Teaching Electoral Engagement Early

When walking into a seventh-grade classroom, voting and politics likely aren’t the first things that come to mind, even in an election year. 

Thoughts of math, science, tests, homework and what’s for lunch abound. But during an election year, if you ask students what they’ve seen in the media recently, one of the likely responses will be “presidential candidates A and B.”

That’s the purpose of Kealing Middle School teacher Elizabeth Morphis’ presidential politics class. Since students are already seeing and hearing political commentary, the class encourages them to become informed on issues and to begin forming their own opinions for when they are eligible to cast a ballot.

Students in the class are exposed to, and study, various political candidates and viewpoints in both local and national races. 

“Some students already have political opinions when they walk into the class and some don’t,” Kealing Middle School teacher Elizabeth Morphis said. “After they leave the class, I want them to have learned to respect the political process and listen to other viewpoints completely before rejecting or incorporating them into their own opinions.” 

The class learns to address candidates with their proper titles such as “Secretary Clinton” and “Governor Johnson,” and looks objectively at issues. This sometimes includes putting themselves in another person’s shoes to gain new perspectives.

Teaching students the benefits of being politically active is an important goal for Austin ISD. Through a partnership with Travis County Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant, every high school campus in the district has deputy voter registrars to help with voter registration when students turn 18. 

Students receive instruction on how to vote in both their first and second semester social studies courses (economics and government) in their senior year of high school. 

Although most AISD students are years away from being able to vote, the district works to show students the importance of being engaged in the political process. Through student government, debate teams, presentations with the League of Women Voters, and voter registration drives, campuses promote a politically active culture.

Tune in on October 4 to AISD-TV Channel 22 for a districtwide mock presidential election where student votes will be tallied live for the 2016 candidates for president.