During an election year, “teachable moments” can lead to civic engagement and greater understanding of how students can be part of and help shape the news.
For teachers at LEAD Public Schools, the 2020 election season included opportunities to better define words and phrases including “registered voters,” “money in politics,” and “statistically significant.”
“After seeing a lot of confusing rhetoric about voting in the current news cycles, I thought it would be beneficial for students to view the issue and even establish their own stance about voting in the U.S.,” said Alyssa Rushman, an ELD instructor at LEAD Southeast High School. “I hoped that students would have a chance to grapple with the nuances and complexities of voting in the U.S.’
Rushman and her fellow teachers in LEAD Public Schools discovered ways to bring election-related topics in the news into their classrooms and into students’ understanding of civic engagement. The teachers found the students were shaping their opinions, often with a focus on social issues and policy rather than discussions focused on specific elected officials.
Rachel Slezak, an exceptional education teacher at LEAD Southeast High School and democratic campaign volunteer, remembered a discussion about candidate Michael Bloomberg during the presidential primaries.The students noticed Bloomberg’s intense ad campaign.
“This sparked a discussion during math class about the role that money plays in politics,” Slezak said.
With this conversation and others, Slezak determined many of her students were still formulating their political identities.
“I expected them to have fully-formed opinions, but many of them seemed to be learning about the candidates for the first time,” she said. “Honestly, that made me not want to talk to them about it because I am a highly partisan human and I would feel very guilty basically brainwashing these poor youths!”
For Slezak, Rushman and other LEAD teachers this election season, the goal was student engagement through better understanding of what they see on television and hear in news stories, in classroom conversations, and maybe in their first opportunity to vote.
About LEAD Public Schools
LEAD Public Schools is the largest local charter network in Nashville, Tennessee that operates six schools- both open-enrollment schools and zoned-enrollment schools. From 5th through 12th grades, our schools serve predominantly students of color and low-income populations who are likely to be first-generation college attendees. For more information, visit leadpublicschools.org.