Recently, I went to Annandale Elementary School to teach a fifth grade class about social movements, political involvement, and voting. When you think back to yourself as a fifth grader, would this class lesson seem too difficult? At first, I thought I would have a hard time engaging the students and presenting applicable information to their lives and current role in politics. However, this fifth grade class was extremely responsive and excited to engage in the lesson plan I had prepared for them.
After giving a presentation on different social movements throughout history, we discussed with the class how they could become socially and politically active. First, I taught them about the power of voting and that they would have an opportunity to vote in the future, if they are an American citizen and eighteen or older. Then the students had the chance to choose an issue in their elementary school that they wanted to address and improve. The list went from having chocolate milk be an option in their cafeteria, dealing with the “bug” problem at their school, new playground equipment, and a new pizza vendor. To them, the ultimate pressing matter in their school was the lack of chocolate milk as an option for lunch. I bet we all wish that the ultimate pressing matter in our society could be the chocolate milk or white milk dilemma.
Each student got in line to vote at the mock-voting booths that were set up around the room, and they each filled out a mock-ballot regarding adding chocolate milk to their school’s menu. As they waited to hear the results, the class and I discussed the candidates for the 2012 election. The students were incredibly impressive, for they knew more than I expected about the 2012 election and the platforms of Governor Romney and President Obama. When the ballots were counted, and a drum roll was performed, the results of the voting indicated that a majority of the students did indeed want to have chocolate milk as a lunch beverage option. The classroom broke out in a loud roar of cheering! Unfortunately, I had to end the celebration to remind the students that the voting was just a simulation of what it might be like when they get to vote in the future. Nonetheless, this group of students really enjoyed what was presented and they each seemed very interested in being politically active for the future, if not, just for the forty-five minute lesson.
It is important that we expose children to different forms of education that highlight political topics. If students are not informed early on, this will lower their chances of being politically active later in life. In addition, if a student takes an interest in politics, they may share this information with their families, which will create more opportunities for family units to become politically involved and educated. It seems as though it should be mandatory for children to be exposed to basic political history, such as the history of our different presidents and the origin of our country. In some educational institutions, this does happen, however in others, students are unable to receive this basic form of education. In the fifth grade class at Annandale, their fourth grade teacher exposed them to different activist movements by sharing a new movement with them every month. And this year, the class just started going through the structure of the constitution and the fundamentals of our democracy. However, not every elementary school has the resources and capacity to adequately teach these lessons. In order to expose children to political movements, children’s stations, such as Nickelodeon, participated in the 2012 election by hosting a special episode called “Kids Pick the President.” This kind of media presentation is perfect for introducing children to the current political world. When we give these students the tools to be politically and socially active I know they will surprise us with their innovative ideas, passion, and fresh outlook on the world.