How Can I Better My Local Community?

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A Facebook friend, discussing her yard work, meant to write, “Mostly I want to water where I’ve planted.”

What she actually wrote was, “Mostly I want to water where I’m planted.”

I live and work in the same city where I teach; I moved here after I was hired, right before starting the school year. I felt it was important to be an invested person in my community, because I believe public education belongs to the public, not just teachers, students, and parents.

There are some struggles coming up for this city. A local factory is idling around the end of the month, and that means a loss of over four hundred jobs. The only grocery store left in the northern part of town stopped stocking fresh meat and produce, sparking rumors of an imminent closing. And those rumors aren’t unreasonable, either: another store in the same chain on the east side of town shuttered suddenly just over a year ago, and its space remains empty to this day. If this other store also closes, the northern part of town will become more of a food desert than it already is. And, anecdotally, the biggest barrier for people in that part of town to getting groceries is actually transportation. Having to travel farther is not going to help people. In fact, I can’t even think of any drugstores up around there where people could even just get snowstorm basics like milk, bread, and eggs.

So, as a teacher, how can I help solve these problems in my local community? I can care for, nurture, and educate children, sure. But I want to do more than just help them get through every day. I want to be a force for positive change for their families and their neighborhoods, too.

How can I do that? I have thoughts on where to start, but other ideas and resources are welcome.

I want to water where I’m planted.

Reflecting on Our School Mock Election Results

This past Tuesday, our school took part in a mock election run by Studies Weekly. We threw it together a little last minute, so instead of shoehorning it into classrooms where other instruction was already planned, we turned the computer lab into a polling place for students to vote after breakfast, during lunch, and during recess. I had classes vote while they were in the room for other reasons, like class (since it took only a minute or so, if I had computers at the ready). And, there were times when I visited classrooms juggling a couple Chromebooks and pulled kids to poll in pairs. (Alliteration proves it was fun.)

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On the enthusiasm gap

I’ve been paying enough attention to this election to have heard about the enthusiasm gap. According to this September article from The Hill:

People who intend to vote for [Trump] are more enthusiastic about doing so than those planning to back Clinton, according to three major recent polls…

…a CNN/ORC poll indicated that more than 1 in 5 five would-be Clinton voters were “not at all enthusiastic” about backing her, almost twice as many as said the same about Trump. The poll found 58 percent of Trump supporters saying they felt either “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about their choice, and only 46 percent in the Clinton camp feeling the same.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 46 percent of Trump backers were “very enthusiastic,” compared with only 33 percent of Clinton supporters. And a New York Times/CBS News poll saw Trump outperforming Clinton by the same metric, 45 percent to 36 percent.

I bring up the enthusiasm gap because, anecdotally, it seems to have reached the elementary set. At one point mid-day, I turned to Mr. Bob and said, “My prediction is that Trump will win.” I was not checking the mock election progress throughout the day (although I could have been). I was trying not to watch students as they cast their votes (except when they actually needed help). My prediction was made based on how many students proudly declared before, during, or after voting that they had chosen Donald Trump. However, more students actually voted for Hillary Clinton. Clinton won 48% of the vote; Trump got 34%. So, while students supporting Trump were perhaps more vocal about it, that did not mean there were more of them.

On look-alikes

I did have several students tell me that they had voted for “the girl,” but since Jill Stein was also offered as a choice, I wasn’t sure which “girl” they meant. In fact, I was concerned that some of them may have voted for the wrong “girl” – for Stein when they meant to vote for Clinton, or for Clinton when they meant to vote for Stein. Then I realized, if they didn’t know what the male candidates looked like, then they might have confused Johnson and Trump too. (The vote included photographs and names of candidates and their running mates, but a struggling reader may still have made a mistake.) The last time two times schools held mock presidential elections, it was probably much easier for students to tell the difference between the major party candidates, so long as photos were provided! I reflected back on voting in mock presidential elections as a student in the nineties. It doesn’t matter what year I refer to: our choices were always white men. I wonder whether any of my classmates at the time had trouble telling them apart.

On abstaining

One student abstained because: “My mom says no matter who you vote for, they’re gonna mess us up.”

Another hesitated to vote because he didn’t feel well-informed enough. “I wish I could listen to their speeches,” he told me. We did look up all the candidates on vote411.org and read through their statements and platforms together. Still, he did not feel like he could cast a vote, so I told him he didn’t have to.

Our other abstention came from a student who was upset that Obama couldn’t run for a third term. He was genuinely distraught. And then I realized — the oldest of my students were born in late 2007. Most of them are even younger. Obama has been president for their entire memory, if not their entire lives. Whoa.

On civility

I have not heard many students discuss political candidates at school directly. Part of this is because I am a specials teacher. Were I with the same kids all day, every day, I’m sure I would hear it more. I didn’t hear nothing, I just didn’t hear a lot.

Until Tuesday.

And even then, I probably wouldn’t have heard it, except another teacher invited the students specifically to share their insights. And by “insights,” I mean they parroted things they saw in political ads played on TV. The same student told me that Trump says mean things about women, and Hillary wants to take away everyone’s guns. No wonder over fifty students voted for third party candidates.

I did have to speak to some students about school-appropriate language. But very few.

The results

If you would like to see the results of the nationwide mock election, those results are here.  As I mentioned before, our school turned blue for Clinton, but our state turned red for Trump. Still, Clinton won the mock election over all.

What does it mean?

I don’t know. I imagine that, to some extent, the votes of children reflect the votes their parents plan to cast. I do remember bugging my parents about who they planned to vote for when I was a kid, especially when they were around other adults, that was totally my favorite. I think that was a huge factor in who I chose to vote for in mock elections. But, as this USA Today article on the Scholastic mock election states, students may misidentify their parents’ political leanings. Based on anecdotal evidence, too, I think many students have parents who are split themselves: one parent may support the Republican nominee, the other the Democratic candidate.

Other big influences on children include the media (TV and Internet, primarily) and, well, each other.

Overall, in the mock election we participated in, Ohio the bellwether state votes for the candidate who loses. Perhaps that’s something we can expect next Tuesday? I hesitate to make a solid prediction, having already been wrong about this! (Also, if you look at the Scholastic results linked above, Ohio turned blue for them.)

Ultimately

On November 9th, we will all still be Americans, diverse and divided we may be. And whoever gets elected president will have to lead us, diverse and divided, starting in January. It will be a tough job, harder than herding cats. But I hope it’s a job done well, regardless of who’s in that position.