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During an American Bar Association National Law Day breakfast in Washington, D.C., teachers from around the nation met to learn more about how to engage their students in the election process.
“I can’t think of a group more appropriate to kick off Law Day with than teachers, the guardians of America’s future,” said Pauline Weaver, national Law Day chair.
“This Law Day occurs on the eve of the 50th anniversaries of two landmark pieces of legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” said ABA President James R. Silkenat. “A half-century later, we have much work to do to meet our goal of equal access to the ballot rolls.”
Silkenat, discussing the importance of this year’s Law Day theme, “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters,” noted President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
“U.S. teachers are on the front lines to increase civic engagement,” Silkenat added.
The fifty teachers at the breakfast received information about Rock the Vote’s Democracy Class, which is a program that includes video, a classroom discussion and a mock election to assist students in becoming more active participants in the election process.
Teachers saw short videos from the film “Electoral Dysfunction,” an ABA Silver Gavel Award-winning documentary that has been adapted for the New York Times Op-Docs video series. The three- to five-minute videos address everything from the controversy involving voter ID laws to the origins of the Electoral College and efforts to reform it.
Bennett Singer, the documentary’s producer and director, said the film, which features Mo Rocca on a road trip aimed at understanding how voting works in America, will be available as a teaching kit this fall for middle- and high-school classrooms. The kit includes a 40-minute outtake of the film; a curriculum guide; primary-source documents; literacy tests; ballot gallery; and activities designed to get students involved in the electoral process. Singer’s goal is to provide a kit for any educator who requests it. Singer said one of the most telling discussions in the film is that people believe the right to vote is in the Constitution, “but it isn’t.”
Following the review of the videos, teachers offered suggestions on how to incorporate aspects of them in the classroom. Teachers discussed having students collect data in their own communities to determine local voting challenges, implementing classroom activities to help students better understand the Electoral College process and encouraging students to think of ways to improve the overall election process.
Ceciley Robinson, a social studies teacher at Charlotte-Amalie High School in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, said, “I’m eager to get back to my school to share with other teachers about the resources that are available to help students understand their civic responsibilities.”
The event was held in cooperation with the Close Up Foundation.