When I was in fourth grade, my class participated in the Center for Civic Education’s Project Citizen Program. Groups of students “identify a public policy problem in their community. They then research the problem, evaluate alternative solutions, develop their own solution in the form of a public policy, and create a political action plan to enlist local or state authorities to adopt their proposed policy. Participants develop a portfolio of their work and present their project in a public hearing showcase (civiced.org).” I was nine years old. The program was not designed for fourth graders, and we competed as an “Exhibition Group” because of our young age; nonetheless, we had a team of teachers who knew we could handle it and made it happen.
Our issue was an old abandoned schoolhouse in our community. It’s been nearly 20 years since my active advocacy around the old schoolhouse, so my argument has weakened. However, the gist is the school would become a hazard to the community unless it received some much needed attention. We titled our project “Hazard or History?” and proposed the schoolhouse be revitalized as an educational museum for the town, preparing timelines and budgets and becoming well-versed in policies impacting our proposal. Our teacher assigned us each a public official to address in a letter explaining our advocacy. I distinctly remember comments of jealousy when it was announced my pen pal was Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana from 2005-2013. “The mayor is pretty cool, but the governor… that’s the coolest. That should be mine,” said the girl assigned the Mayor of Fort Wayne.
What’s more, I actually received a letter back. It was from Cheri Daniels, First Lady of Indiana at the time. The letter was relatively generic; nonetheless, it was a response. I was led by my teacher to believe it was due to the strength of my writing. Mrs. Daniels wished us the best of luck with our proposal and, at the ripe age of nine through the letter of Cheri Daniels, I became a strong believer in the Democratic Republic of The United States. The community ultimately decided to tear down the schoolhouse. Despite the class’ disappointment, we had a newfound respect for what it meant to be civically engaged.
For years to follow, I was able to recite the Preamble to the Constitution, identify every United State and its capital, sing any government-related Schoolhouse Rock tune, and reference the Constitution and Bill of Rights up and down. Needless to say, a phenomenal team of teachers was in my corner. From upper elementary school on, I couldn’t wait to turn 18. It would finally be my turn to vote. When I arrived at college, I was adamant to ensure I received my absentee ballot in November. It was my time to make a difference. Imagine my surprise when I learned the disdain of adults in regard to the election process. I quickly realized the exceptionality of my upper elementary experience with civic education.
My fourth grade Project Citizen experience still impacts me now as a middle school teacher. Every day, I ask my classes a “Question of the Day.” Recently, our question was: “How would your country be different if everyone could vote, regardless of age?” The first answer of the day at 9:30am in my Homeroom class was: “You mean we would actually be heard?” It was a simple, sassy, impactful, and truthful question. Homeroom is where we discuss issues relevant to our school and community. I can tell you confidently my students desire to vote. They are aware of bullying, gun violence, and inequality in every sense of the word in the school setting because they are living it. Government and policy impact their concerns, they know. My students regularly, often, and unprompted ask me questions about what they can do and who they can contact to see the changes they need to feel empowered and successful at school.
This Tuesday, November 5th, is Election Day. While 2019 is not a presidential election year, it matters. I had faith, and still do, in the influence, I could make within the four walls of my own classroom, and I will forever the praises of my collegiate teacher preparation program. However, if I could make one change to what I learned or, rather, didn’t learn in college, it would be the influence of politics on education. Your vote impacts my job as a public school educator in more ways than I ever knew before entering the profession.
Your vote impacts my job as a public school educator in more ways than I ever knew before entering the profession. Click To TweetIn my county, the results of Tuesday’s election will impact decision-making regarding my mayor and city council members. Elsewhere, decisions regarding treasurers, judges, and local public concerns, including referendums directly related to school funding. All decisions made have the power to influence investment in our youth through education. Do not take this off-year election lightly. I am not going to tell you how to vote, but I am going to tell you to vote. If nothing else, vote on behalf of my students in Room 222 who wish they could. They deserve it.
All decisions made have the power to influence investment in our youth through education. Click To Tweet
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