The State of the Race

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

This past week, IllinoisCivics.org kicked off our fall programming with a post-convention webinar updating educators on the State of the Race. Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation compared and contrasted the conventions and their respective impacts on polling. Dr. Healy also provided an overview of how the pandemic and political polarization might shape how the electorate participates this fall and key races in the Land of Lincoln to watch, including the referendum on the Fair Tax Amendment.

This was the first in a series of webinars to support educators in using the 2020 elections as a teachable moment to meet the 6-8 and 9-12 civics requirements. A recent article by the School Library Journal titled, “Vote of Confidence: When it Comes to Teaching the 2020 Election, Educators Have a Plan,” author Kara Yorio states:

For educators who teach about elections, it is even more complicated—whether a school has in-person classes, is online only, or attempting a hybrid of both. It is a presidential election year. While many found 2016 daunting with its unprecedented rhetoric and a polarized nation, 2020 will be more difficult, educators say.

Our IllinoisCivics.org Election 2020 Toolkit is full of non-partisan resources that can help educators navigate teaching about the upcoming elections in this era of polarization. We asked two of our Regional Civics Instructional Coaches to share resources they recommend educators start with. Here are their suggestions.
  • Candace Fikis from West Chicago suggests educators start with two of iCivics’ popular games, Win the White House and Cast Your Vote. Both games can be played in either English or Spanish. Candace explains, “iCivics has interactive education games about elections, including ‘Win the White House’ that allows students to run their own presidential campaign and shows the process it takes to win the presidency. Also, ‘Cast Your Vote’ teaches students about elections and identifying issues and types of candidates they support.”
  • Candace also recommends the C-SPAN Classroom. “C-Span in the Classroom has tons of teacher resources for the election. It includes bellringers, video clips, and lesson plans. These work great for remote learning, too.”
  • Tracy Freeman from Normal sees an opportunity to teach civics through history with a DBQuest from iCivics on Women’s Suffrage and World War I. “This is set up as a full lesson or a student self-guided tour to analyze documents. It is amazing for virtual or in-person learning.”
  • Tracy also recommends the PBS Newshour lesson To Vote or Not to Vote. “I highly recommend the “To Vote or Not to Vote” lesson designed to engage students around the essential question of Why is voting an important responsibility for citizens? The site has a full lesson with tons of resources to engage students.”
The deadlines to register to vote in person and online are looming:
  • Voter registration deadline in person is Tuesday, October 6th, 2020
  • Online voter registration deadline is Sunday, October 16th, 2020
  • Voter registration forms sent by mail must be postmarked no later than Tuesday, October 6th, 2020.
Students in both 6-8 and 9-12 classrooms can play an important role in linking their communities with this and other important questions about the voting process in Illinois. IllinoisCivics.org created a new lesson plan called Illinois Voting 101 that equips students with important knowledge and skills to take the L.E.A.D. in their community to connect the electorate with key information to participate in the November elections. In this lesson, students:
  • Learn about the information voters need to know to navigate the voting process in Illinois through a Digital Breakout Room 
  • Explore what information about voting is not as well known by engaging others in a student-designed survey
  • Act to share critical information about voting in Illinois with their community through PSAs
  • Digest learning through a reflection activity aligned to the essential and supporting questions
What are you doing to update students on the state of the race and engage their community with the fundamentals of voting? Please comment below. Together, we can use the 2020 elections as a teachable moment to prepare ALL students for college, career, and civic life.

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