The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Talking Politics

Sometime on Saturday night I started feeling a little queasy. By Sunday morning I was full-blown sick. I wasn’t sure what I had, but I was definitely sick. I thought it might have been something that’d blow over quickly but by Sunday afternoon I was feeling worse, so I made the decision to call in for a substitute for Monday. Then I wrote up my plans and got them sent to my principal, since I wasn’t able to get to the school to have them waiting on my desk. I started to feel better on Monday morning and was back to normal by Monday evening, so I was ready to get back to school after being away from my students for four days.

I was glad to be back today, and I was glad my students were glad! We didn’t waste much time getting back to work today, tackling social studies, working in the computer lab, figuring out how to find the area of a parallelogram, and then working on literacy. At the end of the day, I was working with one of my reading groups as they read a series of news articles about young people participating in mock elections. I expected some conversation about voting, including the inevitable questions about who I would be voting for in the upcoming election. (I declined to answer, citing, among many other reasons, my role as a Judge of the Election for Champaign County, and I choose to keep my vote private at school. This is similar to my general policy to keep my personal religious beliefs private while at work.)

What I didn’t expect were some of the well-thought questions about the American political system. Even better was that the six students in the reading group were talking to each other, asking and answering questions of each other rather than directing all of their questions to me. They did ask me a few questions, but they weren’t about specific candidates or which specific issues I supported. Rather, they were questions about the political system in general. For example, they wanted to know why there is so much debate about raising taxes, cutting taxes, and decreasing spending. This led us to discuss how governments create budgets, control revenue for taxes, and borrow money to pay for a variety of programs. They also discussed how many political ads that they see that focus on the negative about other candidates and their surprise at how few ads said anything positive about the candidate running.

It was a fun conversation that had everyone in my group engaged and focused on the topic at hand. Of course, the topic was not something I had initially planned on covering, but that is often the way things when teaching: some of the greatest lessons are the ones that aren’t planned, but instead arise directly out of students’ interest in their growing awareness of the world around them. I let them guide their own discussion, as they are a reading group, with me there as facilitator to help move things along. I don’t know that this will happen with each reading group as I meet with them this week, but I love knowing that my students are capable of examining the world around them, asking questions, and then working them out!

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2 responses

  1. Did the kids come to any conclusions? That is, anything besides “these are hard questions that nobody ever agrees on”?

    November 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    • One conclusion they drew was that they’d know more about a candidate if he talked about himself instead of his opponents (or she/her, as the case may be). They also concluded that it is okay to disagree and still be friends.

      They didn’t come up with a solution to fiscal problems, but they were abhorred by the idea of borrowing in order to pay for something instead of saving and budgeting. (Again, I let them talk amongst themselves with little input from me.)

      November 4, 2012 at 1:55 pm

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