Mock Elections & School Voting – What are the benefits?
In the UK, we’re beginning to see national elections and referendums as regular occurrences, and there could be even more to come over the next few years. Throw in the regular council, mayoral and (possibly) European elections, and you’ve got democracy and debate filling the airwaves – and occasionally school halls.
In terms of education, they also happen to be an excellent means of teaching children some of the fundamentals of elections: opinion-forming, campaigning, debating and voting. Let’s see how they can individually benefit children.
Children pretty quickly get used to being told what to do, how to behave, and, to a certain extent, how to think. It’s the basis of a morally sound, disciplined society, but if overdone, it can stunt children’s ability to think for themselves and to form opinions based on evidence and achieving moral good.
That’s why part of the mock election process should be to instruct children to research subjects that are important to them, be it healthy school meals, zebra crossings or whether PE should take place in the rain. Alternatively, the actual issues being debated in the real election can be investigated and researched, as long as they are appropriate for the age group and possibly cultural mix of the school.
Once delegates have been selected, they can start campaigning. This is a great way to put the formed opinions into a concrete form and start to spread them. The artistic types can design leaflets and posters to support a certain candidate, and those who have a way with words can help to write the copy for them, as well as speeches and presentations. There’s no limit to how much effort can be put into the campaign. You can even make party political broadcasts videos and show them in assembly.
Debating is an important part of the school mock election, as it’s a chance to see how the opinions and policies being posited by the candidates hold up to scrutiny. Debate isn’t just about the table and the audience, a lot goes on beforehand as the parties attempt to find holes and valid counter-arguments against the policies put forward by the opposing side. Debating is great for working on public speaking skills as well as argument. It’s always good to nominate a fellow student to chair the debate; being neutral and balanced is also a great skill to develop.
Finally, the children of the school get the chance to vote for a party. They might have been involved in the campaigns, but they will always be asked to vote based on how persuasive the campaigning and debating has been. This is really important, as being partisan can often cloud the judgement. Changing one’s mind in the face of overwhelming evidence is a key skill that will see them through all levels of education and on into a professional life.
It’s best to keep voting secret, so children can express themselves honestly (and not fall out with their friends!). Make sure that when the results are announced, there’s no triumphalism, and encourage honour in victory as well as defeat.