How to Help Students and Others Process the Presidential Election and Its Aftermath

How to Help Students and Others Process the Presidential Election and Its Aftermath

Karen Gross 08/11/2020 3
How to Help Students and Others Process the Presidential Election and Its Aftermath

When we listen and watch what occurred during election night and in the days after, one has to wonder how to help children process what they are seeing and hearing.

Regardless of one’s political party, it seems to me that we are having a hard time making good on this message: we are the United States of America.

Here are a set of strategies that can work with COVID-19 protections in place to help children (and perhaps adults too) understand how we move forward, how we create unity, how we deal with social and racial disparities.  These are strategies for online, hybrid and in person learning.  Ask: how do we process and understand how we became divided and how we can become united.  In this context, I am deeply informed by the 1960’s and the ways in which our nation was ripped into pieces then.

One more point: the goal is not to be partisan. It is to allow students to process the election whether one is in a Red or Blue State or has Red or Blue family/friends.

Also: this has been written just after the victory for President Biden as declared. It is possible that other activities/exercises will arise in the next few days, weeks and months.

Classroom Strategies and Activities

1. Consider games that involve rules and rule-making and then changing the rules mid-stream or arbitrarily picking a winner or having too many rules.  Here’s an example.  Suppose that students each have separate piles of an item, ideally identical (paperclips; spaghetti; marbles; countable items).  Then say: Let’s play the paper clip game. Students will say: How do we play?  Collectively the students can make the rules without distinguishing between them.  Then, let students try to play but it is too confusing. So, one needs to prioritize among the rules. Assume a set of rules are adopted but as the game is played, the teacher keeps changing the rules mid-stream. Then assume students play by the rules but the teacher arbitrarily picks a winner, not the actual winner.  The point is we need rules, we need to play by them and we need to be fair.  We cannot change rules mid-stream or after the fact. Students can address how this worked and did not work and how we want it to work.

2. There are a set of questions that can be asked about voting that will interest students and can be researched and debated. For those with large international students, one can conduct comparisons among nations.  Ask what percent of the population votes in US and other nations. Why is it higher/lower in different locations? Ask students at what age one should be allowed to vote.  Ask students who should be allowed to vote.  Ask students about why election day is a Tuesday. Is that optimal? Is it used by other nations?  How about early voting and its effects?  Many of these questions are not “political” and could work whether one is in a red or blue state.

3. Ask students to think about how voter irregularity could occur.  What kind of scams could exist? How can we prevent those?  Students like to decode scams so it is worth identify some scams (whether in the US or elsewhere) and have student consider how the scams worked.  For example, look at this article.  Ask who is targeted? Why is it so so easy for scams to work

4. There are a myriad of children’s books on voting and voting rights.  It is worth reading one or more of them to children but one has to be careful to make sure the pitch and tone of the books is fair and steady and accurate, given the complexity of voting across the US – federal and state rules and regulations.  My choices here are not historical – on the history of voting and voter suppression.

Here are two suggestions about the importance of voting; these are intended for an elementary school audience, although V is for Voting can be adapted because it uses the alphabet to share Democratic processes.

A. Curious George Votes by H.A. Rey (2020); and

B. V is for Vote by Kate Farrell (2020)

Little Blue and Little Yellow might have value too in terms of unity.

5. It is worth getting an actual sample ballot for students to see; most folks don’t see an actual ballot until the first time they vote.  Share with students how to decode the ballot and how much one actually needs to know to be a thoughtful voter.  Note, too, the propositions that get voted upon at an election.  With the ballot in hand (before students vote), ask them how it could be simplified. Ask how well they can select among the candidates. Ask what information they would need to decide.  Let the students even do research and then indicate their voting preferences for one or two races based on what they learned.

6. Allow students to have a place to express their feelings and thoughts anonymously – say chalking or post-its on a wall. Students need to be able to process and expressing feelings is one strong route toward that end. The point is not to be judgmental with respect to what is posted (assuming it is in the realm of decency).

7. Consider how transparent and open we are about our support for different candidates. Ask students their views on whether people who are asked should or do share for whom they voted. Why might people be silent? Why might they share?  Would you (as a student or teacher) share. Why and why not?

8. Have students do these two short writing exercises:  If you were elected President but the margin was very close, what would be the first three sentences you would say on television (and in writing) to the American people regarding your win?  If you were the loser in a tight presidential race, what would be the first three sentences you would say on television and in writing in your concession remarks.  Have students read their remarks to each other. Compare them to the actual remarks of incoming President Biden and outgoing President Trump.

9. Transitions are hard for people in all situations and a presidential transition is not easy.  What four things would make a transition from one leader to another easier, better and smoother?  Do you think those four things will happen?  (Teachers can keep track over the coming months based on the students’ lists.)

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  • Patrick McLaughlin

    Democracy always wins, don't listen to Donald Trump.

  • Alexander Baile

    Excellent article

  • Giulia Lorusso

    Trump lost !!

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Karen Gross

Higher Education Expert

Karen is an educator and an author. Prior to becoming a college president, she was a tenured law professor for two plus decades. Her academic areas of expertise include trauma, toxic stress, consumer finance, overindebtedness and asset building in low income communities. She currently serves as Senior Counsel at Finn Partners Company. From 2011 to 2013, She served (part and full time) as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. She was the Department's representative on the interagency task force charged with redesigning the transition assistance program for returning service members and their families. From 2006 to 2014, she was President of Southern Vermont College, a small, private, affordable, four-year college located in Bennington, VT. In Spring 2016, she was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in VT. She also teaches part-time st Molly Stark Elementary School, also in Vt. She is also an Affiliate of the Penn Center for MSIs. She is the author of adult and children’s books, the most recent of which are titled Breakaway Learners (adult) and  Lucy’s Dragon Quest. Karen holds a bachelor degree in English and Spanish from Smith College and Juris Doctor degree (JD) in Law from Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law.


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