‘Tis the season of perhaps the most foundational and consequential election of all time. I have found myself teetering on the edge of obsessive news consumption and avoiding all news. Regardless of where I sit on the political spectrum, I have appreciated the opportunity to engage and participate. As my partner and I watched the various conventions and debates these past weeks, our phones blew up as our children in New York viewed these virtual events concurrently. Two weeks ago, as a family on FaceTime, we opened our absentee ballots, discussed the various California propositions, local and state candidates, and completed our ballots together. This is the first presidential election our children have participated in and I am heartened by their energy and commitment to engage in our political process.
I am grateful that my children have the opportunity to participate. In watching the news, it is clear that voting for many in our country is not as easy or readily available because many early voting locations have been closed and the number of ballot box locations for mail-in ballots has been limited. And, yet, despite efforts to suppress votes and limit access, I am inspired by the incredible turnout of early voters across the country. This election cycle has been even more polarizing than others in recent memory; the daily deluge of charged political messages on top of the chronic news about the pandemic and racial reckoning in America has been relentless and overwhelming. So, how do our students make sense of this?
At St. Paul’s, we want our students to understand that their voices and perspectives matter. Every four years, teachers across the country use the presidential election to impart valuable lessons to students about the electoral process, democracy, government and the responsibilities of citizenship. Here are some highlights of what our teachers are doing with students to engage them in this election:
- Mr. Allen, Ms. Rincon and Ms. Scroggs are running a full mock election to elect a second grade mascot with their students that includes three candidates and three ballot measures. Students watched a debate among the three mascot candidates
- Fourth graders are studying the US Constitution, specifically the Preamble and the first Three Articles that outline the requirements, jobs, and duties for the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of government. The students are also learning more about the history of voting and the electoral college through video clips, morning journal entries, and class discussions with Mr. Lee and Mr. Hampton.
- Our fifth grade social studies unit focuses on the history of voting rights since 1776, specifically looking at the expansion and restriction of voting rights in the United States. They are examining the struggle during the Civil Rights Movement, and highlighting the events in Selma and the courageous activities of individuals including John Lewis and Fannie Lou Hamer. In the weeks ahead, they will continue to focus on the impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and how voter suppression manifests today. And, finally, in their meetup last week, students wrote heartfelt letters to voters in South Carolina through the organization Vote Forward.
- In seventh grade, students are using morning meetings this week to watch and discuss some videos about the pros and cons of different voting systems. In the Math/History co-teaching class next week, they will be doing some activities around the electoral college and gerrymandering.
- In time for Election Day, the Eighth graders are exploring the systems of government in the U.S., political parties, and voting. They're also answering the questions: What’s up with the age-old debate around the Electoral College, and why do people want to abolish it? Students are working through a self-guided unit to think about how personal philosophies and identities can influence politics. Finally, the Eighth Grade Team will lead a post-election discussion during an all-grade Morning Meeting on Wednesday, November 4.
While our students are too young to vote, this election and a close investigation into the history of this electoral process impacts them, their experience and their future. The Mission and Values of a St. Paul’s education emphasizes academic rigor, inclusivity, critical thinking, and social involvement. We seek to cultivate and nurture fearless learners who hold compassion and empathy for those around them, including those who may hold different perspectives from their own. Education is the equalizer and the liberator.
“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.” -Kofi Annan
As we continue to navigate an evolving landscape leading up to and in the aftermath of the election, whatever the results, we need to remember who we are as the St. Paul’s community. We come together and remind each other that our feelings and our connection to one another matters. Every student and family needs to feel seen and experience that sense of belonging in this community. How we ensure that and hold each other matters in this election season, now more than ever. This is not about party politics, it’s about the core values of our own community - equity, justice, inclusivity, community engaged learning, and empathy. We must continue to provide students a safe and open environment in which they can remain curious, stay engaged, and explore the workings of the world around them.
Here are some resources for parents to help talk to your child about the election: