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Election Year Offers Students Livelier Civics Lessons

Monday, March 05, 2012 - 06:20 PM

This year's competitive Republican presidential primaries have so far provided plenty of material to keep things interesting for pundits, analysts, reporters and pollsters. The state-by-state races are also giving teachers and students an opportunity to hold lively discussions about politics -- the difference between a primary and a caucus, for example, or the breakdown of delegate math.

"I know with at least my fifth graders, they know all of the candidates," said Luciano Dorazio, who teaches social studies to kindergarten through fifth grade students at P.S. 150 Charles James Fox school in the South Bronx. He said he uses Time Magazine for Kids in his classes, since the magazine provides age-appropriate coverage of the elections.

Mr. Dorazio said he has been impressed by the quality of the discussion in his classes, with students forming opinions about candidates and the issues based on their own experiences.

"I asked a kid why he was supporting Mitt Romney," said Mr. Dorazio. "He said, 'The same people that were trying to find jobs in my building are still finding jobs now. It shouldn't take two or three years to find a job in this country.'"

Denise Clarke, a special education teacher who works independently with children at home, has developed a curriculum with her 16-year-old student that focuses on the primary elections.

"We have a map of who's winning each primary by state, so we've given everyone a color," said Ms. Clarke. She and her student then color in the map according to which candidate won and tally up the delegates for each candidate.

"Eventually, I will incorporate exercises to help her understand the differences of opinions between the candidates and between the democratic platform and the republican platform, which will help her form her own political sense," she said.

Meanwhile, in Will Packer's 11th grade civics class, students regularly discuss current events. Mr. Packer, the applied civics teacher at Democracy Prep Charter School in central Harlem, said the primaries have sparked animated conversation, sometimes echoing how the candidates themselves spar during the debates.

Civic engagement is a central component of the Democracy Prep charter network, Mr. Packer said, and the election has provided many lessons for students to learn the importance of voting. Students in all grades hold mock elections, he said. But, students are only allowed to participate if they mock register--and only if they register correctly on a mock registration form.

"We believe that no one's going to hold their hand and make sure that they do these things," said Mr. Packer. "We want to make sure that they are enfranchising themselves and empowering themselves to be active citizens in the community."

On Tuesday--Super Tuesday, that is-- 10 more states will hold primary elections, which may provide more fodder for classroom discussion or an excellent opportunity to sort out delegate math. We want to hear from teachers and students on how this elections season has made it into classroom learning so far.

This article was produced with help from our Public Insight Network.

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