Regardless of which candidate we believe will do the best job running our country, we as educators understand the importance of teaching politics in a neutral, yet informed way. We not only want our students to understand the political process, but we also want them to be given the space to develop their own ideas and take a stand accordingly. One way to do this is through a social justice approach. Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Most of us have an arsenal of content which teaches this idea already, but hopefully the following ideas and resources will of value and get you excited to cover this timely topic.
Learn What Each Candidate Stands For
Study each of the candidate’s positions on topics of social justice, such as voting rights, gender equity, racial justice, immigration reform, etc. In elementary and middle school, have students share with you the social issues that matter to them. Then, do the research. Find the answers to their wonderings. It can be quite difficult to find a site that is neutral (especially during an election year!), but check out Compare 2020 Presidential Candidate Positions or Project Vote Smart.
In high school, you could have students conduct the research themselves by looking at candidates’ websites. Study their voting record and learn where they stand on issues that matter to each student individually. Check out this resource of social issues that were submitted by students. Want your students to take part? Join here. Then, have students take what they have learned and do one of the following:
- Create a poster or write a letter comparing candidates on social justice and civil rights issues.
- Create a PSA on a social justice issue from the perspective of the candidate.
- Conduct a debate emphasizing respectful discourse and the accuracy of facts.
Relate to the Topics That Matter
We’ve heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Use that idea to demonstrate how a photograph can depict feelings and stances about social justice issues without saying a single word. In elementary grades, show students images that connect to issues and ask them to respond using questions like:
- “How do you think the people in the photo feel?”
- “What do you think this photograph is trying to say?”
- “What words would you put to these images?”
- “How might a photograph look if it were telling the story of the other side of this same issue?”
In middle and high school, use this lesson to lead the work of getting students to understand the power of photographs. Ask these same questions and have them lead discussions in small groups. The goal here? Get them talking and synthesizing to better understand where they stand on issues that matter to them.
Take a moment to also check out this book list of carefully curated, multicultural, social justice books for children, young adults, and educators. Not only are we building students love of reading, but we are building their understanding of fairness and equality. If there is one thing that we can all agree on, it just might be this: books are incredibly powerful.
Figure Out Where They Stand
Once they have been informed on the issues that matter to them, have students figure out where they stand and what they stand for. It is important to remember this is not about identifying the political party that best fits their ideals. What should resonate for students is this: they have a voice, they hold power, and they can do something about it. Encourage them to stay informed and educated, but most importantly, teach students to stand up and speak out for what they believe in. Give them a platform to do so and empower them to believe they are the changemakers that our world so badly needs.