Advanced Student Class Learns About The Importance Of Voting


Teacher Ted Tatum  explains one of the fine points of the Constitution during his social studies class.

Teacher Ted Tatum explains one of the fine points of the Constitution during his social studies class. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Eighth-grade students in Ted Tatum’s social studies class last week perhaps grew a bit jaded while learning one of life’s fundamental lessons — the potential for corrupt politicians.

Tatum listed quotes by Edmund Burke, Thomas Jefferson and Sam Adams talking about the precarious nature of democracy and the necessity for ordinary Americans to remain vigilant and involved.

“All that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing,” Burke once said.

Tatum showed the quotes after the students watched a short movie in which a group of Americans returned home after a long stay abroad only to find a corrupt, fictitious President Collins had taken office and outlawed public criticism of politicians in office.

The class, targeted to academically advanced students, veered away from straight lecture, allowing the kids to debate and choose among assignments to foster a sense of responsibility.

“The kids, they really get passionate about debating,” said Tatum before class.

After the kids watched the movie, the class discussed the themes’ implications.

“How would a guy like President Collins get elected?” Tatum asked his students. Perhaps Collins issued false campaign promises, students conjectured. Maybe he said all the right things.

“How many Americans vote?” asked Tatum. About 60 percent of registered voters generally turn out for general elections, although mid-term election turnout falls below half, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy. That number just represents registered voters — the total number of Americans who vote is much lower.

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Adam Shannon transcribes his thoughts in a journal.

Other democracies see much higher voter turnout. In Canada, 70 to 75 percent of voters typically turnout, and the French turnout rate has exceed 90 percent, according to the center.

Jefferson said every person should read and interpret the Constitution, and Tatum told his students they would do just that during the school year.

Because of the class’ advanced nature, Tatum said he assigns more projects than tests. Similar to college, where students can pick from an array of classes to satisfy certain requirements, kids in Tatum’s class can choose among several assignments to amass points.

For example, the first unit, an introduction to civics, requires students to earn 200 points for an “A.” The activity sheet lists six possible tasks. Completing a notes worksheet could earn a student 50 points, finishing a project could earn a student 100 points and a test carries a maximum of 50 points.

If a student completed all six tasks perfectly, he would earn 350 points. In reality, a student could complete as many tasks as necessary to earn an “A,” and then stop. Or, he could complete all the assignments and earn extra credit.

Tatum says this style encourages the advanced students to take responsibility for their learning. By mid-term, the students will work on a high school level.

And new this year, Tatum is working with gifted language arts teacher Deon McKeen, and kids will complete four or five projects that incorporate both subject areas.

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McKenna Cave, Devon Robb, Harrison Meidinger and Anthony Tantimonaco gather round two computers as they work on a Powerpoint presentation. The students are part of an advanced learning class which allows them a role in choosing their assignments.

The school had already combined math and science, as well as a combined language arts and social studies class for seventh-graders. However, because of more complex certification requirements for eighth-graders, the school has designed a way for the teachers to collaborate for the older students, creating the same experience using a different method.

One day last week, Tatum’s students gathered at the classroom computers after watching the short movie. Some students worked on a book project while others worked on a computerized lesson.

Miriam Garner and Kiki York worked on a so-called ABC book, in which they think of a concept starting with each letter for their civics Powerpoint presentation. “A” for alien — illegal alien — “B” for Barack Obama, and so on. They create a presentation, discussing the particulars of each concept.

Meanwhile, Molly Beier and Ali Tenney worked individually on computerized lessons. Tenney was reading about ancient Babylon and Beier read about the Romans.

Both said they enjoyed the ALS system, a series of computerized lessons that end with a test.

“You don’t have to wait for everybody to catch up,” said Tenney.

“Yeah, you can just go,” said Beier.

And with any luck, these educated civics students will go right to the polling place when they turn 18, Tatum’s lessons still fresh in their minds.

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