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Parents Can Encourage Voting Awareness

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Election Day is Nov. 6, and parents must decide what they will tell their children and what attitudes they will convey about the importance of voting.

It seems parents are not only the first teachers, but in some cases the only teachers on this subject, since schools are doing less lately in the area of teaching government.

In "Civic Education Found Lacking in Most States," my colleague Nora Fleming reports that "only eight states have standardized tests specifically in civics and U.S. government at the high school level, and Ohio and Virginia are the only two that require students to pass them in order to graduate. (Civic education is defined as coursework in civics, government, and U.S. government.)"

Fleming's article is based on a report by The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which produced a fact sheet that describes state laws, standards, and requirements for K-12 civics, complete with a spreadsheet that provides details on each state.

While 40 states require at least one course in American government or civics, in this school year only 21 states require a state-designed social studies test—down from 34 states in 2001. (Maryland and Florida are adding new social studies assessments in the future.)

Interestingly, Fleming quotes a professor who explains that the view of voting as part of a citizen's "duty" is archaic to today's young voters-to-be. "Since most teachers, policymakers, and curriculum developers grew up with that model, they often do not appreciate the gap that is created with more peer-oriented, experiential, and digitally mediated forms of engagement preferred by young people," W. Lance Bennett, a professor of political science at the University of Washington, in Seattle, and director of the Center for Communication & Civic Engagement told Fleming.

So how can parents engage students in a way that they will care about exercising the right to vote granted to U.S. citizens?

Take your student with you to the polls when you vote. Explain the ballot, and talk about the decisions you have to make. That's what Paul Fabrizio, now a professor of political science at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, did with his two children, he told the CincySchoolZone.com website.

Another experiential way of introducing children to candidates is to take them to debates, rallies, or other opportunities where students can hear politicians in person, and perhaps meet them.

If you volunteer for a political party, your son or daughter might participate along with you in various activities.

You can also read stories in the media, or watch YouTube videos, about various campaigns and contests, then discuss the views shared—and whether you agree or disagree. Paid political advertisements—in print, online and on TV—offer more discussion points for parents and children.

Other suggestions:


  • The Washington Post developed a free app to teach children about the election.

  • Time for Kids has created a dedicated page for Election 2012, as has Scholastic magazine.

  • CNN has produced a web page with resources to teach children about the presidential election.

If voting matters to parents, their children will get the message—whether or not they learn much about citizenship in action at school.

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