Democracy: Participating in the Process
By Rick Homan
INTENDED GRADE LEVEL/SUBJECT AREA
Grades 10-12 Social Sciences, Language Arts
We do an in-depth study of political parties and the role they play in the democratic process. I do this by dividing students into groups representing each Canadian party. Each group is expected to do the research and present their findings to the rest of the class. Students need to brainstorm research questions that will serve to guide their inquiry. Therefore, questions such as how and why the party evolved, who its founders were, and where it is at today are key research issues.
Students may also choose to phone or visit the offices of their local MLAs or MPs for additional information. As well, they may request, if possible, to have that representative visit the class for a more thorough presentation of the party and its platform.
- research and identify all candidates running in the upcoming election—municipal,provincial or federal
- interview all local candidates and gather information about each individual as well as their party platforms
- invite all candidates to a public forum moderated by their teacher
- organize all aspects of the forum
- demonstrate an understanding of the different political issues by writing a letter to the editor of our local newspaper expressing a point of view
- develop an understanding and an appreciation for the dedication and hard work of many of our elected representatives
PART ONE — ELECTION DATE IS SET: To become informed about candidates, party platforms, and election issues, extensive research is done. Students gather newspaper articles, videotape newscasts, and surf the net searching for appropriate websites (see Election Scrapbook, last page). Once information is gathered and extensive discussion completed, students form groups according to political interest.
PART TWO — ORGANIZE AND INTERVIEW: Students join together and organize their action plan. Each group then makes a phone call to their respective candidate to arrange an interview date and time. The interview is a formal interview with an approved set of questions to be asked. An analysis of the interview, plus the questions and answers must be submitted for evaluation.
At the same time that the interview is being arranged, an invitation is given to the candidate to attend an ALL CANDIDATES FORUM on a set date. Radio, newspapers, and television stations are all invited to the forum. The audience is the school’s Social Studies classes, but we also extend an invitation to the public, especially the senior citizens that live close to the school and may find our forum more convenient.
PART THREE — LET THE FORUM BEGIN: As the students often say, “This is what makes the project so neat”—respected people in the community in heated debate trying to convince people into believing they have the answers. Here, students dressed in their finest, meet candidates as well as the media and the public and escort them to the room where the forum is being held. They serve coffee and fruit juice as well as water.
Once people are seated, each candidate is introduced and then the forum begins. A good block of time is set aside at the end for questions from the audience (in this case, our student body). Students are also responsible for assisting media, putting the sound system in place, and dealing with any unplanned emergencies. Once the forum is complete, the candidates are thanked by their respective student representative and this activity is finished.
Students have chosen to become actively involved in a candidate’s election program. This has happened in a number of cases where students have answered phones at campaign headquarters, delivered flyers, etc. In one situation, one of our students became a candidate and ran as a Liberal, receiving the third largest number of votes in his riding of Lethbridge West.
PART FOUR — TAKING IT ONE STEP FURTHER: Students assess the debate and all information accumulated to that point. The students are asked to compare each candidate’s platform and analyze it according to strengths and weaknesses. At this point, students are also asked to analyze past performances of the parties and incumbent candidates, if applicable.
Students are then asked to write a letter to the editor of our local newspaper pertaining to some election issue. This gives us an opportunity to further examine the role of a newspaper but,more specifically, the service they provide to our democratic system by providing the opportunity for citizens to publicly proclaim a position on an issue of concern to them.
PART FIVE — THE RESULTS: Our final activity is to hold our own election and we do that on the same day the election itself is held. We create the ballots and go room to room allowing students to vote if they wish. The results are gathered and reported back the following day to the school via the intercom. As a follow-up, we report our results to the media who publish the school results with the election results. At every step, the students are actively involved in the decision-making process.
Rick Homan has a deep understanding of Canadian history. He challenges his students to excel and reach out into the community. His election unit has the class research the platforms of local electoral candidates. Students organize public all-party meetings, prepare questions and create debriefing documents on the candidates’ positions. Rick encourages his students to think critically and has developed notes to help students improve their writing skills. This holistic approach has nurtured well-informed, concerned, literate citizens.
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