With voter registration deadlines looming, and just over a month until midterm elections, talk of democracy and civic participation is all around us. But historically, young people haven’t turned up at the polls. In the last midterm election, in 2014, fewer than one in five eligible voters aged 18–29 cast a vote. What role do high school and college educators play in facilitating a conversation about voting — and pushing for action to come out of it?
Harvard educators and faculty members explored that topic in a discussion called “Your Vote Counts: Education, Voting, and the Midterms,” moderated by Professor Paul Reville as part of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Askwith Forums series. Here, we pull some useful takeaways for educators looking to empower their students and strengthen democracy from within their school or classroom, without being a partisan advocate.
Help Students Figure Out What They Think
Productive conversations are based on facts, but it’s getting harder for students to discern what’s factual. Panelists Meira Levinson, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Setti Warren, the executive director of the Shorenstein Center of Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, both recommend that educators seek out resources from the Stanford History Education Group, which offers strategies for evaluating digital information and news sources, ensuring that students build a strong, factual foundation as they come to their own conclusions.
Levinson also points to the Right Question Institute, which helps young people hone the thinking skills to ask questions that have meaningful answers, which can help them make better decisions. “Helping them ask the right questions and not only offering them the right answers about how to make change … that is an essential part of our democratic work together that I think educators can really help young people engage in.”