The divisive election season between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has been a challenging one to teach, educators say, but many still plan to cover results in class next week.
“I think this is something that transcends curriculum,” says Tim Royers, a social studies teacher at Millard West High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Royers has already been covering the election with his students by walking them through how the Electoral College works, encouraging them to watch the debates and more.
Students at the school are participating in a mock election, something other social studies teachers are doing or have planned.
Royers, the 2016 Nebraska Teacher of the Year, plans to lead his students in a discussion on Twitter on election night as the projections role in and will set aside time to talk about results in class the next day.
Royers teaches history – not government – and he thinks this election is something teachers need to cover because it’s the first election most high schoolers will be at or near voting age. “They really need to be hooked on why it is important to get involved in the election, and so if I can do any part of that, that’s critically important,” he says.
Hot topics this election season, such as rigged and inaccurate polling, easily lend themselves to material for a statistics class, Royers says. Math teachers could walk students through what a statistically valid sample size is using this real world application, for instance.
English teachers could have students analyze different campaign speeches to look at tone and purpose, he says.
Greg Oppel, a social studies teacher at Edmond Memorial High School in Oklahoma, has also been covering the election with his students. On election night, he plans to have students taking his regular government class collect digital color-coded maps or infographics of results and then will lead a discussion about them in class the next day.
Another teacher on Twitter has similar plans.
Teachers planning class discussions surrounding election results should have already started these conversations, says Nebraska teacher Royers, so that they’ve had time to set ground rules and create a climate where students can objectively discuss the event.
But teachers who have yet to discuss the election in class and who want to do so on Nov. 9 can lay the foundation this week for a civil discussion by setting norms and expectations and modeling appropriate behavior, he says.
“Where it goes south is where you let kids walk all over the expectations you have for that lesson,” he says
Teachers should also explain to students the importance of having conversations about politics without taking them personally, he says. “That’s the most important lesson that students can learn, especially in a presidential election like this year where the national level of campaign is such a personal campaign.”
“I know a lot of teachers don’t want to do this stuff because they are afraid they are going to get in trouble,” Royers says. Before they start any election-themed activities with students, he encourages teachers to communicate their plans to their superiors at school to have coverage if a parent complains.
This election has been one of the most challenging ones for Royers to teach. Often students may only be exposed to people and content that support their beliefs outside of school. That’s why Royers thinks it’s important these discussions occur in school.
“I think as teachers we have to do it because if we are not the ones that are showing them both sides, who is?”