As of the upcoming President's Day, we decided to explore some basic citizenship ideas, through the process of electing a President in the classroom. The children learned that, in an election, several candidates will present ideas; that all of the candidates do so with good intentions; and that they have the right to choose the candidate whose ideas they prefer - or not to choose any of them.
In our classroom election, all the children were candidates, and I was impressed by the quality of their platforms: almost all of their ideas were relevant and most of them were even practical!
To kick off the lesson, I described the idea of a leadership team. For example, in the classroom, the teacher and the teacher assistant and I are the leadership team, and of course in the school we have Director and the Principal. Most of them are also familiar with President Obama, and many of them knew that he has a Vice President, Joe Biden. Of course, today they are a leadership team, but I explained that at one time they had to run for election, and the other candidate for President was John McCain. If Mr. McCain had become President, his Vice President would have been Sarah Palin.
To illustrate how the election process worked, my TA and I each chose an issue and gave an opinion on how we could improve it. We then held a short debate, and the children voted. I explained that the children had to consider our position on the issue, and that they should think about our idea and not just which person they might like more. It was a tight election!
Now, I asked the children to each write down an idea to improve the classroom, and idea they would try to persuade us to put in practice if they were elected President of the class by the others. The children came up with their ideas and wrote them down. The ideas included "no more homework," and "start at a later time so we can sleep later," on the more practical level, to "build a JAM tennis court (or swimming pool)" at the more imaginative level.
With the ideas all written down, I read out each one and allowed the children to vote. They could vote as often as they liked by raising their hands. We ended up with 5 leading ideas, and we then held a run-off between them, but now they could each vote only once. This narrowed it down to 2. At this point, in the second run-off, we issued ballots and each child could circle their preferred idea. It was interesting that, in the course of the discussions about the ideas, the children realized that they should vote for the more practical ideas, rather than the more wishful/fanciful ones.
Once again, the election results were very tight, with only 2 votes separating the two candidates (and one "spoiled vote" by someone who just couldn't decide between the ideas!). I declared a winner, and because the vote was so close - and because we had talked about leadership teams that included both a President and a Vice President, I declared the winner to be Class President, and the runner-up to be Class Vice President.
If the children have an idea they would like to put in practice in the classroom, we agreed they could bring the idea to the Vice President. Therefore, he will be their liaison, as it were. The Vice President will then advise the President on the children's views, and the team will discuss whether they should make a formal proposal to the teachers. If they decide to move ahead, the President will be the one to present the proposal to us. (Of course, the children are always free to come to us directly - but they thought it very cool to have their own elected representatives!)
Shortly after the election, the President approached me with a proposal, and I am studying it.