An inquirED Blog

Teaching the 2020 Election: Rights and Responsibilities

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Webinar Summary

During the webinar, we explored the challenges, ideas, and best practices associated with teaching the 2020 Election. We were honored to be joined by Dr. Paula McAvoy and Dr. Wayne Journell. You can find their bios at the end of today's post.

Our panelists shared tips, strategies, and resources during the webinar. Read below for a summary.

Tips for Teaching the 2020 Election

Tip #1: Don’t Avoid It

In an age of polarization, it’s understandable that you might want to avoid talking about politics. Don’t. Instead, if you’re worried about addressing hot button issues, take refuge in the process. Teach about the governing bodies, offices, and powers at the local, state, and national levels. Research where these elements are defined and described. Dig in and investigate how people register to vote, where they go to do it, and what they do when they get there. Not only are these areas of investigation relatively free of controversy, but they’ll also provide students with information that will help them be active participants in our democracy.

Tip #2: Acknowledge Feelings and Personal Experiences

Many of us are afraid that emotions will be heightened when we discuss the election. That's not going to go away if we ignore the anxiety and fear that students are feeling. Ask students to share their personal experiences with issues. Giving students this space and opportunity can elevate the debate by helping everyone understand the personal implications of issues.

Tip #3: Keep Administrators and Parents in the Loop

If you are worried about the experience of students or the reactions of parents to an election unit, let your administrator know what you are doing and why. Keeping them in the loop will mean they will be more able to support you if concerns arise.

Keeping parents informed might be a good idea as well. Some parents might assume you are lecturing your students, sharing your opinions, and imposing your beliefs. If you let parents know that you are taking an inquiry-based approach to the election, with student-led questioning, discussion, and research as the main instructional practices, they might be less likely to misinterpret what they hear from their children (or overhear on a distance learning call).

Tip #4: Choose Strategies that Build Consensus and Encourage Civil Discourse

Skip class debates, mock elections, or other practices that divide students into groups and encourage them to win at the expense of their peers. Remember, despite the partisanship of our current politics, civics shouldn’t be taught as a zero-sum game where there are losers, winners, and little room for compromise. Besides, dividing students in this way often gives the mistaken impression that there are only two sides, two ways of thinking, two choices. The reality is much more complicated.