Tue, November 8, 2022

Democracy at Home

At one point in my career I was a sixth grade history teacher and I loved every minute of it. I found my students were just old enough to be enthusiastic as they learned about others and were curious enough to ask questions without an agenda. They also possessed a genuine willingness to contemplate new ideas. The curriculum in those days was interactive and experiential, and included many opportunities for collaborative classroom work. Students honed their writing and speaking skills (yes, history teachers teach grammar, too) and learned to respectfully challenge one another’s thinking. And, yes, my students were responsible for learning dates and places, and also about people who made historical impact.

The core of the curriculum had a global focus. As teachers we used accepted historical fact as content with the aim of introducing students to different societies and cultures. We also intended that students learn to compare various systems of government thus gaining insight into how societies organize themselves. A goal was to have students embrace comparative methods for understanding how humans evolved from early tribal systems toward the present. Perhaps, most importantly, we desired students wrestle with how various societies meet individual needs within a group construct. Of course it was paramount that students have a framework from which to start, so each school year began with a deep dive into a civics.

Beginning with an examination of the Bill of Rights and moving on to a study of the Declaration of Independence, my students learned to delineate between rights, rules and privileges and learn to identify the three branches of government. They also came to understand the importance of freedom of speech, due process and equality before law among the critical underpinnings of our American democratic system. There was consistent emphasis on engaging students in meaningful discussions but also on using source material to teach. Looking back I realize how lucky my students were to grow up at a time when they were encouraged to ask questions and seek information through primary sources, all while being given the tools to come to their own conclusions without the noise of today’s politics. It was the mid-90s with the internet in its nascent stage, instant messaging the precursor to texting and social media did not exist.

So, with today being Election Day and everyone reminding you of the importance of voting, you may be contemplating how you handle politics in your household. As a parent and educator I share the following as food for thought:

  • Model courtesy and respect for others when discussing any critical topic, politics or not.
  • Create a safe space for your child to ask questions. The truth can handle good questions.
  • Share examples of times you changed your mind about something.
  • Practice democracy at home by having a family vote about something like dinner or what movie to watch together. Practice making tough decisions is important.
  • Demonstrate good listening skills and encourage your child to do the same.
  • Encourage age-appropriate engagement by creating election result math games or taking them to vote.
  • Read children’s books about voting and participation in the democratic process. See our recent list on Bookshop.org
  • Embrace that children must learn to think for themselves.

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