This year I consider myself quite lucky to have about 100 of the students that I had last year. It’s fun to begin the year knowing where your students are and what they respond to. And yet, even when you think you know them very well, they still can surprise you. This year I am amazed at the number of my students who have a strong opinion about who is going to or who should win the presidential election. These are not students who typically discuss current events in politics. Current music…yes. Current shoes… absolutely. Current technology . . . most definitely. But never current politics. So, it’s nice to see the sudden interest.
Unfortunately, I’m reminded of a conversation with a Republican friend of mine from the last election. I asked her why she was supporting Bush. She had absolutely no idea. She couldn’t tell me one reason why she would vote for him, she just knew that’s who she was voting for. This is an educated woman; a college graduate who makes more than $100,000 a year. Scary! And it’s really the same for my students. They do not know what the candidates stand for. They have no idea how the new president might affect our country or why you should pick one over the other. So, I certainly feel it’s my obligation to take this teachable moment and show them things they might consider not only for this election, but for the future presidential elections when they will be old enough to vote.
To begin with, we are participating in an online project sponsored by the National Writing Project called Writing Our Future: Letters to the Next President. It is a great way to teach persuasive writing and to look at topics the president is responsible for. In addition, I’m having to teach my students how to work with Google documents, which has been great fun and will have applications far beyond the end of this project. Although it is too late to sign up for the project, you can certainly get your students looking at persuasive writing and talking about the issues. Visit the website at http://www.letters2president.org/.
If you want some professional models, visit http://yaforobama.ning.com/. This is a forum for young adult authors to explain why they support Obama and for teenagers to respond. In response, a Ning was set up for McCain at http://yaformccain.ning.com/, but unfortunately, it does not yet have the same type of participation. Regardless of who we, the teachers, support (because this is about teaching the importance of the election and the issues, not about getting kids to believe exactly what I believe), these sights show persuasive writing and different perspectives, and they encourage young people to be aware and to vote. And because they are both nings, they are communities and participation is encouraged.
Finally, it is a good idea to point out that no matter who is speaking, ideas and records can be misrepresented in political speeches. There are many writers out there who are getting paid to check the facts for us. Here are a couple:
http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/category/fact-check/ and http://blog.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/.