Dec 14, 2011

Cast a Vote: Moving Students from Apathy to Advocacy.

In Ontario, only 48% of eligible voters voted in the most recent provincial election. Pathetic.

That said, StudentVote (an organization that enables mock-student election to run concurrently with real elections) ran elections in more than 50% of all schools. Their participation is climbing.

And that’s why we came together. Well, kind of.

Last Saturday, I participated in the StudentVote Post-Election Consultation where a group of 60 or so teachers from across the country and across the educational landscape got together and talked about the future of civic engagement.

How do we move students from apathetic to engaged? The question sounds familiar because, of course, we struggle with this in every facet of education. But this was different.

Organized and run by the StudentVote staff, the consultation was structured, yet free-flowing. Basically a moderated discussion about what has worked, specifically our successes with StudentVote, and how we can engage students in further civic duty.

It was refreshing to hear so many ideas connecting our joy of democracy and ways to make learning about it, and engaging in it, more authentic.

And that’s where my head was, “Give me something real.” Not “school-ized”.

There were a few solid ideas:

– A day where students can “grill” MPs or MPPs. Get them in the classroom and don’t describe what you do, defend your [party’s] positions. Students would have to be informed on the issues and be able to intelligently ask questions. Will do this for sure next semester with my FFP.

– Democracy boot camp – This was run by the StudentVote people, but I didn’t participate. From the brief snippets of info that I got I see it as a one day all inclusive bombardment of our political system including panel discussions with representatives from the parties. I like this idea. I think students can get involved and maybe run one for a feeder school, or maybe multiple feeder schools, if not our school. Heck, we could invite parents and the community. Lots of potential with this one, though right now, many random thoughts.

On top of all the discussion we had a fantastic guest speaker of Alison Loat (@alisonloat) from Samara. This organization looks at civic engagement and is a “research, think-tank” (take a gander at some of the reports they’ve published). She spoke that the civically disengaged aren’t necessarily apathetic, but often they have negative experience with bureaucracy.

How can we move politics closer to democracy?


A few questions I had going in and coming out of the day:

1. How do we keep students (heck, everyone) engaged in matters of the state between elections?

2. What “simulations” / “games” / “events” are there for students to participate in meaningful authentic ways with parliament?

3. How can we make citizenship, both digital and otherwise, part of all curriculums, not just that in Grade 10 civics?

4. Does StudentVote really work? Does it really make them voters in the future?


The truth is, I’m not a civics teacher. I teach it as an element of the Futures Forum Project, but it’s not my baby. Being civically engaged and an advocate for our civic rights and responsibilities is my thing.

How do we create meaningful, authentic learning opportunities for our students and allow them to experience success/ownership of the direction of our country/province/city? How do we include them in our community?


My other line of thinking is for a possible follow-up post, but here a few quick random thoughts:

  • (1)The professional development was geared towards helping this non-profit organization. How does this effect teacher engagement on a Saturday? When professional development (or any learning) has a clear and direct goal are people more inclined to over-engage? Is that possible?
  • (2)The consultation was also “paid”. We each got money for showing up. How does that affect the commitment to professional development? How would have the turnout/engagement been different?
  • It was difficult to determine the hierarchy of the group. Sure, there was the organization who was “leading” the discussions, but it was a flat organization. How did this affect people’s willingness to share?
  • StudentVote was open to back channelling, yet it didn’t really happen. How could this have enabled more sharing? What is our hesitation? Are these the people to start that push with?
  • If a teacher is engaged in one element of school life (civics, elections, politics, sports, drama, etc.) are they less effective in other venues? Should we promote teacher specialization or breadth learning?
(Author’s Note 1: I refer to the day as PD, mainly because that what it was for me. A chance for me to develop professionally. As Taylor mentions in the comments, from StudentVote’s perspective it was a consultation. Fair enough, but ultimately, it was a chance for me to learn.)
(Author’s Note 2: Paid, may not be the right word, but the idea that participants were walking away with something concrete, is important. How that changes buy-in, and in turn, what that might look like in different circumstances is interesting.)



This blog is all over the place, I know. There are so many good, creative thoughts that came out of the day for me and I feel like this is the way I need to express them. Hope it is readable.


  • Hey Scott, thanks for the blog post. it was totally readable.

    Just to clarify, this was not PD. This was a consultation. That’s why people were provided with an honourarium. I feel that if people are working to improve Student Vote on a Saturday, then their time should be covered.

    If it was PD we would have done it very differently. What’s interesting is that many teachers wrote to us after and said it ‘felt’ like PD, which I think is a compliment to the day.

    I’ll share the blog with Alison. She is wonderful and would appreciate the mention here.

    Have a great night,


  • Taylor,
    Thank you for reading the post and for commenting. Thank you as well for allowing me to be part of the day on Saturday, it was quite energizing.
    Also, I have made two author’s notes to clarify my thinking and writing as per your comment. I think part of the issue is the amorphous understanding of “PD”. That’s why I found the day so intriguing. It was a consultation and it was professional development. I doubt there were many, if any teachers, who went home without feeling like they had some sort of idea or better understanding of what they’d do in class on Monday, which makes me think it was PD. But maybe that’s what professional development is missing, an element of consultation. Never is that the structure of system-based PD.
    Regardless, the day was run smoothly and effectively. Hopefully, you got as much out of the day as I did.

  • Hey Scott,

    can we edit this, and possibly use some of this in one of our own blogs?

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