By EMILY R. WEST
Sitting at a silver Mac desktop, seventh grader Katie Hathcock scrolled through a PBS quiz to figure where was on the political spectrum.
From her perspective as a Freedom Middle School student, she hasn’t paid attention to every single nuance of the election, but she shared a sentiment that quite a few Americans feel: she can’t wait for the election to conclude.
“It’s kind of confusing and I just want it to be over,” she said. “It’s just been taking a long time, and I know it’s supposed to. But I feel like a lot of people are kind of being really mean to other people. If they are voting for a certain person and a person doesn’t like it, that person is going to be mean, and it’s getting old.”
She’s mainly listened to what her parents have said about who should take office on Jan. 20. She and others in her classroom were waiting to cast their ballot with the Rock the Vote mock election. The Tennessee Secretary of State’s office has set it up for all the students in the state who want to participate through their schools. They will take all of the data and then announce who the students in Tennessee want to see as president.
“I think it’s kind of important, because it will forever affect our future on who becomes president,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s not really that important to me. I would rather pretend politics didn’t exist.”
Standing before her students, teacher Elisa Baughman said she didn’t want to hear any political pandering or arguments about which candidates student chose. She wanted to students to study before they voted, look at issues and judge for themselves who they wanted to see president. She told them not use solely what they’ve learned from social media or the parents during the 2016 election cycle.
“My son – who is an eighth grader – he’s mature enough to answer these questions,” Baughman said. “It didn’t mean it change who he voted for, but he didn’t realize how different he was from me, and that is OK that he is.”
Franklin Special School District’s eighth grade history teacher LaGenia Lee said she’s found all sorts of ways to use this year’s political process to teach her students about how elections work in the country – past and present.
“It is unbelievable to children at this age that just 51 years ago, all barriers were lifted that limited people of color from voting in the South,” Lee said. “We use this lesson as an introduction for our later Civil War and Reconstruction units. With our district-level resources coupled with the Civic Engagement Lessons on Secretary Hargett’s website, the ‘Understanding Women’s Suffrage,’ Traveling Truck from the Tennessee State Museum and the Library of Congress’ online resources, these lessons will be unforgettable and hopefully influence the majority of the students to register to vote when they become of age. We continuously stress the importance of exercising this right that so many people fought and died for us all to have. This opportunity to get the students involved early in a process that will affect them for the rest of their lives is so vital, and we truly appreciate this opportunity afforded to our school and school district.”
Not only is Rock the Vote taking place in FSSD, but all of the high schools plus one middle school will participate in the process for Williamson County Schools. Secretary of State Tre Hargett visited Page High School this week as they went through the mock process.
“As always our goal is to make history, geography, economics, and government relevant to our students and teach them to think critically,” WCS curriculum specialist David Rector said. “The 2016 election helps our teachers educate students about the Electoral College, voting process, and the value of the right to vote. The Mock Election has been a way for our students to learn about past elections as well as today’s issues. It’s impressive how well informed so many of our students are as they really want to cast an informed and educated vote in the Mock Election. A lot of class discussion has occurred after each presidential debate. For many of our students this will also be their first opportunity to vote as 18-year olds, and they are making the most of it.”