I have voted in 10 presidential elections since my first in 1980. While I thought of voting as a right, even a privilege, I didn’t think of it as a responsibility until I heard my mom say, “You can’t complain about who is elected, unless you voted.” In the United States, we are so fortunate to be able to participate in the democratic process and choose leaders who will represent us and our ideas.
I was reminded of this every time I taught the “We The People” unit as part of our 5th grade Social Studies curriculum in the Conejo Valley School District of California. It’s purpose was to help students understand The Constitution and it’s importance in our country’s history. I’d explain to my students that The Constitution is referred to as “a living” document because it evolves over time as our society changes.
While teaching 10 and 11-year olds about The Constitution could be daunting, this unit was an introduction intended to get students thinking about how our government works and what rights we have as American citizens.
In class we would talk about our Founding Fathers, the Bill of Rights and the additional 17 Amendments. And when we discussed the 19th Amendment two things often happened. First, girls would be surprised that women weren’t always allowed to vote like men. Second, a student would usually ask, “Mrs. Braverman, were you alive when women got the right to vote?” I’d laugh and remind them that it was ratified in 1920. Then I’d have them do the math!
The last time I taught “We the People” was just before the 2016 election when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were running for President. There was a lively discussion when I asked who my students would vote for if they could and why. Though they had seen these candidates on TV and in papers, when pressed to explain why one person would make a better president than the other, it usually came down to two things. One, the candidate their parents were voting for and two, what their parents had said about them. It’s the same way I first learned to form my opinions and ideas.
I don’t remember being aware of the Constitution and it’s importance until I was in high school. So I am glad students in elementary schools are being taught about it now. Learning how our government works and about laws that effect us, will make students better citizens and more informed voters. Voting is a right and a responsibility. It gives us a voice and allows each of one of us to be heard.