The Redistricting Game

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
Last year, civics classrooms around the country used the 2020 census as a teachable moment to engage students in the proven practices of civic education embedded in the Illinois civics course requirements. The Census 2020 Toolkit provided materials for students to engage in inquiry around essential questions related to power, representation, and justice with resources to direct instruction on democratic institutions, simulations, deliberations, and service learning ideas for students to encourage their community to participate in “making their community count.”

In 2021, reapportionment takes center stage as Illinois faces the probable loss of one Congressional seat and new leadership in the General Assembly takes over the process of redistricting. To help #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms understand the current and societal issue of redistricting, Illinois Civics hosted a webinar featuring Liliana Scales from CHANGE Illinois, a nonpartisan nonprofit that champions ethics and efficiency in government and elections in Illinois. The webinar provided a brief history of redistricting and gerrymandering, challenges involving the 2020 census data, and current initiatives for redistricting reform. Ms. Scales also demonstrated how the Princeton Gerrymandering Project Representable Tool can be used in classrooms to demonstrate how redistricting can be used to, “draw communities of interest and share information about the interests and needs in those communities.”

If you missed the webinar, a recording can be found on the Illinois Civics Webinar Archive.

We asked the Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches to share resources they use to help students understand redistricting and gerrymandering.
  • Alia Bluemlein from Crystal Lake shared her lesson plan for “an in-depth analysis of two landmark Supreme Court Cases that guide redistricting and gerrymandering of Congressional districts.”
  • Tracy Freeman’s students from Normal have “looked at Illinois districts to try to predict what or why they are drawn the way they are. Students then gerrymander their room (seating chart) into three districts (athletes vs. non-athletes, test takers vs. no test takers, shirt color, iPhone number, etc…).” Tracy also uses the Annenberg Classroom video One Person, One Vote: Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims.
  • Christopher Johnson from Oneida likes to “have some good, old fashioned fun redistricting the state of Illinois with paper and M&Ms.” He also finds this article on America’s Most Gerrymandered Congressional Districts from the Washington Post helpful. “The maps are excellent and really illustrate how extreme some of these cases of gerrymandering are.”
  • Matthew Wood from West Chicago explains, “For younger grade levels, Gerrymander by gametheory.com has the basics of Gerrymandering in a fun and supportive way (much simpler than the Redistricting game), which can really be a great starting place.” Matthew also endorses “FiveThirtyEight always having interesting visuals and interactive features that stimulate great questions about the process of redistricting. In this article, they have redrawn districts with a number of specific goals to try out “what if” scenarios.”
What are you using to teach about redistricting in your classroom? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare all students for college, career, and civic life.

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