Teacher Preparation

Michelle Obama Wants to Train Teachers to Help Students Vote

By Madeline Will — October 24, 2019 3 min read
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Michelle Obama wants teachers to get their students to vote—and a new initiative features lesson plans and in-person trainings to help with that effort.

The former first lady launched a nonpartisan voter registration program called When We All Vote last year. In a message to educators delivered this summer, Obama said most young voters are not turning out to vote, and asked teachers to help “show young people how crucial their voices are, and how just a few votes can be decisive on issues that matter to them and their community.”

Now, When We All Vote has released the details of its “My School Votes” initiative, which includes action plans for voter registration drives, lesson plans, and in-person training sessions for educators. In November, there will be sessions held in the Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami-Dade, and Clark County, Nev., school districts. Additional sessions will be in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and several cities in North Carolina.

Nationwide, 23 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds voted in the 2018 midterm elections, according to data from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Teenage-voter turnout varied widely by state, from a low of 13 percent (Oklahoma) to a high of 37 pecent (Minnesota).

See also: Is America’s Next Generation of Voters Ready for the Job?

During the in-person training sessions, trainers will help educators develop their action plans to get students and parents to register to vote. My School Votes wants high schools to create a team for voter registration efforts—a teacher or administrator should head up the effort, along with a student captain, who should be someone with “influence in the school” and who is “passionate about civics and voting.” The team should then put together a list of students in the school who are eligible to vote. Civically minded teacher and student leaders should meet individually with those students, the initiative says.

The initiative also suggests holding “voter registration action days,” where teachers of older students can teach about the importance of youth voting, and then allow students to register to vote. Teachers of younger students can talk about the importance of civic engagement and tell them their state’s registration rules. For example, this day could be held on March 23, the anniversary of the congressional passage of the 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote.

A spokeswoman for When We All Vote said just over 2,000 teachers and students have signed up for My School Votes since its launch in July.

Experts have told Education Week that civics education plays a huge role in encouraging youth to vote. “Young voters are new voters,” Carolyn DeWitt, the president and executive director of Rock the Vote, told EdWeek. “They are unfamiliar with the process. They are insecure about their understanding of our political system, and that makes them less confident about participating and weighing in.”

See also: Citizen Z: Teaching Civics in a Divided Nation

There has been a surge of interest in civics education, as Education Week has reported. As the 2020 presidential election draws closer, civics teachers are trying to make sure students are engaged in the political process and understand their civic responsibility—even as the current political climate becomes increasingly divisive.

My School Votes has pulled together a collection of lesson plans from civics organizations, including iCivics’ curriculum on voting rights and obstacles to voting, the Center for Civic Education’s lessons that simulate elections and inform students about ballot questions, and Rock the Vote’s curriculum that shares how voting can affect issues in community and teaches about the 2020 Census.

“Obviously, we shouldn’t be telling [students] how to vote or who to vote for,” Obama said in her message to educators. “We just want them to vote, period—to take that first step toward making voting a lifelong habit.”

When We All Vote has partnered with the two national teachers’ unions, Teach For America, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the National Honor Society, the National Student Council, and the YMCA to reach educators and students.

Image: Former first lady Michelle Obama speaks with students of Morehouse College and Spelman College during a campus visit to Spelman College on May 11. —Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.