When absorbing messages about democracy and voting on social media, teenagers need guidance to develop their own critical thinking skills. (Courtesy photo)

Preparing SFUSD students to be well-informed voters

This morning, students at San Francisco Public Montessori will cast their votes for president. They will line up at their “polling place” in the school’s library, sign in, heading into a private voting booth and mark their ballots.

Then, afterward, they will participate in a completely anonymous exit poll so the school can report early results.

To top it off, they get a “Just Voted” sticker. Believe me, nothing encourages voter participation from a young age (or any for that matter) like a sticker.

These students have been discussing our election process and issues, at an age-appropriate level, to prepare for Election Day.

And this is true in so many of our classrooms across The City.

At the high school level, our American Democracy class develops students’ understanding of the institutions of American government. This includes the founding principles established in the U.S. Constitution as well as the relationship between citizens and the government.

It also opens students’ eyes to how democracy is intended to work in a civil society. They study the three branches of government and learn how this system is important to balance the powers each branch has. It covers the nature of elections in our country — including the role of communications media in civic life — and landmark Supreme Court decisions that have shaped our country.

But there’s more to it than just getting through a textbook. As Michael Rosenberg, American Democracy, Economics and Pre-Law teacher at Balboa High School said, it’s also about enlightening our students to how they can be engaged in their communities. We make sure that we include the many, many voices that have shaped (and are shaping) our democracy.

Asked about teaching democracy to today’s students, Rosenberg said he believes teenagers need guidance to develop their own critical thinking skills when absorbing messages on social media.

“Our students are inundated by social media, and lately it’s full of media that fails to tell an accurate story,” Rosenberg said. “Right now, we are seeing that whoever is the loudest gets the most media attention.”

When teaching democracy, Rosenberg said his role is to get kids to ask the questions: “I put the dots out there. They think it through and put the dots together.”

The teachers at SF Public Montessori and teachers like Rosenberg across our schools are preparing students to be well-informed voters.

Myong Leigh is interim superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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