FLIP THE SCRIPT! REFORM THE ELECTION: When it comes to presidential candidates making education reform an election issue, we can only laugh to keep from crying. The latest gaffe... eh, platform position? Mitt Romney believes in teachers' rights to strike but not in teachers' unions ability to donate to political campaigns if they're negotiating labor contracts with those same politicians. We'll pretend for a minute that the Citizens United decision doesn't exist and attempt to clarify Romney's comments.
What we actually heard is that all teachers unions should be dissolved and a super PAC for all public school teachers formed instead. Take the bosses of the five largest unions and change their titles to "Lobbyist." With just $50/year from every teacher, this super PAC could amass $170M for a little Washington-style edu-justice. Surely there are no conflicts of interest in that scenario.
But alas, politics have never taught a 1st grader to read or an 8th grader to solve for x. And today's politics hardly qualify as critical discussion among adults -- let alone K-12 students. So how does a politically-conscious educator bring awareness to students?
Start with the issues -- or more specifically, the issue: money. BudgetHero: Election Edition lets users allocate their tax dollars to specific projects. You can then watch how the country, say, emerges from the doldrums or tumbles straight into them as a result of your policies. The project was created by American Public Media and has major support from the MacArthur Foundation and Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Would-be deficit-hawks are provided with a "policy cards" that can affect budget data forecasts. Simply play your cards (or not) and watch various scenarios unfold. The cards reflect the vetted suggestions of political candidates, think tanks, and special interest groups, while the budget data comes from the Congressional Budget Office.
Once students have a good feel for their impending doom or historic comeback, dial up Engage2012.org and let the kids create a two-minute video about Jobs and the Economy that could win them some money. The competition, created by the Media Arts Institute and supported by Adobe and YouTube, offers $1K to the top three videos deemed most "accurate, fair, interesting and informative." If the economy seems a little too ponderous for your classroom vibe, let students choose one of five other topics: Voter Turnout, Education Reform, Health Care, Energy and the Environment, and Immigration. Complete contest details are here.
If your classroom is brimming with ideas but short on policy lingo, bookmark this collection of election resources from PBS Learning Media. The multimedia glossary will ensure that students can explain their ideas to friends and policy wonks alike.
Of course you can always tune into CSPAN to get it straight from the source, but these tools provide a nifty way to sift through the political maelstrom and nudge students to think critically about issues they'll likely face throughout their lifetime.