By Lisa K. Winkler
Looking to bring democracy into the classroom? As a member of the League of Women Voters, I created an interactive, 40-minute lesson that engages students in the voting process. Adaptable for all ages, “Why Voting Matters” includes a script and power point.
Joined by the League’s president, also a NJ certified teacher, we introduce the League’s history—nearly 100 years old, and founded by a teacher, Carrie Chapman Catt shortly after women received the right to vote in 1920. Catt wanted to educate newly enfranchised women about the issues and candidates so they could make decisions independent of their husbands or fathers.
Our lesson includes vocabulary: What does it mean to be informed? What is non-partisan? What is apathy? What is enfranchisement?
We use hypothetical issues and two candidates, Apollo and Zeus, who have opposing views, to involve students in discussion and voting.
For elementary students, Apollo wants to create a skate park for the town’s children, who need more recreational space. However, a rare species of ducks inhabit the site proposed for the park, and Zeus opposes the park’s creation.
For middle and high school classes, small groups discuss issues affecting the town, the state, the nation, and the world. We point out that many issues are not merely local or global, such as the environment. The students then discuss the positions of Apollo and Zeus on two issues. The first involves a pharmaceutical factory that is polluting a local river. Apollo wants to close the factory; Zeus wants to protect the many jobs of local residents. The second issue addresses traffic at the schools. Apollo wants to ban all student cars and require walking or biking; Zeus proposes more carpooling and improving walking and biking lanes.
After a show-of –hands vote, we discuss why people don’t always vote, noting reasons like laziness, apathy, and lack of transportation.
We share the voting participation statistics for the state from the 2016 and 2017 elections. (68% of NJ’s registered 5.7 million voters voted in 2016; 35% in 2017). We discuss why the participation dropped—the turnout in presidential elections tends to be higher—then count off a percentage of the class, telling them they won’t be voting. We call for another vote on the same issues. Often the results are different than when everyone exercised their right to vote.
We end each presentation asking students to brainstorm ways they can get involved in democracy. Ideas include writing emails, volunteering on campaigns, reminding their family to vote, and protesting.
We’re happy to share our presentation or adapt it to meet your needs.