- Written by Belinda Elliott
- Category: Kids & Family
- Published: 30 September 2019
These days it seems our country is more politically divided than ever, and those divisions can spill over into the classroom. What should a teacher do when this happens? Should teachers discuss politics with their students and, if so, then how? In recent years, numerous authors and educators have grappled with this question and proposed different approaches. Here are three of the most common ones.
1. Use politics as a way to master communication skills.
Jennifer Rich, an assistant professor in the College of Education at Rowan University wrote an article earlier this year for The Hechinger Report in which she emphasizes that teachers can, and should, discuss politics without being partisan. Her approach hinges on four key elements: teaching students to research and weigh evidence, allowing multiple perspectives to be considered, encouraging students to form their own opinions and practice sharing them, and teaching students how to respectfully express themselves when disagreements arise. (Read her full article.) Whether politics is the topic of conversation or not, it seems these are critical skills that will benefit students who master them.
Classroom Resources on Politics from eMediaVA
Your America: Democracy's Local Heroes - Explore stories of how ordinary citizens accomplished extraordinary changes.
Let's Get Political QuizLet's Get Political Quiz - Learn about the various components that make up our political personalities.
Election Foundations - Video provides background information on why the United States holds presidential elections.
Primaries and Caucuses: How Do the Parties Choose a Candidate? - Introduce students to the system by which candidates for U.S. president are nominated by their parties.
Early American Political Party Development - Learn about the early history of politics and political parties in the United States.
2. Use politics as a means of student engagement.
H. Richard Milner IV, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, also tackled this topic two years ago in a commentary written for Education Week. He offered 10 tips to help teachers engage their students productively in conversations around tough social topics. His suggestions emphasize creating an environment of respect and being prepared to help students work through the social-emotional impact the conversations could have on them if debates become heated.
Educator Molly Kiebel, of Learners Edge, agrees that the educational benefits of discussing politics in the classroom outweigh the the idea that political topics should be avoided altogether. “Sometimes, when I look around, I wonder where else will young people learn these important skills if we don’t foster them in our schools?” she wrote in a blog post on the matter during last year’s election season.
3. Focus more on the political process vs. specific issues.
Some educators take the approach of educating their students about the political process and how our government works without directly addressing any specific “hot button” issues. Just like most things these days, there are apps and websites to help you accomplish this.
The Alexa app “Let’s Talk Politics” is an interactive game that tests participants’ knowledge of the U.S. political system. It provides explanations of the correct answers and adjusts the difficulty of questions as the person continues playing.
iCivics website and series of apps for both iPad and Android tablets - Founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, iCivics was created to transform civic education into an engaging experience with innovative games and resources. Search the site by curriculum unit to find lesson plans on voting, the electoral process, state and local governments, citizenship and more.
Political App - For older students who want to get involved, this app (iOS devices only) provides information to identify and contact your local and national government representatives. It also walks users through how to register to vote and shows upcoming elections.
Whether you decide to bring political discussions into your classroom or not, it is critical that today’s youth understand the importance of elections in our country. As educators, we can play in role in encouraging them to educate themselves on issues affecting our nation, learn about our government and how the U.S. political system works, discern the credibility of information they find online or from other sources, and take advantage of their right to vote.
Speaking of voting, the deadline to register to vote in Virginia’s upcoming general and special elections is Oct. 15. For information on registering to vote, visit elections.virginia.gov.
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