Teachers' Forum: How Do You Teach about the Election?

Presidential Election 2004 Series

The 2004 presidential election is a prime example of a "teachable moment." Over the past several months, we have posted many readings and activities on www.teachablemoment.org to help teachers and students grapple with issues raised in the election.

As election day nears, we asked Alan Singer, graduate director of social studies education at Hofstra University, to help us open up a teachers' forum by asking his network of teachers how they are approaching the election in their classrooms. Four teachers respond below.

We invite more ideas from classroom teachers! Do you have an approach or a lesson plan on the election that you'd like to share? Please email it to: info@morningsidecenter.org.



Creating a 'Newscast' on the Election:

by Mitch Bickman

Your Task:
You will be asked to create a news broadcast with your group based on the research and articles you have collected over the past few weeks on the upcoming presidential election.

You may use note cards and/or a sheet of notes, but you cannot read the notes directly - some of this must be memorized.

The broadcast must be a minimum of ten minutes, and a maximum of fifteen.

You can structure the broadcast any way you wish. There can be two main anchors, a co-anchor, on-scene reporter, guest expert, etc. Please be aware you must have equal speaking time.


  • You will take notes on the articles you collect over the weeks.
  • You will make an outline (to be graded) of your news broadcast. The outline must include the main points of the broadcast.
  • Once you finish an outline, you will begin filling in the outline with detailed information that you will relate to the class during the broadcast. This will be your script! Please note the script is also being graded.
  • Once you finish the script, you will be given time to practice with your group. We will go over some public speaking tips prior to the due date.
  • We will discuss a schedule of due dates in class. Please adhere to that date or you will receive severe penalties for lateness. A grading rubric will be give to you next week.

Certain topics may lend themselves to comedy, but other topics do not, especially 9/11. Please use your best judgment. You will be asked to dress up the day of your presentationóremember you are a news anchor.

Mitch Bickman is a teacher at Oceanside High School in Long Island, New York.

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Teaching Seventh-Graders How to Write an Essay...on the Candidates

by Diane Maier

This year's presidential election is probably one of the most anticipated elections in recent years. After the fiasco that surrounded the last election people seem to be more interested than ever. This, combined with recent acts of terrorism and war, make this election the most important one in my memory. As social studies teachers we must address all of these issues and help our students develop opinions of their own.

I think that it is very important to teach our students about the election and help them develop their own opinions. As a seventh grade teacher this election fits right into my curriculum, but unfortunately because we teach chronologically we do not get up to the Constitution, where we normally teach about elections, until the second half of the year.

If it was up to me I would change the order in which I teach history and I would start with teaching the Constitution. That way we could discuss the election as we were actually learning how our government and the election process works. The curriculum would apply to real life for the students, most of whom are surprisingly opinionated and moved by the candidates. We are always struggling to relate the subject matter to the students' lives and now we have a way to do so.

For now I have figured out a way to both teach the election and follow my assigned curriculum. I am required to start the year by teaching the students how to write an essay. Most of the members of my department are doing so by incorporating the beginnings of their curriculum into the essay. For example, the other seventh grade teachers are teaching the students how to write an essay when they cover the geography chapter.

My plan is to begin teaching how to write an essay by brainstorming about the candidates and their positions on such things as domestic and foreign policy. After we brainstorm I can teach the students how to write an essay in which they will write about the more qualified candidate using supporting information. The follow-up assignment will be to create election posters and buttons supporting their candidate.

I am happy with this assignment but would like to do more, especially as the election grows closer. I will continue to discuss and debate the elections during our current events discussions, but I would love to have the students do more research and have actual debates as if they are the candidates themselves. Networks such as MTV produce specials that examine the candidates in ways that are relevant and easy to understand for students. These shows could easily be incorporated into lessons that would appeal to the students. Unfortunately, I may not have enough time to implement these ideas in my class.

One of the most controversial things about teaching on this election is whether or not the teacher should make his or her opinion known. I am strongly against any teacher expressing his or her opinion to the students. I think that we should always play devil's advocate. Most of my students get their opinions from their parents, and as I see it, my job to expose students to other ideas as well so that they have a range of resources available to them as they formulate their own opinions.

Students are very impressionable, especially in middle school, and I think that they should not be influenced in the development of their beliefs. Many of our students want to please us, and they will agree with whatever we say. So if I express my opinion many students will assume this as their own view in an attempt to make me happy and out of fear of disagreeing with me. The opposite is also true, many students may disagree with me just to defy me.

If students do either of these things then I am not doing my job. My job is to prepare students for life and I would be doing a disservice to them if I in any way influence their opinions. If I inform students of my opinion I am basically taking away their rights. I will be contributing to the brainwashing of my students, as is done in countries where students are taught not to question their government. I think that any teacher who makes their opinion known to their students should find another career because they are doing a huge injustice to their students.

Our students need to be informed of the issues at hand so that they can develop their own opinions and hopefully will be motivated to go out and vote when they are eligible.

Diane Maier teaches at Long Beach Middle School in New York.

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Analyzing the Bush-Kerry Debate: A Sample Lesson Plan

by Alan Singer


On Thursday, September 30, 2004, there was a debate between Presidential candidates George Bush and John Kerry. The debate was moderated by Jim Lehrer of the Public Broadcasting System.

A. Read the interchange below and answer the following questions:

  • In your opinion, was this a fair question? Explain.
  • On what points, if any, do Bush and Kerry agree?
  • On what points, if any, do Bush and Kerry disagree?
  • Which answer came closest to your view of the situation? Explain why.
  • Based on this selection alone, who do you think was "more Presidential"? Why?

Jim Lehrer: Do you believe the election of Senator Kerry on November the 2nd would increase the chances of the U.S. being hit by another 9/11-type terrorist attack?

President Bush:

No, I don't believe it's going to happen. I believe I'm going to win, because the American people know I know how to lead. I've shown the American people I know how to lead. I haveóI understand everybody in this country doesn't agree with the decisions I've made. And I made some tough decisions. But people know where I stand. People out there listening know what I believe. And that's how best it is to keep the peace.

This nation of ours has got a solemn duty to defeat this ideology of hate. And that's what they are. This is a group of killers who will not only kill here, but kill children in Russia, that'll attack unmercifully in Iraq, hoping to shake our will. We have a duty to defeat this enemy. We have a duty to protect our children and grandchildren. The best way to defeat them is to never waver, to be strong, to use every asset at our disposal, is to constantly stay on the offensive and, at the same time, spread liberty.

And that's what people are seeing now is happening in Afghanistan. Ten million citizens have registered to vote. It's a phenomenal statistic. They're given a chance to be free, and they will show up at the polls. Forty-one percent of those 10 million are women.

In Iraq, no doubt about it, it's tough. It's hard work. It's incredibly hard. You know why? Because an enemy realizes the stakes. The enemy understands a free Iraq will be a major defeat in their ideology of hatred. That's why they're fighting so vociferously. They showed up in Afghanistan when they were there, because they tried to beat us and they didn't. And they're showing up in Iraq for the same reason. They're trying to defeat us. And if we lose our will, we lose. But if we remain strong and resolute, we will defeat this enemy.

Senator Kerry:

I believe in being strong and resolute and determined. And I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are. But we also have to be smart, Jim. And smart means not diverting your attention from the real war on terror in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden and taking if off to Iraq where the 9/11 Commission confirms there was no connection to 9/11 itself and Saddam Hussein, and where the reason for going to war was weapons of mass destruction, not the removal of Saddam Hussein.

This president has made, I regret to say, a colossal error of judgment. And judgment is what we look for in the president of the United States of America. I'm proud that important military figures who are supporting me in this race: former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili; just yesterday, General Eisenhower's son, General John Eisenhower, endorsed me; General Admiral William Crown; General Tony McBeak, who ran the Air Force war so effectively for his fatheróall believe I would make a stronger commander in chief. And they believe it because they know I would not take my eye off of the goal: Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, he escaped in the mountains of Tora Bora. We had him surrounded. But we didn't use American forces, the best trained in the world, to go kill him. The president relied on Afghan warlords and he outsourced that job too. That's wrong.

B. Watch the same exchange between Lehrer, Bush and Kerry on television. Does your opinion change in any way when you see them "live"? Explain.

C. On October 1, 2004, the day after the Presidential debate, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote an opinion/editorial called "America's Lost Respect." Read the selection below and answer the following questions:

  • Based on this passage, what is Krugman's view of the debate between Bush and Senator Kerry? What evidence do you have to support this conclusion?
  • In your view, does Krugman give a fair assessment of President Bush's position? Explain.
  • How does Krugman's article affect your view of what you read and saw in the debate?

As a result of the American military," President Bush declared last week, "the Taliban is no longer in existence."

It's unclear whether Mr. Bush misspoke, or whether he really is that clueless. But his claim was in keeping with his reelection strategy, demonstrated once again in last night's debate: a president who has done immense damage to America's position in the world hopes to brazen it out by claiming that failure is success.

Three years ago, the United States was both feared and respected: feared because of its military supremacy, respected because of its traditional commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

Since then, Iraq has demonstrated the limits of American military power, and has tied up much of that power in a grinding guerrilla war. This has emboldened regimes that pose a real threat. Three years ago, would North Korea have felt so free to trumpet its conversion of fuel rods into bombs?

But even more important is the loss of respect. After the official rationales for the Iraq war proved false, and after America failed to make good on its promise to foster democracy in either Afghanistan or Iraq - and, not least, after Abu Ghraib - the world no longer believes that we are the good guys.

Let's talk for a minute about Afghanistan, which administration officials tout as a success story. They rely on the public's ignorance: voters, they believe, don't know that even though the United States promised to provide Afghanistan with both security and aid during its transition to democracy, it broke those promises. It has allowed the country to slide back into warlordismóand allowed the Taliban to make a comeback.

These days, Mr. Bush and other administration officials often talk about the 10.5 million Afghans who have registered to vote in this month's election, citing the figure as proof that democracy is making strides after all. They count on the public not to know, and on reporters not to mention, that the number of people registered considerably exceeds all estimates of the eligible population. What they call evidence of democracy on the march is actually evidence of large-scale electoral fraud.

Alan Singer is graduate director of social studies education at Hofstra University.

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Integrating the Election into My High School Economics Class

by Kerry Schaefer


There are many ways to address the election in the classroom. It is a chance to use current events in the classroom, while helping to teach students how to become informed and productive members of society.

I teach grade 12 economics. Some of the seniors are eligible to vote in this election, but most of them just miss the date. Even before beginning an election project, I gave them voting registration applications and websites where they can register.

It is easy to tie the election into economics. A major issue for both Bush and Kerry is campaign finance. Other issues the candidates face are how to use the economic numbers to their advantage, soft money contributions, war finances, and how and when to use the country's resources.

I will set up the election project by handing out a sheet of the issues. I will ask the students, "Which issue is most important to this year's presidential campaign?" We will discuss some the issues.

The project itself will be to ask students to collect two articles a week on election issuesópreferably related to economicsófrom the New York Times, Washington Post, or another approved, reputable newspaper. I will ask students to summarize the two articles and include at least five sentences on their opinion of the issue described in the article.

Every Friday, in class, I'll randomly call on a student to tell the class about his article and explain his opinion.

At the conclusion of the project, students will hand in all summarized articles and a one-page paper answering these questions:

  • Who am I voting for? Why?
  • How do economic issues play a role in presidential elections?

As a conclusion to the project, in November, I will hold a class election where students elect their own president. We can discover if my students think along the same political lines as the rest of America (and hopefully not just the electoral college).

We'll have discussions about the project and election throughout the marking period. I know that at some point, a student will want to know my opinion and who I plan to vote for in November. I feel that it is inappropriate to reveal which candidate I support. I realize I have the right to expose my political stance, but I do not think my opinion is pertinent to class conversation. I do not have a problem telling them that the union has endorsed Kerry, but I would follow it with an explanation of why the union chose him.

A presidential election is an opportunity to tie in current events and enhance literacy. The most effective way to address the election is to use a reputable source with a high reading level, like the New York Times, to provide students access to accurate information while augmenting their reading skills. The process of choosing an article, summarizing it, and interjecting their own opinions are all vital pieces of becoming an informed, productive citizen.

Kerry Schaefer teaches in Levittown, New York.

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