Student Well-Being

Indianapolis Teacher Puts Students to Work on His Bid To Become a State Lawmaker

By Natasha N. Smith — February 25, 2004 2 min read
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Matthew W. Smith, a private school teacher in Indianapolis, is taking political science to a new level by putting his students to work on an actual campaign.

His students are improving their English skills by writing letters to lobbying groups. They’re incorporating math by monitoring and analyzing election polls. Studying up on the state’s environmental policy also has the teenagers broadening their science background.

What candidate has them doing all this work?

Mr. Smith. He is seeking the Republican nomination for the Indiana House of Representatives for the state’s District 97.

“They’re gaining the importance of political action, voting, and voter registration,” the teacher said of his students. “They’re learning it firsthand; therefore, it’s harder to forget.”

Running for political office is not his lifelong ambition, and he concedes that his only background in politics “is being licensed to teach government.”

But with that license, he is taking his class of 15 seniors at Scecina High School on a ride to get him elected—as his campaign staff.

Mr. Smith designed the curriculum for the political science class, which is being offered this year for the first time as an elective at the 354-student Roman Catholic school. As he drew up the course of study, Mr. Smith felt that the best way for his students to learn the subject was by doing just what political operatives do.

The school sent a letter to parents explaining the nature of the course, and making it clear that their children would be helping in a real political campaign.

‘A Living Textbook’

Since Feb. 3, when his class accompanied Mr. Smith to the Indiana Government Center and the City Council Building to file his candidacy paperwork, the class has been thoroughly engaged with the intricacies of running a campaign.

Two of the students have been assigned to share the task of campaign manager, while the rest of the students are working as “volunteers.”

The students have already masterminded a T-shirt design as well as the campaign slogan: “Leadership Today for a Brighter Tomorrow.”

Most of their days are spent researching political action committees and making contact with lobbying groups. If they are not doing that, they are observing advertising techniques for spots on the Internet, on radio and television, or in newspapers. The main focus currently is on a fund-raising dinner to help finance the campaign.

“This is a living textbook,” Mr. Smith said. “This is their work, their research, and I am their politician.”

Though the students are working on the campaign, Mr. Smith allays any fears that the students’ success in the class will be based on the outcome of the May primary. And, because the class is optional, no students are being forced to work on the campaign.

“Their grades aren’t dependent on whether I win the election or not. Their grades are based on journaling and quizzes,” Mr. Smith said. “Students know they can drop the class. None have dropped it, but a few more have signed up.”

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