Social Studies

The Census Count Is On

By Sean Cavanagh — June 25, 2009 2 min read
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Workers from the 2010 U.S. Census are preparing to canvass neighborhoods and crunch numbers as part of the once-a-decade survey that gives us an official headcount of the nation’s population, not to mention that of cities, states, and other jurisdictions. It’s a process that determines how congressional districts are drawn and how billions of dollars of federal aid get allocated.

The Census Bureau, which orchestrates the count, is eager to promote public awareness of how it works. One way they’re doing it is through the creation of a series of lesson plans, student activities, and other online tools, available to teachers online. The “Census in Schools” site already has some features designed to help teachers explain the census and craft classroom activities around it, though many more are expected to be added in the months ahead. U.S. Census officials say their resources are aimed at not only introducing students to the survey itself, but also at encouraging educators to incorporate that data in social studies and history classes and independent research projects.

Some resources are already available online. On the teacher’s page, for instance, there are worksheets that ask students to use census tables to identify total populations and changes in population over time. There are “quick facts” students can get about the population and demographic breakdowns of their states and population growth or loss. For younger students, the site includes counting games and quizzes, based on census information. For teachers, there’s a guide on how to use the U.S. Census and interpret its data. The Census Bureau will be adding other resources in the months ahead, some of which will be developed by Scholastic, which alerted us to the site.

The site also includes a lot of information about the history of the census and why it matters. As with any process that determines congressional seats and billions of dollars in spending, of course, the U.S. Census provokes controversy. Recently, conservatives have accused the Obama administration of seeking to politicize the process by having the census director report to White House officials. Obama’s nominee, Robert Groves, has seen his confirmation held up by Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who fear he could use statistical methods that would result in population counts that are more favorable to Democrats. Could a teacher use these fights to help introduce students to the census, and explain why it’s important?

An official from Scholastic just told me that the Census Bureau will be sending a series “kits” of supplementary materials, including teaching guides, maps, and other resources to school districts around the country in August and September, the start of the school year. Spanish-language materials will also be available online.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.