Last night during the vide-presidential debate, Joe Biden said that the 2008 presidential election may be the most important election of your life. That may or many not be true but I will suggest that we need to spend more time talking politics with students of all ages.
What are some specific suggestions from educators and parents?
Remember the Big Picture
Any election is a great opportunity to talk with kids about perhaps the most important concept that we can share – the role of the individual in a democracy. Some will suggest, and I agree, that kids are not born with an innate sense of being part of a larger community. We need to train kids to think nationally and globally. For younger kids, have them vote for class rules and how to spend class free time. For older kids, ask them to debate national and global issues. But anything that supports the idea for kids that the world is bigger than their little bubble is a good thing.
Be aware of age
Pretty basic. For K-2 kids, keep stuff short and simple. For older kids who are developing a stronger sense of right and wrong, you’ll need to help them understand that others may have differing opinions. For middle school and high school students who are beginning to establish a more nuanced view of the world, you will need to find ways allowing them to share their perspectives and voice their opinions. Exit cards, teacher moderated blogs and four corner debates are great ways for your students to quickly express themselves. A nice page to help can be found at the About Our Kids site.
Make it personal
The bailout, war on terrorism and energy policies? All pretty difficult topics. Kids need to see the connection between these types of global issues and their own lives. Driving age, homeless persons, the cost to fill the family van, allowances and food sources are the sorts of topics that can be discussed that can lead to greater student understanding of economic and geographic concepts.
Think about advertising
Campaign ads are wonderful vehicles for starting conversations about bias, persuasion, propaganda and the role of the media in politics. Some places to start:
Talk out loud
Kids need to hear you model your thinking. As you share resources or view campaign ads, for example, do a “think aloud.” Talk through your thought process – literally share out loud what your brain is doing.
“The candidate just mentioned that their economic plan will help out the middle class. I wonder where I can find more details? What impact will that have on my tax bill?”
Stay on task
If you have political conversations in your classrooms, remain calm and respectful and set similar expectations for your students. You want to create a safe, risk-free environment for your kids. Taking turns, not interrupting and agreeing on specific facts are just a few of the things that we can help kids focus on.