Teaching the 2016 Election: How to Make Legislative Redistricting Real for Students

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar and Barb Laimins, Teacher Mentor Liaison

Last week, we provided a primer on the state of redistricting reform in Illinois. While the status quo will probably prevail for at least two more years, the topic is an important one to incorporate into classroom instruction. This post compiles resources and lesson plans that make this “broccoli” (a.k.a. redistricting) more than palatable.

Starting close to home, here’s a catchy slide show from the Independent Maps coalition that tells you “Everything You Need to Know About Redistricting.”

Our friends at the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst provide a range of activities and lecture notes on redistricting reform vocabulary and examples of gerrymandering.

And as pennant fever grips the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, the Mikva Challenge framed this redistricting lesson through Chicago’s competing baseball allegiances, the Cubs and White Sox. While it’s already “wait till next year” for the South Siders, they’re credible contenders when it comes to map making.

For further background on legislative redistricting, teachers should access this Fair Vote site that features a section on Illinois, including court cases and challenges to the current system.

Legislative redistricitng is of course a national phenomenon as old as the republic. PBS and CSPAN, respectively, view redistricitng through the lens of Congress, a body that would not have been affected by Illinois’ reform efforts.

Drawing district lines is ripe for classroom simulations, and the WXXI Public Broadcasting Council assigns students an imaginary state and roles advocating for their respective maps.

Learning Law and Democracy in Minnesota has students assume partisan roles in this lesson plan, engaging in gerrymandering as they apply redistricting to local, county, or state boundaries and also consider the demographic components of the two major political parties.

For advanced students, the Public Mapping Project allows citizens to draw their own maps and submit them to state legislatures or commissions for consideration. Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago) has proposed this approach as a constitutional means of achieving reform in Illinois.

Last but definitely not least is RedistrictingGame.org, the go-to site for enabling students to solve the redistricting riddle.

Ready… set… REDISTRICT!

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