Solving the Dilemma of Democracy
As we continue our work in Room 220, how do we ensure that even the meekest student may be heard? How do we keep the interest and engagement of those who are quiet, shy or have learning differences? How do we nurture a community of trust that's fair and cooperative? These are, of course, major dilemmas for all democracies—micro or macro. If we can solve them here, in this cohort of 26, maybe we'll be onto something. All this led us to start to talk about holding elections in Room 220.
First, we eased our 10-year-old students into an awareness that they do make ‘choices’, and that any choice is an ‘election.’ Voting is not just something their parents do. Elections are not just about Washington, DC. Any choice is an 'election.'
We then introduced the idea of ‘representation’—electing someone who makes choices on your behalf, based on your wishes and in accord with the greater good. The federal midterm elections are almost here. What good timing! We urged the kids to talk to their parents (who are, after all their ultimate 'representatives') to tie this all together.
Room 220: A Big Civics Experiment
The students know each other well and have been together since kindergarten. They are just old enough to imagine the future and perhaps to start visualizing their own futures. So our question was, is this a good time to hold a bona fide election? As far as we know this has never been done at PS 20.
We suggested to the students that we create a Kids’ Council. Together, the student would run the Council with a focus on ways to improve their classroom, a room we have been working with them to improve for some months now. This was highly motivating for them, partly because they saw the issues more clearly than they were sometimes given credit for. Also, they were eager to be called on to act—to do something, anything in their own self interest or in the interest of their cohort.
We suggested a structure for the Council, with two Co-Captains, two Co-Secretaries, and additional roles that kids could take later on. ‘Co-’ translates to ‘co-operative’ since the four electeds would work together. From a practical standpoint, having two students in each role also allows for absences. We recommended that they only nominate themselves or encourage someone else to nominate themselves. In other words, they could not nominate another student. That would get too complicated and we had big time constraints since Ms. Brady could only allot one 25-minute period each week for Inquiring Minds to visit her classroom.
We asked the kids, “What makes a good leader?” Their hands shot up.
We were over the moon. This was exactly what we had hoped for. They were applying the highest values. No one said, for instance, “Good hair.”
We handed out our I Nominate Me MindLib (see Lab Shop) and told them that, if they wanted to run, they needed to fill it out and hand it in within four days. To our utter delight, 12 kids chose to run —nearly half the class! 9 of the 12 candidates nominated themselves for Co-Captain which, let’s face it, is the top leadership role. 3 decided to run for Co-Secretary.
The next step, we informed them, was to campaign. We asked, “What does that mean exactly?” Kids hands shot up.
“Make a speech.”
"Make a poster."
“Bring in cupcakes.”
Baked goods aside, they needed to convey why they should be elected. I reminded them to talk to their parents about what the plan.
I saw one of the candidates, Frank, on the playground at the end of the school day. He was being met by his mom. Eager to hear her response I said, “Your son is running for office on the Kids’ Council. He needs to campaign.”
She said with astonishment, “REALLY?”
Frank chimed in, “I'm running for Co-Captain. I want to bake cookies.” I laughed, repeated how he had to do more than that and urged them to talk about all of this at home.
On Monday, we came in to Room 220 not entirely convinced any of the kids would be ready. Frank pulled out a crumpled piece of white paper. He had gotten all of the kids in the class to agree—in writing—to vote for him for Co-Captain. He had written a campaign speech. And he had baked homemade cookies. I was stunned, thoroughly amused, positively gleeful.
Slowly, over the next week and a half, all of the kids running for office followed suit. As prompts and probes, we developed giant MindLibs to help them organize their thoughts on paper and we provided a paper template for a campaign poster. We came in each day to hear their speeches which, while sparse in content, were heartfelt and always followed by applause. And, of course, they all had cookies or cupcakes to offer.
Developing Inquiry in Room 220
I asked for a vote on whether or not we should broadcast the election to the entire school by hanging the portraits we'd taken in the hallway outside of Room 220. The answer was a clear YES! And since Ms. Brady saw the energy mounting, she generously doubled our time allotment for Election Day.
We couldn’t wait for Monday, October the 20th at 1:50pm.
Want more? Just search for Kids' Council
For more information and help on how to run an Inquiring Minds' classroom election, email us at Lab[at]inquiringmindsusa.com
Note: The names in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of the students and teacher's privacy.