators an ideal opportunity to teach students about the democratic process. In pulling together lesson plans about the election, teachers nationwide are drawing upon the many free and high-quality resources available on the internet this fall.
Alan Haskvitz, a teacher at Suzanne Middle School in Walnut, Calif., is having his students pretend they are candidates running in the election. They will plan their election campaigns using a list of web sites he has compiled.
His list of web sites–which includes links about election news, the Electoral College, and past elections–will be posted on his personal web site, Reach Every Child, in October.
CNN, others offering
The Cable News Network is distributing a complete curriculum unit, called “The America Votes 2004 Teaching Kit,” to schools nationwide. The kit includes a CD-ROM loaded with television news videos about the U.S. election process, an election game, and a poster that serves as the game board. It’s one of many efforts to bring the election closer to students…
“The most comprehensive site for lessons [that I have found so far] is the National Student-Parent Mock Election out of Tucson,” Haskvitz said. Run by a nonprofit, non-partisan network of educators, public officials, and the League of Women Voters, the web site invites students and parents to cast their vote in a mock election on Oct. 28 as a way of letting student opinions be known. More than 10 million students, parents, and teachers reportedly participated in mock elections on this site during the last two presidential campaigns.
Also useful is the Project Vote Smart web site, Haskvitz said, which aims to help students and other citizens separate fact from fiction in the election campaigns. “It is important that students understand how media [are] used to manipulate opinion,” Haskvitz said.
Created in 1992 by 40 national leaders, including former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, Project Vote Smart calls itself “a citizen’s organization dedicated to serving all Americans with accurate and unbiased information for electoral decision-making.” The group’s web site contains information about thousands of candidates and elected officials nationwide, including biographies, issue positions, voting records, campaign finances, and performance evaluations.
Haskvitz said he also arranges for the Registrar of Voters to bring an actual voting machine to the school so his 13-year-old students can practice voting. “This removes a lot of fear and makes them more excited about voting when they reach 18,” he said.
Teaching about elections in general has motivated Haskvitz’s students to get involved at the state, county, and local levels. “The students use the elections as a jumping-off point by looking up who contributed to whom in their area and seeing who is registered. They become quite involved when they find that the [voter] registration rate is so low,” he said.
Over the years, Haskvitz said, students in his classes have helped rewrite voting poll usage rules for the County of Los Angeles and the state voter registration forms, held voter information nights, hosted candidate debates, and supported local candidates for office.
Jamye Swinford, instructional technology consultant for Region 18 Education Service Center in Midland, Texas, used a free module from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) called “The People’s Choice: Digital Imagery and the Art of Persuasion” to teach a recent professional development workshop for local educators.
The module asks participants to deconstruct and analyze historical political television advertisements from 1952 to 2000, focusing on the elements and strategies of each one–including the use of colors, symbols, props, point of view, and emotions.
The American Museum for the Moving Image web site streams the television ads in an online exhibit called “The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004.”
“You can’t download these, but you can show them with an internet connection,” Swinford said.
Participants in the workshop were asked to write and produce their own campaign commercials. Having learned the steps of the exercise in the workshop, teachers can recreate the lesson in their own classrooms, Swinford said.
Linda Joseph, an instructional technology specialist for the Columbus Public Schools in Ohio, has posted a series of lesson plans on her personal web site, CyberBee Election Lessons.
“It’s a whole cadre of lessons, like writing a campaign speech or marketing your candidate,” Joseph said. “I started this in 1996, and I just rewrite it for whoever the candidates are.”
One of the lessons features photographs of election memorabilia from several private collections, Joseph said.
Jean LaBelle-Pierce, a history teacher at Maynard High School in Massachusetts, is having students in her ninth-grade U.S. history classes put together a voting guide for members of the community. The guide also will be distributed to students before a school-wide mock election to be held later this fall.
Students will use the internet for their research in compiling the guide, which is to include biographies of each candidate, summaries of the 2004 platforms for each of the two major parties, an explanation of the most important issues in the campaign, a description of the Electoral College process, and a section on campaign finance.
Among the resources LaBelle-Pierce has given students are the official web sites for both political parties and the Bush and Kerry campaigns; the Project Vote Smart web site; and OpenSecrets.org, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Kids sometimes forget there is a plurality of ideas in our society–or at least there should be,” she said. “The internet, with its many links to various opinions, helps expose them to these ideas.”
Reach Every Child (Alan Haskvitz)
National Student-Parent Mock Election
Project Vote Smart
The People’s Choice: Digital Imagery and the Art of Persuasion
“The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004”
CyberBee Election Lessons
The Official Reelection Site of George W. Bush
John Kerry for President
The 2004 Democratic Party Platform
OpenSecrets.org: 2004 Presidential Election