Toward a Better Civil Discourse

October 26, 2016

Fifty eight percent. That’s the percentage of students, ages 8 to 11, who have some interest in being president of the United States when they grow up. And we’re willing to bet that there are many fantastic candidates among them.

But before they turn the constitutionally-required 35 years of age, we want to make sure they know a thing or two about our democratic process. The New Jersey Mock Election project features a detailed civics curriculum along with a mock election to help teachers, students, and parents navigate this year’s particularly contentious election.

The Community Foundation is proud to bring this important work to schools across our state (click here for more on our sponsorship), but even prouder of the students taking an active and energetic role in the political process.


Presidential Race Poses Unique Challenge for Schools
Stuffing her ballot in the box, Paterson third-grader Tyana Dixon is getting her first lesson in civics. “We’re learning about the election for voting for different presidents,” she said. In an election cycle marred by inflammatory campaign rhetoric and insults that would undoubtedly earn a ticket to detention, schools across the state have been struggling to find creative ways to teach kids the process. Click for more.

Mock elections in schools concentrate on teaching citizenship – and leave Trump, Clinton out of it
In a creative approach, Oradell Public School is pitting two fictional characters against each other in a race for president. Over the next three weeks, Mr. Fox and Mr. Wolf will debate issues, release video ads and hang posters before they face off in an in-school vote on Nov. 7. “It’s kind of a contentious election year,” said the principal, Megan Bozios. “Our job as a school is to teach kids about the electoral process and their role as future citizens, and to keep it at their level.” Click for more.

Teachers grapple with civics lessons in an uncivilized campaign
“We started getting calls from teachers in June,” said Arlene Gardner, director of the New Jersey Center for Civic Education at Rutgers University, which is working with the Community Foundation of New Jersey, the New Jersey Social Studies Supervisors Association and the N.J. Council for Social Studies on this year’s state mock election. The group held a workshop in September that attracted 110 teachers, and it had to turn away at least 40 more. Participants talked about understanding school policies on what can be discussed in class and the pros and cons of revealing personal views. Click for more.

Would kids at Christie’s alma mater vote Trump or Clinton?
NJ Mock Election – a project put on by the NJ Social Studies Supervisors Association, NJ Center for Civic Education, the Community Foundation of New Jersey, and the NJ Council for Social Studies – will be collecting the results from schools across the state over the next few weeks. The overall results will be posted before Nov. 4. “We have historically found that middle school students are very accurate” in terms of predicting the results of elections, said Robert O’Dell, the social studies coordinator at Nutley Public Schools and director of NJ Mock Election. Click for more.