Idaho's Next Generation Of Voters: In Search Of Civics, Not Division
Is it possible to teach Idaho students about the 2020 election without letting partisanship slip into the classroom?
"Well, it's a challenge sometimes," said Teegan Carter, social studies teacher at Capital High School in Boise.
That said, Carter and Kyle McMorrow, who teaches social studies at Boise High School, agree that it's ultimately important to focus on civics, not division when talking about the election. And, it turns out, McMorrow said his students are engaged at a "remarkable level." In fact, many of them have participated in voter registration drives, and some will even serve as poll workers on Election Day.
Carter and McMorrow visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice on Election Day morning to share their optimism for Idaho's next generation of voters.
“I think the first step is to allow students a safe place where they can express their opinions and hear other opinions that may not be their own.”
Read the full transcript below:
GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. No doubt, a new chapter in American history will be written on this Election Day; but how students will study that history will be the considerable task of our educators. And that's why this morning we're going to spend some time with Teegan Carter, social studies instructor at Capital High in Boise, and Kyle McMorrow, social studies instructor at Boise High School. Good morning.
KYLE MCMORROW: Good morning, George. Great to be here.
TEEGAN CARTER: Good morning, George. Thanks for having me.
PRENTICE: Up top, can you speak to how you've been approaching the 2020 election in your classrooms? Teegan?
CARTER: Sure. Well, in my classes, we started at the beginning. The students had some experience with the Primary process first. And so, we made sure to go over that, so that they understood what primaries are and how they work. And then we worked our way into the General Election. And so really, it was establishing how elections were the roadmap. And then, that led into conversation about demographics and how people tend to vote, and learning about polls and how polls are taken, what makes a good pull versus a poll that's unreliable. We've talked about past elections as well, and tried to put everything together into a big picture for them, so that they really understand the whole process and set that aside from all of the noise that they're hearing about the candidates, and instead really focus on the process itself and knowing what the Electoral College is and how it works, and all of those things put together.
MCMORROW: Yeah, so we take a very similar approach as we're teaching over here and looking at process over politics. We want to make sure that our students are understanding in what ways we are able to participate and how people participate. And then, also talking about the origins of where these different ideas came from for our elections, and really starting with some history. What have our elections looked like in the past? How does that inform us? And what's happening right now?
PRENTICE: Teegan, how do you keep partisanship out of the classroom?
CARTER: Well, it's a challenge sometimes. But I think the first step is to allow students a safe place where they can express their opinions and hear other opinions that may not be their own. So really, it's about creating an environment in which students feel like they can openly talk about things. As a teacher, I try and frame it around the process and around the different aspects of the election itself. Maybe we're looking at polls and we're looking at this bloc of voters and how it tends to vote this way. Why might that be? I try and really keep it to the facts and like I said, the process of elections, and not let it stray too far into a gut reaction that some people have.
PRENTICE: Kyle, I'm curious: I'm assuming that, again, most of your students are seniors.
PRENTICE: Are they engaged? Are they interested in the election? In politics?
MCMORROW: Absolutely, George. They are. This is a remarkable group of students, and I think that they are engaged at a amazing level…it's amazing to see how our students have participated in registration drives. We did one of those at Boise High, and got hundreds of students registered to vote. And even those students that aren't able to actually go and vote because they're not quite 18 yet are very involved, and they're in tune to what's happening in our communities and in our nation, for sure. And they're seeing what's happening and they want to be involved. And they're doing a really good job of putting themselves in a spot that we want our citizens to be in regarding the election.
CARTER: Well, everything has really been centered around the election. One of the wonderful things about teaching government, is that Kyle and I have the opportunity to teach current events, and it all connects with content that students need to know. But what we also have encouraged students to do is to go beyond the classroom and to be engaged civically, on their own. So, I have a student who is on the advisory committee for a nonpartisan group that is trying to get people registered to vote. I have another student who said, “Miss Carter, I'm going to be gone on Tuesday because I'm working at the polls.” And so, we have students that are really engaging. Like Kyle said, they're interested in this election, and they're really engaging in it as well. Some of the projects that I have in my classroom every week, students do a current event project, and so they bring in current events that are related to broad topics that we talk about in this class. And always, it's looking at the election… that's looking at polls. It's looking at a Supreme Court nomination that's happening. And so, it's really fun to have the students go out and find current event topics that are related to, not only the election, but to government in general.
PRENTICE: Kyle, I’m so impressed by this. Are any of your students, poll workers?
MCMORROW: Yeah, I've got actually quite a few. Ada County Elections reached out to the high schools in Boise and West Ada, and said, “We need help this year.” Because a lot of their usual poll workers, because of COVID, are unable to work. And so, we've got a bunch of students. in fact, in the Boise School District, today (Tuesday) is a virtual day so that we can have those students go and work the polls and not have to worry about being in the classroom. We provide those opportunities, and our students stepped up and they are very excited. And they've gone through the training, and they're excited to be a part of the process in a way that they might not have known was available to them. So, they are helping out and really engaged in what's happening.
PRENTICE: He is Kyle McMorrow at Boise High. She is Teegan Carter at Capitol High School. I can't think of a better way to spend Election Day morning. Thank you so very much; and best of luck to you and your students.
MCMORROW: Thanks, George.
CARTER: Thank you, George.
Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren
Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio