Michael Jenks, Assistant Head of Middle School, and Susan Palmer, Head of Middle School, write about learning opportunities presented by the 2012 Presidential Election.
The 2012 Presidential Election presented a unique learning opportunity for our students in the Middle School. Even before the start of school, members of the history department decided to use the 2012 election as a focus point to help students understand the political process as well as to learn about the major issues important to the candidates and the public.
In each grade, students learned about the candidates, reading online biographies and discussing their stances on a handful of issues ranging from the economy to healthcare to defense. Each grade used different age-appropriate activities, but our goal was to give the students some measure of knowledge on some of the key topics and views of the election.
We also explained the voting process and the road to November, discussing campaigns, primaries, party conventions, and the Electoral College. In addition, some classes learned about the history of past elections, discussing previous races or viewing candidate campaign television ads through the years.
On Monday, the day before Election Day, two Upper School students who are members of the Political Action Committee spoke to fifth, sixth, and seventh graders, explaining the campaign process and how important it is to be involved in the political process. They also introduced topics such as battleground states and campaign strategies. These Upper Schoolers answered questions from the audience and did a terrific job translating complex material to Middle Schoolers. In the eighth grade, one student’s grandparents, who are active in West Texas politics, visited to explain their experiences and give students some insight into party conventions and the political spectrum. Their underlying message was the importance of citizens participating in our system, finding issues and topics to be passionate about, and then recognizing the privileges we have as a country to make choices about our government.
Finally, in order to give the students a taste of the election, each grade also held a political survey or election. For sixth through eighth grades, students chose where they stood on several of the issues as well as selected which candidate they would vote for if they were eligible to choose in this election. This survey gave the students a chance to reflect on the voting process, the complexity of a candidate’s platform, and the understanding that they may not agree with all the views of the candidate they support. Just as in the Electoral College, results of the Middle School election were shared when each grade was labeled as either blue or red, depending on the votes cast by the students.
Our goal was to help students recognize the historical significance of elections and expose them to a deeper understanding of some of the issues and the political campaign and structure. As in everything we do at Greenhill, all voices were welcomed into our non-partisan discourse, and civic engagement is the ultimate goal.