My first year teaching was during the '04 Presidential Primary. I drove into the school parking lot on the day of my state's primary and was ecstatic to realize the voting was being held at our school. Knowing the families I taught and how many jobs they worked, I didn't think they would be taking their children along with them to vote. I doubted the children had ever seen what it was like to experience the voting process, and, as a first year teacher not yet obsessed by the demands of my plan book, I decided to remedy this.
I got permission from the poll officials to bring my loud first graders down to our gym. Then I tried to prep my kids. How do you explain a primary to first graders? Ok, so you know we have a president. Yes, George Bush. No, not George Washington DC Bush, just George Bush. No, George Washington is dead. No, so is Abraham Lincoln. Yes, a long time ago. SO, YES, a president. Well, every 4 years we decide if we want to keep the current president and we give other people a chance at the job. This went on for quite awhile.
Eventually we ended up holding a vote, who thinks George Bush should stay president? Who thinks someone else should get a chance? The results were a clear example of First Grade logic. 'George Bush should stay president because it is his turn now and we might hurt his feelings if we ask him to leave'. 'George Bush can still be president. All those people saying that he does a bad job, well, they don't know what the job is. George Bush does.' 'My mom says George Bush is president'.
After our own classroom voting experience we walked down to the gym, ready to check out the voting booth. I might add that I am from a small town and as I stood there with my first graders I realized that it would also be my first time seeing how the electronic touch-screens work. (To this day I still have not voted on one). A kind elderly gentleman realized why we were there and offered to let us watch his vote, as long as we didn't tell anyone. Aha! Teachable moment on voting rights and privacy!
So, we leaned in to listen to how the machine worked and watch the man vote. As we listened to the explanation one of my kiddos broke away from the pack. 'I want George Bush, I want George Bush' he grumbled under his breath as he spun in circles in the middle of the gym. Thank God it was only a primary, otherwise he would have needed to be forcibly removed by election staff for influencing voters. I suppose technically this still could have been considered an influence, but the election officials were understanding.
Back in the classroom the kids told everyone who entered who the man had voted for. Just in case you don't work with first graders, you should know they can't keep secrets.