March Madness: Classroom Resources for the Illinois Primaries and Super Tuesday

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
Do you have your brackets ready for March Madness? No, we are not referencing the college basketball playoffs, rather the flurry of political contests next month that provide a unique learning opportunity for #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms, as nearly two-thirds of the delegates to the national conventions will be selected by month’s end.

The nation will be closely watching the results of Super Tuesday on March 3rd as the race for White House heats up. Closer to home, the March 17th Illinois primaries will provide an opportunity for #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms to explore candidates for congress, the Illinois General Assembly, the state judiciary as well as important local races.

This past week, Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, hosted our second #Election2020 after school webinar that reviewed the presidential contest results to date and previewed what to look for on Super Tuesday. Dr. Healy also provided an overview of the races to watch in Illinois. If you missed the 45-minute webinar, you can access a recording.

Each webinar concludes with classroom resources you can use to engage students during this election year. Here are some of the resources shared in the last webinar:
  • The 2/17 #SSCHAT shared resources around Teaching the 2020 Primaries.
  • The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) created a 2020 Election Center to track youth voter registration rates, their views on the candidates, and their involvement in the political process.
  • The Teaching for Democracy Alliance has resources to equip teachers and administrators to engage students in elections and voting is a productive and safe way.
  • Mikva Challenge curated five lessons to help students take Elections to Action.
  • iCivics has a number of online games and lesson plans to help students navigate the Road to the White House.
  • Looking for some online quizzes to match your students with candidates? Try iSideWith or
  • Ballotpedia has resources for students to see who is on the ballot in their region
  • FiveThirtyEight is tracking polls in contested congressional races
  • The League of Women Voters of Illinois has an overview of the election calendar for Illinois and links to non partisan voter guides.
  • Project Vote Smart’s Vote Easy platform compares candidates in both presidential and congressional races by their positions on key issues.
What resources are you using to engage your student in #Election2020? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Teachable Moments: Presidential Pardons

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

This past Tuesday, President Trump announced a flurry of presidential pardons and commutations. Illinois residents were particularly interested by the president’s decision to commute Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison term, releasing the former governor more than four years early and drawing to a close one of the state’s most notorious corruption cases.

Students in #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms may have questions about the Blagojevich case and the president’s power to pardon. Here are some resources to help.
What resources are you using to help your students understand presidential pardons? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Guest Blog: We Shouldn’t Talk about Voting without Talking about Voter Suppression - Complicating the Ideal of One Person, One Vote

by Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, Illinois Civics Instructional Coach
Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz taught high school in the St. Louis area prior to earning a PhD in history. She was a James Madison fellow, class of 1999, and graduated from Knox College with a BA in history and secondary education. She is the social science teaching coordinator and an associate professor of history at Eastern Illinois University, where she teaches social studies methods courses as well as the U.S. history survey, women’s history, research methods and writing, and courses in the online MA for teachers. She is the Civics Instructional Coach for Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Edwards, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jasper, Lawrence, Massac, Moultrie, Pope, Richland, Saline, Shelby, Wabash, Wayne & White Counties.
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
We are set to mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment, the moment when American women became voters. Coverage of this centennial abounds, and while some of it offers the nuanced, complicated, and sometimes disheartening story of how women fought for and won suffrage, I wonder if our students sometimes just see this as a moment of progress, a metaphorical checkmark next to another group of people who had once been disenfranchised and are now voters. A similar story might be offered about the Voting Rights Act of 1965, often framed as putting an end to the violence and opposition that disenfranchised African American voters despite the 15th and 19th amendments.

As American patriots, we love stories of upward progress, slow and steady work to expand the bounds of our democratic system, to include more and more voices. I love these stories, too. They are comforting, even inspiring. And yet, I don’t believe that this is the story we should be telling about voting rights in American history. While sixteen states have enacted automatic voter registration, other states have passed stricter voter ID laws, made it harder for college students to vote, closed polls, and decreased the early voting period. Prior to the 2016 election, for example, southern states closed down over 800 polling places.

As we discuss the 19th Amendment, of Shelby v. Holder, and of the upcoming Illinois primary and November’s Presidential election, I believe we should frame voting rights as being contested throughout American history, not just in the past but also in the present. The adage of “one person, one vote” may be our vision of what democracy is, but in the United States each adult person does not have equal ability or access to vote. In his recent book, Give Us the Ballot, Ari Berman makes the case that sophisticated tactics aimed at suppressing the vote have been used in the American past and, very importantly, since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

We know that cases of voter fraud are very rare. Despite that, voter fraud is often used to justify strict voter ID laws (recently struck down by the state Supreme Court in Missouri) and the kind of voter roll purging that recently made headlines in Wisconsin. The Brennan Center produced an extensively researched report arguing that “fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and many instances of alleged fraud are, in fact, mistakes by voters or administrators.” If we believe this report and other such research, we are doing a disservice to our students if we present an argument about voter ID and the need to combat voter fraud that doesn’t consider voter suppression alongside voting rights.

We are also creating unjust cynicism in our students, who we hope will take voting seriously. As Anya Malley points out in Teaching the Truth About Voter Suppression, “For some folks today, there is a lot standing between them and the polls. When we write off all non-voters as lazy or unengaged, we ignore the impact of voter suppression. Instead of pretending that voting is equally easy for everyone, we should explain to students how voter suppression happens and how it affects election outcomes.”

Resources for Teaching about Voting and Voter Suppression

Resources for the State of the Union Address

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

This week is a cornucopia of “teachable moments” for #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms. The week begins with the Iowa Caucuses. Next, a vote in the Senate to conclude the impeachment proceedings against President Trump is expected midweek. A Democratic Debate in New Hampshire rounds out the week on Friday.

Tuesday will be marked by a Presidential address to the nation on the State of the Union. If you are looking for resources to help students understand the history and significance of the State of the Union address, here are a few resources to start with.
What are you doing to use the State of the Union address in your classroom? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare all students for college, career and civic life.