7 ways to survive the election season while making your kids smarter
I’m not necessarily fond of politicians but I do love the political process. I love elections and all of the conversations that come with them. The commentary. The analysis. It’s like March Madness bracketology and the NFL playoffs all rolled into one. For a political science nerd like me, a brokered Republican convention? Yes, please.
But even for me, some of what’s taking place during this year’s election season is a bit much. Seriously? Hand size?
So a couple of tips to help you and your students survive the next eight months:
- You’re going to have become your own fact-checker. And train your kids to do the same. The internet is a wonderful thing – use it to your advantage. Treat the election like an historical problem. Collect the evidence. Analyze the evidence. Create an argument using the evidence. Be sure to spend lots of time at PolitiFact, a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics. PolitiFact is run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times, an independent newspaper in Florida, as is PunditFact, a site devoted to fact-checking pundits. FactCheck is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. They monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.
- Follow the money. It’s nice to know who owns your politicians. Who’s getting the cash? Open Secrets can help.
- Spend time teaching your kids civic basics. Start with the Annenberg Classroom then head over to the Center for Civic Education. Both have great resources, conversations starters, and lessons. Use PBS’s awesome Election Central site for handy resources.
- Don’t forget that the news business is a . . . well, a business. It’s all about selling newspapers. Read, listen, and watch accordingly. We train our kids to analyze primary sources by sourcing, contextualizing, and corroborating. News shows, newspapers, web sites (this one included), pundit comments, and social media are all primary sources. Consume with a critical eye.
- Be aware of how campaigns manipulate the visuals. Why is the podium where it is? Who’s behind the candidate on stage? Why do we see a lot of blue? And red? How do campaign managers integrate signs, streamers,balloons, and banners?
- This is a hard one. Listen to a variety of voices. Echo chambers repeat what you want to hear. Confirmation bias is real. And while we’re on the subject – take every internet meme with more than several grains of salt. (Especially if they’re coming from a candidate’s campaign.) They circulate quickly and often use photos in an attempt to twist reality.
What they want us to believe:
What we should believe:
- Do something. Have your students do something. It can sometimes feel as we as citizens are powerless to make a difference in the process. The New York Times has some helpful ideas for things your and your kids can do. You might also try this Newsela site for ideas. And don’t forget Rock the Vote.
Elections don’t have to be painful. And really shouldn’t be. The 2016 version is ramping up to one that is. So take advantage of the tools available to not just survive the season but to enjoy the ride while helping your kids get smarter.