I don’t want to make too much of one day off of school for students, but I do think it is worth noting the symbolism and perhaps extrapolating that a bit to a bigger issue with our system of public education and its relationship to our democracy.
This past Election Day, our public schools were closed to students. It was a day off.
The day we could have connected basic math with the importance of voting; the day we could have brought together ratios with political representation; the day we could have connected geometry with gerrymandering; the day we could have applied statistics to get-out-the-vote strategies. The day math could have felt really real and really important and with its application visible on the news and on the internet and in social media. We took it off.
That same day we could have talked about political speech and persuasive writing in English class and then read it, watched it live, or practiced it ourselves; the day we could have talked about the past, present, and future aspects of voting rights in History or Social Studies, looked at real ballots and tracked live voting across the country, even held our own mock elections on the issues; the day we could have used examples of contentious political discourse to talk about conflict resolution and effective communication. The day school could have been about democracy. The day it would have had immediate meaning, live examples, and real-world implications. We took it off.
Election Day is that day when all of our talk about how critical education is to a functioning democracy could reach its culmination and could feel real and tangible for our young people in our schools. It’s a day we could talk about rights and responsibilities, citizenship, leadership and so much more that would improve our schools, communities, and political system.
I fear the merely theoretical connection we make between education and democracy. In theory, we all know how critical an educated, informed, and engaged populace is to the sustainability of this huge, democratic experiment our country is living and manifesting. And yet, I look at the direction of public education and the realities of abysmal voter turnout and I know we are living in theory.
On Election Day, we have more opportunities to create and sustain a healthy democracy than just casting a vote.
Unfortunately, most of us took it off.