Our school is a polling station, so when parents come in to vote, we ask them to take their kids out of class to show them the voting process. We send home reminders far in advance so those parents who may not have registered have time to do so. We want their child to ask, "What time are you picking me up to vote?"
Taunton Forge Elementary School
Medford Township, New Jersey
Ask the students to vote on an issue, like whether there should be a field trip in October. Then use your authority as their teacher to negate their decision. Depending on the maturity level of the students, ask them to write down their reactions, discuss their feelings with a partner or small group, or enter into a full-class discussion. Most likely students will criticize the teacher's exercise of arbitrary power as unfair.
Suddenly agree, and provide historical and contemporary examples of where this has happened or continues to occur. Mention how the English Parliament negated actions by the colonial assemblies that were elected by certain people in each colony. Tell them how Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong trampled on individual rights and decisions. Remind them that there is still no right to vote in Cuba, Iran, Libya, or Saudi Arabia. Depending on the students' age and prior knowledge, you will want to guide them into realizing that the right to vote is not available in many places. Thus, although we can learn from history, we see the evidence of undemocratic practices in the world today.
Social studies department Chair
Purchase, New York
Have them work on a campaign. Even if you're not old enough to vote, you are old enough to pass out leaflets, knock on doors, or work for a phone bank. Almost nothing is relevant to students (or anyone else, for that matter) without practical and real experience.
Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development
Hey, kids: Sneak out of school, forget about civics class, and conduct your own lesson in how democracy works. Find the nearest polling station and put a big sign around your neck that says "Student Reporter" so they know you aren't another pollster for the TV networks. Say to each person leaving the building, "Hi. I'm Nelson Jones. I'm a ninth grader at Arrowhead High School, and I hope to write a report on the election. I am trying to find out why people vote the way they do. Could you please tell me whom you voted for for president, and what your reasons are?"
Some will give you the standard responses they heard in the political ads. Some will tell you they don't really know. Some will tell you to mind your own business. Others will be pleased to be asked and will give a long and rambling but honest answer. Don't drop them for the next person, but rather listen to what they say and ask follow-up questions. The deeper you go, the more surprises there will be.
This is the way democracy happens, one person at a time.
The Washington Post
I use political cartoons published in the local newspaper and available from various Internet sources. We identify the characters and the exaggerated characteristics or mannerisms that cartoonists use to depict political personalities. Then we decipher the language of the cartoon and identify the issue the cartoonist is depicting.
As the election approaches, students in small groups continue to analyze contrasting cartoons and identify the issues of the election and which special-interest groups support each candidate. Students can examine the issues in more depth and articulate their own beliefs on the issues and their support for a particular candidate.
Media center librarian
Clear View Charter Elementary School
Chula Vista, California
Have children register to vote before they can cast their ballot in a school or class election. Have the teacher say, "All you have to do to register is sign your name in the notebook." But have her say it offhand, not like this is something you have to do, and make sure she doesn't check to see who has and who hasn't registered. One day before the election, stop the registration; have the notebook disappear without fanfare. The next day, some children will find out that they can't vote because they haven't registered. Then take it one step further and use only the "registered voters" as a "jury pool" to settle conflicts between classmates.
Our Lady of Peace School
Kansas City, Missouri
I assign each student a "personality trait." They may be a rich widower who is seventy-two years old, a twenty-two-year-old graduate student, or a grandmother on a limited income. Another may be a forty-five-year-old father of four who is an electrician or a forty-something unmarried woman who has given up the idea of a family for a career. Another student may be a father of two who is very active in his church or a woman from a foreign country who has just received citizenship.
We investigate the issues and the stances of the issues, and let the students vote how they think their "person" would vote.
Social studies teacher
Lake Zurich High School / Lake Zurich, Illinois
We held a mock election. Students ran for offices ranging from mayor to governor to president. They could videotape campaign commercials (many used a life-size cardboard cutout of President George W. Bush to discuss his official endorsement of their candidacy) or prepare speeches. After completing voter-registration forms, students cast ballots within their home "districts." The votes were tabulated both individually for those offices elected directly (such as mayor and city council members) and "by district" to represent the Electoral College's process of electing the president.
The newly elected officers appointed positions such as city manager and Supreme Court judges, so every student had an office. Then each student wrote a letter to the person who was holding the office they represented, and we received a large number of enthusiastic responses. The culmination of the project included a field trip to city hall, where our student-elected mayor and city council members ran a mock city council meeting in the actual council chambers, followed by a question-and-answer session with the actual mayor of our city.
Gifted and Talented Education Programs coordinator
Los Banos Unified School District
Los Banos, California
Set up a political action committee. When students in two New Jersey seventh-grade classrooms learned that the school budget had been defeated and that only 6.8 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, they became very upset.
So under the guidance of their teachers they organized a political action project. They set up various committees -- Publicity, Communications, Media, and the like -- held interviews, wrote articles for the papers, and conducted seminars in nursing homes. As a result of their efforts, the next school budget passed successfully with a vote tally of 11.3 percent. Who says kids can't make a difference in a democracy?