Education on the Election

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Conversation surrounding the 2020 presidential election has become increasingly inescapable this year, but with less than a month until Election Day, it has reached a new high that has seemingly trumped even the coronavirus in terms of general chatter. With new stories and articles being released every day, it is hard to feel as though we are not living through a significant moment in history, making the issue at hand all the more pressing. Among all the Stuyvesant departments, social studies is most likely to devote class time to covering the election, the current political climate, and societal intricacies that have come with 2020. Formal learning on the subject is imperative, especially for a student body that is just taking its first steps into the political abyss.

Part of learning history is developing an accurate understanding of the politics that shape it, but this seemingly straightforward objective is anything but simple. This complexity is especially acute given that most current high school students were only in elementary or middle school during the 2016 presidential election; at such a young age, it is probable that many of these students, particularly those whose families do not regularly talk about politics, did not gain much exposure to the political events surrounding presidential elections. Come the 2020 election, they still lack much knowledge about current events. Without teachers explaining details regarding the election and notably providing resources about both campaigns—through homework assignments, additional readings, or other resources—students are left more vulnerable to having their political beliefs easily swayed, and even determined, by outside sources.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon that certain students—those who are interested and engaged in politics—dominate discussions about the elections. Beyond helping students form a solid base of understanding, teachers providing these extra materials prevents the scenario of an exclusive cluster of politically vocal and informed students controlling conversations.

While many teachers who incorporate the 2020 election into class discussions choose not to share any of their political views with students, others may inject some of their opinions into the dialogue. Oftentimes, teachers might choose not to involve their opinions for fear of making students uncomfortable or somehow swaying the conversation, and that logic is completely valid. We, however, have found that classroom discussions are rarely worse off with teachers’ input: political stances often leak out regardless of whether they are explicitly stated, and as long as teachers maintain a welcoming environment for students of differing opinions, there is no harm in participating in the conversation themselves. Still, we attend a majority left-leaning school (75 percent of students identified most with the Democratic Party in The Spectator’s political typology survey), and it is critical that teachers are aware of the occasional conflict that can arise outside of class for students who express views outside of that majority. Teachers should set an example by making sure students feel comfortable expressing their opinions, regardless of their popularity, ensuring that political conversation inside and outside of the classroom can be populated by students with diverse beliefs.

Many teachers have already integrated current events and politics into their class discussions, beginning the first few minutes with discussions about the current political climate. Some have gone a step further and assigned political projects to their students, such as examining the country’s swing states and their influence on the election or profiling the presidential and vice presidential candidates and their policies. This addition allows all students, whether they are heavily involved in politics or less civically engaged, to participate and be aware of current events and societal issues that our country is facing.

Though time has been a limiting factor that has discouraged many teachers from diving into current events during class, a few teachers have decided to hold optional small sessions outside of class for students who are interested in further discussing important events. This model is an effective option as teachers do not feel pressured to rush through their lessons due to time constraints, and it allows students who are interested in participating in political discussions to do so with their peers while teachers facilitate it.

Despite justified time concerns, accessibility, clarity, and brevity are of utmost importance in political learning preceding the rapidly approaching election. Whether it be inside of the 55-minute class period or out, or through a project, salon, mini-lesson, or lecture, we are living through too crucial a time in history to not be covering it in our social studies classes. While much of the fray will (presumably) end in just over 20 days following the results on November 3, being well versed in politics extends far beyond the immediate election and is crucial to our development as students, adults, and informed citizens.