What Kind of Government Do You Want?

Citizens participate in the political process as they take polls, run for office and vote. Activities and lessons look at the candidates and policies, influence of campaigns, and the role of media (campaign ads, editorials cartoons, reporting). Through debate, research, mock elections and inaugural coverage, students engage in the responsibilities of citizenship.

The presidential election of 2012 was said to be the most important vote citizens will cast or no more important than any other. Whichever history proves to be true, voters will be indicating on Election Day what kind of government they want for the next four years.

 Central to a democratic government, the voter is assaulted by campaign ads, courted by candidates’ speeches and images, and influenced by social and economic factors. Activities in this curriculum guide focus on many aspects of the run to the voting booth and inaugural dais. To get some perspective on 2012, students are asked to cover the 1912 elections, study former First Kids and hold their own debates. “Think Like a Reporter” asks students to apply the ethics required of reporters covering partisan events.

In this curriculum guide a word find, crossword puzzle, etymology study and KidsPost article on debates encourage young students to think about elections. News, feature and opinion pieces stimulate discussion, research and writing assignments. Assignments are built on the visuals of Tom Toles’ editorial cartoons, maps and photographs. First person pieces by Gwen Ifill, Bob Dole and George McGovern give eyewitness reflections. And guidelines encourage scholastic journalists to cover inaugural activities from their homes, neighborhoods and the Mall.   



The VOTE Matters

Take a Look at Etymology
English, Political Science, Social Studies, U.S. Government

Students study the etymology of “elect” and “election” in “A Word About Elections.”  Students are given an exercise to match words with the elect root to their definitions. Teachers may wish to discuss these terms in the context of local, state and national elections.

The Tom Toles editorial cartoon of September 7, 2012, is part of the word study. Discuss with students the elements of “running for office” and being elected that Toles  uses in his visual commentary. Teachers might include:

• The track is oval and the office both wish to occupy is the Oval Office.
• The announcer says “winner’s square” rather than “winner’s circle.”
• What hurdles must be cleared when running for office?
• What physical features of each candidate are exaggerated in the caricatures?
• Why is the “winner’s square” labeled “square one”?
• What does it mean to “think outside the box”?

Teachers may also wish to cover the etymology of election-related terms found in two previous curriculum guides. These are “A Look at Congress” in Control of Congress and “The Power of Ocracy” in Protest and Petition.

An informative poster may be downloaded or ordered at no charge. “How to Become President of the United States” is colorful and provides an easy to follow path to the presidency.


Read KidsPost
Reading, Social Studies

KidsPost participates in The Post’s election coverage. For many KidsPost readers, this may be the first election they will remember. Teachers will find three topics covered in special Sunday sections: presidential debates, campaign ads and voting. Activities will include a map to color states as election results are confirmed — have those red and blue colored pencils sharpened — and online quizzes at KidsPost

After reading the KidsPost articles, “Presidential debates” and “Hold Your Own Debate,” use the questions that are provided in “Think About Debate.” to discuss the presidential debates and debate strategies. Vocabulary words are included in "Debatable Words."


Follow the Debates
Debate, English, Social Studies, U.S. Government

Moderators are present at debates to ask questions, monitor the rules and time, and maintain order in the audience. In recent televised presidential debates a variety of television reporters and news program hosts have served as moderators. Gwen Ifill uses her experiences as a moderator and examples from other debates in "5 Myths about presidential debates." Another perspective on the debates is provided by John Donvan in "For once, make them have a true debate.”

In addition to the KidsPost articles (see above), previous Post curriculum guides provide many resources and activities for discussing the role of debates in American elections. Activities in Debate: Face-to-Face Exchanges, February 6, 2008, include “Socratic Seminar,” “Assignment: Analysis of a Debate” and “Resolved: We Will Be Prepared to Debate.” In “Debate Mania,” (November 2011, Road to Leadership), Paul Farhi reflects on the primary campaign debates. Teachers might have students discuss the benefits of the primary debates with their full field of candidates who hold very different views of what government should and should not do. How do these debates compare to the presidential debates?

Find a President
Political Science, Social Studies

Give students the word find, “Find the President.”  In addition to the 20 names and initials of presidents, students are asked a bonus question. Woodrow Wilson is the president elected in 1912. Teachers might also ask students to give the names of the presidents whose initials appear in the word find: DE (Dwight Eisenhower), HH (Herbert Hoover), LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) and TR (Theodore Roosevelt).


Do a Crossword Puzzle
English, Social Studies, U.S. Government

Many of the terms included in the crossword puzzle are related to elections. Give students “Running for Office.” Note that instructions ask students to use six or more of the words in a short piece. Teachers may adjust the assignment to meet their goals.

What Does 'Run' Mean?

See the Issues
Art, English, Journalism, Photography, Social Studies

The job of the editorial cartoonist is to make visual commentary. Just as readers of a newspaper’s editorial know the newspaper owner’s position on that day’s topics, readers of Tom Toles’ cartoons know what he thinks.

Four Tom Toles’ editorial cartoons are reprinted in “Cover the Election.”  They focus on polls, fact checkers, campaign comments and the political culture.  “Read the Editorial Cartoons” includes questions for discussion and suggest responses. Use the September 12 cartoon to discuss the role of the fact checker during campaigns. Read Post articles for background information about the Romney family trip and the condition of the Reflecting Pool.

Other issues focused on money: the influence of donors, outside groups funding campaign advertising and the state of the economy. Toles editorial cartoons are archived by month and grouped Romney and Obama cartoons. Ask students to review these visual commentaries. Students may comment on the point of view by writing a letter to the editor or drawing their own editorial cartoon.


Find the Story in Photographs
Art, English, Journalism, Photography, Social Studies

Photographers are assigned to the candidates, attending speeches, riding the campaign buses and flying to rallies across the country. At local events and private fundraisers, photographers — professional and citizens — capture images that tell the story and reveal character.

Give students “Photographs Tell a Campaign Story”. Discuss the four photographs with students. Do they recognize the candidates for president and vice president? What visual clues help tell the story of a presidential campaign? The background story of each photograph is found at the end of KidsPost and the 2012 Election. Review the e-Replica search directions with students.


Design a Campaign Ad
Art, Civics, Media Arts, Political Science, Social Studies

These messages are prepared for print, online, radio and television audiences. Those who live in battleground states are saturated with a high percentage of campaign ads at all hours. Discuss the messages, tone and persuasive possibilities of current ads.

Students could design print ads for a candidate they wish to get to know better. They must research the candidate’s policies, point of view and vision for government. They may use photographs from the candidate’s website, one’s they have taken or one’s from news sources. Online and broadcast ads will require more time, but will give an assignment to apply technical skills and copyright rules.

Election coverage in KidsPost includes campaign ads. “Analysis of Campaign Advertising” and other resources for discussion of the influence of campaign advertising, political parties, issues and the candidates’ personalities are found in The Post NIE’s What Determines Election Outcomes? 


Listen at the Party Convention
Civics, English, Political Science, Social Studies

Tomi Oraro gives perspective on a party convention ritual in “Acceptance speeches weren’t always nail-biters for the nominees.” Read and discuss the article.

As Oraro states, “acceptance speeches are prime-time events and typically the most-watched moment of a convention.” The Post’s Campaign 2012 hosts videos, photographs and articles from the conventions. Read a transcript of Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech and Obama’s acceptance speech
• What are key phrases and significant concepts?
• Does the party’s nominee make any promises?
• What kind of government does the nominee indicate he will lead?


Map It
Geography, Social Studies

Use the United States map to record the candidates’ stops in the last weeks of campaign. Compare and contrast each week’s stops. Which states and areas within states receive the most visits? Are these states considered swing or battleground states?

In recent presidential elections more voters are voting early. How might this impact the number of visits to battleground states? Do visits to swing states increase beginning the last week of September?

The United States map could also be used to color in election night confirmed results. Which are the blue states? Which the red states?

Exercise Your Rights
Civics, Journalism, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Hold a mock election. Schools may have the technology and staff to organize a mock election for all grades. In addition, inform the school community about the candidates and issues. Local candidates or one of their staff might be invited to a debate before the election — either for the school population or the whole school community. Students might be asked to present each candidate’s platform. Issues on the ballot might be presented by student teams.

A selection of different perspectives on the election process is collected in “Reflections on Elections.”  These might be used to stimulate journals, blog entries or class discussion. A field trip, virtual or in person, to Washington, D.C., museums is another way to bring the elections to life. Review “Every Four Years” for exhibits.

After the mock election, engage different disciplines. For example: Student government officers could count the vote. Math students could graph the vote and analyze the data by male/female and grade level. Social studies students could compare the student vote results to the local, state and national vote. English and journalism students could write about the results. Science and economics students could consider what the election results might mean for the environment and funding other science-related projects.

Schools can participate in two national mock election projects:
• The Youth Leadership Initiative as well as the University of Virginia, Center for Politics sponsors 2012 National Mock Election. This group provides lesson plans, online mock election kits and resources to hold E-Congress, an interactive online legislative simulation and A More Perfect Union, a political campaign simulation. 
National Student Mock Election: My Voice, My Election is sponsored by the Pearson Foundation. Check out the “Hall of Fame” section for ideas, guides and a bilingual oral history project. Lesson plans and videos are also available.



First Families

Meet First Families
Social Studies, U.S. History

To what extent are a candidate’s family part of the campaign and personal appeal of a candidate? Survey your students to see what they know about the families of Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. Do they think it is important to know the spouses, children, grandchildren and extended families? What projects have first ladies led?

 “Feature the Family” invites students to research First Kids. What was it like for First Families to live in the White House? Older students might be asked to research the siblings of presidents and first ladies or to compare and contrast first ladies.

Use Washington Post Campaign 2012 Graphics
Social Studies, Political Science, U.S. Government

Campaign 2012 is the place to go for Washington Post news articles, editorials and commentary, poll results, and the Fact Checker. Video features include both party conventions, acceptance speeches, and campaign stops (Trail Mix). Interactive maps give financial data, campaign stops and election issues.

 The 2012 Election Map: The race for the presidency has many areas to compare and contrast. States are projected to be “solid,” “leaning” and “toss-up” on the 2012 preview maps. Read to determine how these labels were given. Visually compare the projections with the historical record of voting on the 2004 and 2008 maps. Contrast states by unemployment, race, population density and other factors.


See the Issues
Art, English, Journalism, Photography, Social Studies

Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist of The Washington Post. Four of his editorial cartoons are reprinted in “From Acceptance to Oath of Office.” These focus on issues and perceptions. Discussion questions are provided for each cartoon. Teachers might use the editorial cartoons to enforce lessons in symbolism, allusion and metonyms.




Map Predictions
Geography, Political Science, U.S, Government

Use the 2012 Election Map: The race for the presidency to discuss swing states or what The Fix, Chris Clillizza and the Post’s political reporting team, call toss-up states. The online 2012 Election Map is an interactive graphic allowing factors such as unemployment and income to be viewed. This map and the bar graph also reflect the number of Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency. Use it as a starting point to discuss the origin and role of the Electoral College.

Be a Reporter
Journalism, Media Arts, Technology, U.S. Government

Students may cover the inauguration from their homes, school, neighborhood or on the Mall. “Cover the Inauguration” provides ideas for scholastic journalists to localize the election as they cover the lead-up to and the inauguration.


What Happens to the Loser?
Character Education, Political Science, Social Studies

Who remembers the also-rans? After one has lost the biggest political race, what does one do next? Scott Farris in “So, you’ve lost the election. Now what do you do?” gives a sense of what happened in the past and present.

Even more revealing are the first-person accounts of two who did lose presidential bids. Under the headline “That losing feeling,” Democrat George McGovern and Republican Bob Dole share that life has not been a loss, but full. As Dole concludes, “losing the presidency was one chapter in a long, complex and richly happy life in which I learned that you can’t always control all the outcomes.”



Compare and Contrast Historic Elections
Journalism, Political Science, Social Studies, U.S. Government

If you were to select the three to five most important American elections, what criteria would you use? Political scientist David Mayhew provides six categories into which elections might be placed. Before assigning the February 19, 2012, article, teachers might cover vocabulary that Mayhew uses.

Read “What was the most important election ever?” from The Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section. Discuss the criteria and the elections that Mayhew has selected. Students could be asked to select one of the elections to research further. After completing the research, they are to write a commentary that might appear in their student newspaper or news website. They are to remember their readership when writing the opinion piece.



Cover the Election of 1912
Art, English, Journalism, Photography, Political Science, Social Studies, Technology, U.S. Government, U.S. History

The “Election of 1912 in the News”  asks students to step back one hundred years when citizens were listening to four candidates who offered very different visions of what American government should be. Citizens voted in response to these questions: What was government’s role in social welfare? In suffrage for women? In control of business and labor? And did government have a place in the conservation of natural resources? Students will get to know the candidates and their points of view: Eugene Debs, Socialist; Theodore Roosevelt, Progressive; William Howard Taft, Republican; and Woodrow Wilson, Democrat.

The day this assignment is given teachers might begin class with the campaign music of 1912. Teachers may also begin discussion with political cartoons of 1912. Students are asked to produce a newspaper. Teachers need to decide if this will be one independent newspaper which will cover the campaign and election in four issues (each group covering a different segment of time) or if the class should be divided into four groups with each one publishing a newspaper with a leaning towards or allegiance to one of the four parties.

The editorials will represent the position of the owners, letters to the editor should present different views on the issues and the editorial cartoon could focus on an issue or position being taken by one of the candidates. “Suggestions for Teachers” are provided.  This project gives students the opportunity to apply layout and design skills, using templates to compose the newspaper page. This may also be done as an online news source utilizing Web design and programming skills. Photographs of the time period should be included. For a bonus, students could include advertising for products that existed in 1912.



Write a Commentary
Civics, English, U.S. Government

After listening to the hopeful candidates during the primaries and major party candidates for president and vice president, students know that there are different perspectives on the role of government in personal, local, state and national life. Assign students “What Kind of Government Do I Want?”  Students are asked to write a commentary. Be sure students include specific examples or anecdotes to support their ideas.



Think Like a Reporter
Character Education, Journalism, Media Arts

Campaigns and elections offer the opportunity to teach students about the difference between the news side and editorial/commentary side of journalism. During election coverage reporters are challenged to refrain from expressing their personal opinions. They are expected to wear their press credentials, but not campaign buttons. Pundits and columnists are expected to provide insightful commentary while reporters are to be fair and balanced. The Think Like a Reporter series presents ethical and professional situations in which students deal with the standards that journalists are expected to follow.

In “Avoid Active Involvement in Partisan Causes,” students are asked to evaluate a reporter’s actions. In the second section, students act like an editor dealing with the reporter’s action while reporting. Teachers may need to discuss “ethics” and the standards that an organization has for its employees before giving students the handout. This might be compared to honor codes, National Honor Society rules and student government officer expectations. The National Scholastic Press Association has a model code of ethics that was written by Randy Swikle, a former high school newspaper adviser. He covers the kinds of dilemmas faced by students who are reporting on their peers. These principles serve print, digital and broadcast staffs.


Keep the Press Accountable 
Journalism, Media Arts, Social Studies

In “News or opinion?” The Post’s ombudsman takes a look at reader complaints about The Washington Post’s election coverage. The press is to be fair and balanced in its coverage. After students read Patrick B. Pexton's analysis of the situation, use the e-Replica search feature to locate "campaign," "election" and "candidate" articles. Questions to consider include: How many articles are in that day’s issue? What parties are in the news, features and commentary? Are the news articles balanced?



Consider War-Time Elections
Journalism, Social Studies, U.S. History, U.S. Government

Are U.S. citizens willing to change leaders in the middle of a war? With students take a look at history. Begin the research in 1812 — the first war-time election. Did the Federalist candidate Dewitt Clinton have any chance to win against James Madison? Assign students elections during other periods of war to research. They are to come to a conclusion and write an opinion piece. 


In The Know 
 Armageddon  Exacerbate
Canon Extremist
Coalition Hindsight
Consensus Historic
Contested (adj) Inclusive
Contingency Incumbent
Counterfactual Isolationist
Domination Marginalization
Enfranchise Populist
Episodic Prudent

ANSWERS. A Word About Elections
. c; 2. f; 3. b; 4. e; 5. d; 6. a

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

U.S. History and Geography I: Students understand the foundation of the American political system and the ways in which citizens participate in it. (The Constitution of the United States, 8.4, Grade 8)
5. Describe the basic law-making process and how the Constitution provides numerous opportunities for citizens to participate in the process and to monitor and influence government (e.g., function of elections, political parties, and interest groups). (P)

U.S. Government: Students formulate questions about and defend their analyses of tensions within our constitutional democracy and the importance of maintaining a balance between the following concepts: majority rule and individual rights; liberty and equality; state and national authority in a federal system; civil disobedience and the rule of law; freedom of the press and the right to a fair trial; and the relationship of religion and government. (12.2, Principles of U.S. Government)

 U.S. Government: Students evaluate issues regarding campaigns for national, state and local elective offices.
2. Discuss the history of the nomination process for presidential candidates and the increasing importance of primaries in general elections.
3. Evaluate the roles of polls, campaign advertising, and the controversies over campaign funding.
4. Describe the means that citizens use to participate in the political process (e.g., voting, campaigning, lobbying, filing a legal challenge, demonstrating, petitioning, picketing, and running for political office. (12.6, Elections and the Political Process) 

U.S. Government: Students evaluate and take and defend positions on the influence of the media on American political life.
2. Describe the roles of broadcast, print, and electronic media, including the Internet, as means of communication in American politics. (12.7, Elections and the Political Process)


Learning Standards for DCPS are found online at http://dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/In+the+Classroom/What+Students+Are+Learning

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Political Science:  Analyze the impact of historic documents and practices that became the foundations of the American political system during the early national period (1.0, Grade 8)
f. Describe the development of political parties and their effects on elections and political life


 Political Science: Investigate the evolution of the U.S. political system as expressed in the United States Constitution (1.0, Grade 8)
e. Analyze the impact of precedence in the office of the President, such as the establishment of a cabinet and foreign policy


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at http://mdk12.org/assessments/vsc/index.html.

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Civics: The student will develop the social studies skills responsible citizenship requires, including the ability to
a) examine and interpret primary and secondary source documents;
c) analyze political cartoons, political advertisements, pictures, and other graphic media; (CE.1)

Civics: The student will demonstrate knowledge of citizenship and the rights, duties, and responsibilities of citizens by
d) examining the responsibilities of citizenship, including registering and voting, communicating with government officials, participating in political campaigns, keeping informed about current issues, and respecting differing opinions in a diverse society; (CD.3)

 Civics: The student will demonstrate knowledge of the American constitutional government at the national level by
a) describing the structure and powers of the national government;
b) explaining the principle of separation of powers and the operation of checks and balances;
d) describing the roles and powers of the executive branch. (CE.6)


Standards of Learning currently in effect for Virginia Public Schools can be found online at www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/sol/standards_docs/index.shtml

Common Core Standards 

Reading Standards for Informational Text: Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s). (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, 9, Grade 5)

Reading Standards for Informational Text: Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences from the text. (Key Ideas and Details, 1, Grade 8)

Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12: Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. (Research to Build and Present Knowledge, 9, Grades 6-12)

Writing Standards: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content. (Text Types and Purposes, 2, Grades 11-12)

Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6-12: Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes. (Text Types and Purposes, Grades 6-12)


Common Core State Standards currently in effect can be found online at http://www.corestandards.org.