As we all know, it's an election year and it's shaping up to be an exciting one! And this is a great opportunity to introduce your students and children to the political process. I wanted to share some resources for explaining things like the electoral college to your children and suggest some books that will help open the often befuddling and confusing world of national politics. As an increasing number of people in America feel disenfranchised it is more important than ever that we educate our children and communicate to them that this unique government depends upon engaged and educated citizens.
One of the best ways to teach your students is to involve them. Volunteer with a candidate running for local office. This gives students an inside view of what it means to be politically engaged. I volunteered for a woman who was running for the state legislature when I was only 12 years old and it really helped me understand how elections work. I spent hours on the phone calling registered voters asking if they were planning on voting for my candidate and that was quite the initiation! The fact that I was just a kid didn't keep some people from letting me know exactly what they thought of the candidate! And despite the fact that my candidate lost, the experience made me politically aware and showed me that participation is essential.
So sign up and volunteer with your family. You can work on campaigning for or against a ballot measure or proposition you feel strongly about, you can back a local candidate, or you can contact the campaign office of a national candidate and see what sort of need they have for local volunteers. This sort of engagement provides students with a realistic understanding of politics and can show the some of the strengths and weaknesses of our system.
Here are some resources to help you get started:
Websites and Links
Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids is an excellent resource for showing your students how the government works. Students can learn about local government and services like libraries and emergency response systems, all the way up to how our president is elected. And all this information is available in four different levels from K though 12!
Kids.gov has some wonderful infographics on the election, like the one above on what it takes to be elected president. Another useful page is this one linking you to information about your state and its government. And here's a link to a game that will teach your children about the powers held by the three branches of government.
Books and Movies
A More Perfect Union by Betsy and Giulio Maestro
Excellent into to the US government and the history of our founding. Perfect for elementary and middle schoolers.
Ben Franklin, Inventing America by Thomas Fleming
The Great Little Madison by Jean Fritz
An excellent DVD course for high schoolers, in one semester your high school student will have a thorough understanding of the basis for the US government and its history.
As you learn more about our government, it can be very interesting to look beyond our borders and investigate other forms of government. Plato, one of the greatest political philosophers, really was not a fan of democracy and it is very interesting to consider his opinions on the different forms of government. Having lived in the UK for four years, I can now appreciate some of the advantages of a monarchy, with the full recognition that a monarchy would never work in the US! For high school students, you may want to investigate the role of money in elections. As more and more money is poured into elections, how does that affect the process? Do we lose something when corporations and private interests can exert such outsized influence? Or is that just the nature of our system and it is up to us to vote responsibly?
I hope these resources prove helpful to you! And I would love to hear about how you are introducing your students to the political process. Do you have any favorite resources?
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