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Teaching for Democracy in 2020 and Beyond

CIRCLE is working with partners to provide educators the resources and support they need to teach about elections and grow the next generation of voters.

Recent trends in youth participation suggest that young people are ready to talk about and participate in our democracy—in fact, many already are. Throughout 2018 and 2019 we saw increased youth civic engagement at the ballot box, in communities, and in schools. As the 2020 presidential election dominates the news during the remainder of this school year and into the next, these conversations and this engagement will only intensify.

Schools and teachers can embrace this moment by creating meaningful opportunities for students to learn about how elections and voting work, how politics can affect students’ lives, and how to navigate a flood of information during election cycles and beyond. Nonpartisan K-12 teaching about voting is critical to increasing and diversifying youth civic engagement in the short term, and to building a stronger and more inclusive democracy in the long term. 

In order to do this work and do it well, teachers and administrators need support: encouragement, training, and resources. Providing that support is the goal of the Teaching for Democracy Alliance (TFDA), a coalition of national organizations which has been coordinated by CIRCLE since 2015. In addition to CIRCLE, TFDA’s 13 member organizations include:

Resources and Support

Educators can access an array of curated, member-created resources for teaching about elections and voting on TFDA’s website. These include: lesson plans for introducing students to the electoral process; a toolkit for organizing and hosting a voter registration drive; activities to guide students in exploring the history of voting rights in the United States; and a rubric that illustrates how to embed teaching about elections and voting within a classroom, throughout a school, and across a district. 

But we know that access to resources is only part of the challenge for educators. Talking about political issues can be controversial around the dinner table, let alone in the classroom. Many educators are understandably hesitant to take this risk. Previously, CIRCLE research has found that only 38% of social studies teachers believe they would get strong support from their district to teach about elections. If teachers are to feel confident discussing elections with students, school and district leaders must make their support explicit. .

TFDA has created a “Growing Voters Commitment” for this purpose. It is a tool that administrators can use to foster conversations with their staff, or that teachers can use to broach conversations with their supervisors. We also hope that, as more school and district leaders sign the pledge, it will provide inspiration to others to join the movement of education leaders across the country who are committed to teaching for democracy.  

In the months ahead, TFDA will share updates on the growth of this campaign. You can also be on the lookout for new teaching materials about the State of the Union, presidential primaries, and other election-related topics. Some of these resources will draw on new data from CIRCLE, which is conducting exclusive polls to gauge young peoples’ perspectives on their civic education, attitudes about civic engagement, and civic behaviors in an election year.

We look forward to working with partners to ensure that schools are helping students develop the desire, knowledge, and skills to participate in democracy.