“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.”
Susan B. Anthony
By Bill Husfelt
Superintendent, Bay District Schools
As we inch closer to the November 3rd election, and many of us may have already cast our ballots through early voting, it’s important to ensure our children understand what a privilege it is to be able to participate in the democratic process.
I’m not sure that all of our children fully understand, or appreciate, the evolution of voting in our country. With Google, however, a wealth of knowledge is at our fingertips if we choose accurate, primary sources and we can all have the information we need to educate our children and grandchildren.
I think our students need to know that in 1776, only white, male land owners could vote. Racial barriers to voting were technically eliminated in 1870 with the 15th Amendment but “poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and intimidation still prevent many from voting”
(hps://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/elecons/history-of-vong-in-america-meline.pdf ). I think they should know that in 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1964, with the passage of the Federal Civil Rights Act and the 24th Amendment that poll taxes were eliminated and “all men and women age 21 and older, regardless of race, religion or education, have the right to vote” (hps://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/elecons/history-of-vong-in-america-meline.pdf ).
I want all of our children to know that it wasn’t unl 1971, with the passage of the 26th Amendment, that the voting age was lowered to 18 years old. Today, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, there are about 245.5 million Americans who are 18 and older but only about 157 million registered voters. Sadly, however, only 56 percent of registered voters turned out for the presidential election in 2016 (pewresearch.org).
I am not about to get into the politics of this election (there’s enough of that on all of our news stations, in our newspapers and on social media), but I do want to take a minute to remind all of us “grownups” that we’re modeling for our children and grandchildren when we take the me to vote.
I have always considered it to be an honor to cast my ballot and I made sure my children knew that growing up and that my grandchildren know that now. So many people dedicated their lives to ensuring that we all have this basic right and it’s our job, and civic responsibility, to exercise it.
The old social studies teacher in me can’t help but think about the lessons I created around our civic duty and the ways in which I encouraged students to learn about what it takes to be a “good citizen.” Some of those lessons were far more important than the standards-based lessons I planned and, I hope, some of those lessons are remembered still today by those I taught.
In case you’re not a former social studies teacher but want to help your children understand what’s going on and why we vote, National Geographic has some wonderful lessons on “Why Voting is Important” that are applicable to students of all ages and you can find these free resources at www.naonalgeographic.org.
PBS is another great site for parents searching for resources about civic responsibility and voting. On their website, www.pbs.org, you can find videos, discussion starters, printables and cra projects for students of all ages.
Ultimately, it’s up to us to teach our children and grandchildren about the voting process and about why each vote maers. It’s up to us to ensure our children can distinguish between fact and fiction when it comes to the political arena and that they understand the role of political advertising. We cannot shield them from the more unpleasant aspects of politics but we can ensure they understand what’s happening in the world around them and that they are armed with the facts they need to make educated decisions.
I hope you’ll be joining me at the polls for early voting or voting on November 3rd and that you’ll take a few minutes to talk with your children about why you think it’s important to vote.
And, in the meantime, stay well and God bless each of you!