The Presidential Election that Really Matters, to My Sixth Graders

I remember being so excited to turn 18 because I would finally be old enough to buy scratch tickets.  Of course, I was also able to purchase adult periodicals and cigarettes and vote at that point too, but I was most excited about being able to buy scratch tickets and possibly win millions of dollars while supporting education in the great state of New Hampshire.  I was excited to be able to do something I had seen my dad do for many years.  I wanted to be old enough to win free money.  The funny part is that winning money costs money.  In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so pumped to do something so trivial and really quite meaningless.  Now, out of all of the privileges that come with turning 18, the only one that can really make a difference in our world is the ability to vote in elections.  The other perks can cause serious mental and health conditions.  Luckily, voting in our country, for the time being, is pain free and can actually make life better for all citizens.

With all of the negative publicity and general apathy surrounding the most recent American presidential election, it’s easy to get disheartened about the whole process.  However, many countries around the world don’t have this same freedom and right.  Some countries prevent their citizens from voting or people might be unable to vote based on their ethnicity, race, sex, or other factors.  We, as Americans, are fortunate to have the right to vote once we turn 18 years of age.  We have the ability to choose who will help lead our country forward, or backwards in some cases.  This is an amazing honor.  Now, some might argue that the Electoral College process prevents each person’s vote from having an impact on the outcome of an election, but at least we still have open and public elections.  In trying times, I find it helpful to focus on the positive.

Speaking of positives, to help take our minds off of the recent presidential election, my class is preparing for the first annual Sixth Grade Presidential Debate.  As both recent major presidential candidates seemed flawed to many people, my students created their own, ideal, presidential candidates instead of taking on the persona of either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton.  In groups, they generated the candidate’s name, birthplace, home state, political affiliation, and stance on various issues.  They had a lot of fun with this part.  Then, they got to the real task at hand: Preparing for the Big Debate.  As each student was now an expert on one issue that they had previously researched and learned about, that student crafted an issue or platform stance report on that particular issue for his group’s candidate.  The students based their thoughts and ideas for their candidate’s stance on the issues on the discussion the groups had at the start of the project.

Today in class, the students revised and edited their reports based on feedback from their peers and teachers.  The boys worked with each other to be sure each member of their group had a detailed and winning report.  They provided each other with suggestions on how to improve their work.  It was amazing. I was incredibly impressed with what I read today.  The boys are taking opinions and stances on important issues.  Their reports were supported with examples and vignettes.  They read like actual debate speeches.  Aside from Mrs. Obama’s moving speech given a few weeks prior to the election, the reports I read today were far better than any of the political rhetoric heard throughout the recent presidential campaign.  It’s as if my students transformed their frustration with the presidential campaign and election into words they wished they had heard from the two major candidates.  Their reports were phenomenal.  I was blown away.  My ESL students crafted some of the most detailed and powerful speeches in the whole class.  Wow!  They were taking this project seriously.  Not only did they want to meet and exceed the assessed objectives, but they also want to be sure their candidate wins the election to be held in class on Saturday.

So while many Americans are still reeling from a crazy presidential election, what really matters is the sixth grade class election that will take place following the big debate on Saturday.  The boys have made posters promoting their candidate and have tag lines that they used in their speeches.  They can’t wait for Saturday.  The whole school has been invited to witness the best, most positive and productive debate seen in several years.  My students no longer care who won the American presidential election as they are focused on helping their made-up candidate win the big election coming up in a few short days.  As their teacher, I am so proud of my students.  They have put so much effort into this debate project.  For many of them, the report they recently completed is the best sample of writing I’ve seen from them all year.  They all stepped up their game for this project as they are engaged and motivated to win.  A little friendly competition never hurt.  It’s so nice to see too, that both groups are avoiding mudslinging and negative comments directed at the other candidate.  They are keeping the debate and election focused on the issues without me even having to make a statement about where the focus should be.  They are committed to this project because it is engaging, utilizes competition, and taps into their emotions.  I can’t wait to see which qualified candidate will win Saturday’s big event: James Fraser or Matthew W. Tucker?


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