At the beginning of the year we polled our students on things that they believed every high schooler should learn before they graduate. The topics they listed were wide ranging from basic engineering skills, cooking, and the stock market. Interestingly, every single student shared that they wanted to have an understanding of how the government works. They wanted to be informed voters when they turned 18, but they didn’t feel like their education so far had prepared them for that.
Leading up to the midterm elections, I took the opportunity to spend time talking to students about the US government and the election process. With the polarized political climate in the US right now, for class purposes, we made a guideline to only talk about government positions, roles, or policy and not individual people. I wanted to build foundational knowledge first before arguments began. This gave the class more freedom to dive into what each position does and how power is balanced at the local, state, and federal level.
Once we had the foundation of how the branches of government worked, we moved on to talk about the midterm election. As an exercise, we had students look over the California Elections Guide and read candidate statements. I asked students to look at the word choice each candidate used and the types of emotions their statements evoked. We paired this lesson with a discussion on how words matter. The types of words people use to communicate can be a glimpse of how they view the world.
Our students picked up on words like “future”, “freedom”, and “choice” and discussed how this made the voter feel hopeful about the candidate’s promise. They also noted that the word “fight” was used multiple times and that evoked fear. Reading candidate statements is only one form of research an informed voter should use, but students were able to draw conclusions about what type of leader they would be electing based on the candidate’s word choice. I also want to note that while we were doing this, students were able to guess which political party the candidates were representing just by the syntax, even though we crossed the political affiliation out.
In the information age, this generation of teens is surrounded by political messages. These messages have sparked their interest and I am seeing students desperately wanting to make sense of what they are hearing about politics on social media. My role as an educator is to give them tools to navigate the news and make decisions for themselves. I am looking forward to more conversations about how to be an informed voter in the future!