After the polls, lessons from civics students
Over the last two years, Civics classes from across Toronto, Ontario and Canada have been treated to a wealth of excitement and resources through municipal, provincial and federal campaigns, debates and elections. Teachers from across the country have engaged their students in an authentic and exciting experience through the Student Vote program.
At Greenwood College School, in Toronto, Ontario, election signs, debates, and polling stations have seemed to become the norm. Students talking about civic issues, like transit, education, garbage and even war, have also become the norm in our classrooms. Even conversations around the value of voting and its importance have taken a new tone; one Civics student writes: "Voting is a privilege we have by living in a democracy, and it is a privilege that many countries around the world do not have."
Our students have been able to engage with authentic audiences through interviews with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, taking part in a live candidates' debate hosted at CBC, and then with other students and schools through a Twitter feed in conjunction with Our Kids Media.
"Before Student Vote, I thought that politics were very complicated and something that I couldn't understand," says one Grade 10 student. "But, now I see that these are issues that I deal with every day – transportation, education, healthcare – and that if I take the time to follow what's happening, it's not really that complex."
Another student writes that it was great to see all the students who "took the time to educate themselves on the running parties, and took their opinions to the poll."
Having students articulate their positions in an intelligent and persuasive way has led to a rise in the tone and content of our discussions and debates.
Most recently, we've been discussing the differences between the student vote results, where provincially, Ontario students elected an NDP minority government, followed closely by a strong Liberal Opposition. Ontario students also voted three Green Party members into the Legislature as well.
"This shows a real shift in values, because at last year's federal student vote election, students voted for a Conservative majority," says Leslie McBeth, a Civics teacher at Greenwood College School. "And this gives us a really engaging lens to talk about issues such as whose voices count, and even lowering the voting age."
Students had many theories about this shift, ranging from the leader of the NDP being a woman, to the "Jack Layton Effect," to as one student explained: "Our parents are concerned with fiscal responsibility in government. As young people, we are not thinking about how our tax dollars are spent, but we want to be sure that our leader represents the collective good of society."
It is clear that these elections have raised the political awareness of our students. The key piece is to now maintain this engagement as they move through the grades and graduate to become future voters.