Elections and Service-Learning

Below you will find resources to support elections and voting issues through service-learning.

Service-Learning Project Examples .pdf – project ideas related to access to polling locations, education about candidates and issues, voting process, voting registration, and voter turnout.

Service-Learning Resources .pdf – helpful Websites, book suggestions, and potential partner information related to elections and voting issues.

It’s Election Day

By Marvin Rosenblum, Founder, KIDS Consortium
The handwriting on the envelope was vaguely familiar. The contents consisted of four items: a very familiar exhortation from my mother (Buy Nourishing Food!) attached to a $10 bill; a rare note from my father asking me to fill out and return the enclosed voter registration form; and a stamped envelope addressed to the voter registration office quite close to where my parents lived.

I had been out of the house for several years, attending college during the day, working nights and sleeping when I could. It was October and I had just turned 21. Despite the fact that my parents lived less than 60 miles away, our face-to-face reunions were rare, due in part to my schedule and a stubborn need for independence!

My growing up years were barely influenced by my parent’s political and community activism. If it wasn’t about sports or my friends, I took no interest. I, of course, knew that my parents were naturalized citizens and that I was the first person in my family to go to college. I had changed majors in school many times and had no idea how I would eventually earn a living.

On the Sunday prior to Election day, there was a knock on my door. It was my landlord who told me that my father was on the phone and needed to talk with me. I followed him to the phone. “This coming Tuesday is election day!” said my father. “I know that you have to go to school and work, but this is more important. Meet me at the house and we’ll go to the polls together.” An hour later, my landlord knocked again. I put the phone to my ear, I heard my father say, “And wear a tie!”

After we had voted there was a celebratory dinner and toasts to my first significant act of participation. As we said goodbye (and my mother stuffed another note attached to another $10 bill into my pocket), my father asked, “How does it feel to make a difference? How does it feel to matter?” I had no idea then, but as my life evolved into the world of teaching, those questions were to become my mantra.

It is not unusual to hear of emerging democracies with 90% voter turnout records, and of people walking for days to be able to vote. But here, in the wealthiest, most powerful democracy in the world, we are often disappointed by voter turnout.

Participation in our communities and in our democracy is a learned behavior – behavior that needs to be reinforced by young people discovering that they do matter and that they can make a difference. KIDS Consortium’s model of service-learning incorporates apprentice citizenship, using the town as text as a vehicle for this discovery process. We need an emerging citizenry that knows it can make a difference because it already has.

We are constantly bombarded with rhetoric about what needs to be learned and how (the KIDS model being one of many competing “hows”) it needs to be learned. Perhaps passion comes from asking “why?” Why do we teach what we teach? Why are some “hows” better than others?

Elizabeth A. Bibesco, a British author and poet, wrote, “Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.” I’m still working on the first part, but as for the taking segment, I will not forget that long ago day in November when my father planted the seed that illuminates the “why” that has energized most of my life.