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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Who said we are not old enough?

The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.
     - John F. Kennedy



Participation Nation:

Almost every citizen in our democracy has the right to vote and, therefore, impact who becomes the next mayor, governor, president, school board member, or other elected office.  Of course you have to be 18 to vote, but do you have to be 18 to make an impact?  


It was time to teach about elections!  Obviously this would be reserved for Social Studies class, correct?  Not so fast!  The Communities program at Oshkosh North High School implements a Compassion-Based Learning model which ties together social studies, science, literacy, and leadership, and business courses.  Instead of compartmentalizing the subject areas into silos, the Communities program has done a wonderful job of breaking down the "brick walls" of these silos and teaching students that the "real world" is a combination of every subject area.  Reading, writing and  speaking are integral parts of the elections process and many of the decisions that are made by our elected officials are impacted by science, whether it be from research funding, to environmental issues, to health care.  This past year, by the time we had reached the "Elections" unit, the culture had been created and students understood that life is interdisciplinary.  During the unit, students were introduced to the major elections that were taking place and compared them to elections from the past.  Students discussed the importance of the elections process and the impact that elected officials could have on decisions which affected everyone.  Students learned how to do research using primary and secondary sources of information.  These, along with other things we did, are all things that I envision students doing during a typical elections unit in school.  This wasn't a typical elections unit in school, however.  This is COMPASSION-BASED LEARNING.  Our staff was determined to show the relevance and application of this topic and to tie it to something the students were passionate about.  We wanted to empower them.  We wanted to encourage them to do a hands-on project that would not only solidify their knowledge about this topic, but would help make our community a better place. 




None of our students are 18 years old, though.  Could they really have an impact on the elections?  Absolutely!!!  Students began to brainstorm ideas and were soon convinced that each of them could have a larger impact on the elections than than someone who remained quiet and simply cast their one vote.  Social Studies teacher Rick Leib, along with feedback from students decided on the following project:

Participation Nation!


We invited politicians in to speak to our students and were fortunate enough to get two wonderful speakers (one from each party).  Next, students compiled research and decided upon the topics that were the "Most Important" regarding the presidential elections.  Students divided into groups and spent time researching these topics.  They worked hard to develop non-partisan explanations and the history of each of these topics.  Then with the help of Fox Valley Technical College and one of their very benevolent instructors (Dan Kretz), the students began to write up these summaries so they could be posted on a website.  The website would act to inform voters of the issues that were important to this election.  They felt that, although they could not vote, they could impact the elections by educating anyone who was uncertain of the issues.


Many students were excited!  They wrote and revised their explanations of the topics.  The students then decided to promote their work and talked to area television stations and radio stations.  Several of our students were invited to speak live on radio stations, to create "vote" commercials on a radio station, and to speak in front of a television camera describing the project for the news.  Although the students were nervous, they did a wonderful job and represented our project admirably.









Students also decided to make signs encouraging people to vote.  On "elections day" students  walked around with signs encouraging people to vote.  They talked with their parents, friends, neighbors, and community members and encouraged everyone to express their beliefs by casting their vote.




The experience was wonderful.  I have never in my life seen a large group of teenage students so excited for an election.  During the debates the students engaged in "Forum Discussion Sessions" on Edmodo and Google in which questions were posted by teachers and student moderators and other students would answer.  Question such as:  Who do you think is winning this debate as of now?  
What do you notice about their body language?  Do you think the moderator is doing a good enough job of controlling the debate?  We had the majority of our students watching and commenting on a presidential debate on several different nights.

This project provided an opportunity to learn about elections, politics, history and a variety of other "content" topics.  Students also learned about many 21st century skills including collaboration, communication, research, critical thinking, argumentation, etc...  Most importantly the students had PASSION!!!  The students, who were all under 18, were not supposed to matter in this election.......but they DID!!!  They took the initiative, believed in themselves, and created an enthusiastic environment that was contagious.  The website, which can be found at 
http://www.participationnation.info/important-election-facts/ received over 22,000 views and compliments from many voters.  Our students impacted the elections, made a valuable contribution to society, became empowered and proved that THEY MATTER!!!







Thank you for reading this!
If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns, please let me know.

oliver.schinkten@oshkosh.k12.wi.us
Twitter:  @schink10

Oliver Schinkten
Co-Founder of Communities at ONHS

2 comments:

  1. One thing that I love about my job is to set forth an example of what compassion sounds like, feels like, looks like. It manifests itself in so many spectacular ways. What I enjoyed about your post today was the political element of it. As a every now and then politician...I have had several jobs in that regard, I really am a HUGE fan of teaching women to vote. It blows my mind that some dont! I don't understand. I liked that you brought in politicos to do this with students. When I bring in my mayor or my city council reps or even county oficials..or our chief of police it creates an understanding to the adults that these are all our children. That is what I want. Stakeholders in these children's lives! And then the Ss see that they matter and their future matters. Thanks for sharing! Kimberly Hurd Horst, Isanti MInnesota

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  2. Thank you for your feedback and insight Kimberly! Your feedback is greatly appreciated. We did feel strongly that the students felt a sense of empowerment and ownership after this project. It was great to see.

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