By Scott Malagold and Merissa Reed, Middle School history teachers
Image: Lakeside Middle School students shared their thoughts about the most effective ways to improve voter turnout in American elections.
In this year’s 7th grade U.S. History classes, Middle School students looked at the election through the lens of voting rights, both historical and current. At the conclusion of this unit, which fell on Election Day, they submitted a mock proposal of recommendations to the Federal Elections Commission on how to improve voter turnout in American elections.
At the start of the unit, students explored ways that the right to vote has been expanded throughout American history. Next, they examined the ways in which votes have been suppressed, both in the past and present. Finally, they researched methods to increase voter turnout that have been adopted by other countries and/ or some American states. Using this information, each student created a plan that included an explanation of why the right to vote is so important, and three or more specific steps that should be taken to increase voter participation. Each student presented their plans to the “Chairperson of the Federal Elections Commission” (aka their teacher), noted which ideas were suggested most frequently, and discussed which are most likely to be implemented.
It was great for students to be able to apply what they were learning to current events in real time and combine them with Lakeside’s value of “inclusion.” On Election Day, when students came to Ms. Reed’s class, they joined breakout rooms to present proposals to their peers and then come to consensus about the top three recommendations. Reporting out to the whole class, they were able to see similarities and differences, and discuss pros and cons.
As part of the unit, students also learned about the history of the Electoral College, how it works, and arguments for and against eliminating it. One of the final pieces of the unit was participating in a structured academic controversy regarding the Electoral College, where students worked to generate statements of consensus rather than just trying to prove one side right.
With 54 students in Lakeside’s Middle School debate club this year, it was easy to see who approached the conversation as a debate: getting into a spontaneous back-and-forth over the abolition of the Electoral College. Both sides presented views using the chat feature of Zoom, as well as making verbal arguments to the group over video-chat. One key discussion point was that students needed to understand why the weight of Wyoming’s electoral vote was “worth” the 4x per person than California. Several students made compromise suggestions that evoked the famous Connecticut Compromise (during Constitutional debates); as their ultimate objective was to balance power between large and small states. Ultimately, the conversation seemed to arrive at: Is it time to rebalance? We paused there for more processing time and the end of class. This election has given our classes a lot to discuss!