Democracy, Schools, and the Internet...Oh, My! An Australian teacher reminds us that there are many creative ways to engage students in civics.

by Rebecca Guterman // Published August 5, 2010

The Internet has made many everyday tasks easier, from looking up a business to finding a recipe for foreign cuisine, and participation in politics is no exception. In Australia, where they are having a federal election on August 21st, one teacher took advantage of the political climate and interest in technology to get his students involved. They set up a blog where they could interview politicians, as well as a twitter account to keep the public updated on their activities. These Year 8 students (equivalent to United States eighth graders) now seem to have become political analysts in their own way and have brought civic education to a whole new level.

We hope American teachers are given opportunities to pursue similar creative ideas. The motivation behind FairVote’s initiatives is to create a democracy founded on treating every vote with respect, which our democracy currently does not. Civic education is a large part of that effort. Without an educated populous, the efficacy of democracy deteriorates. We need to target voters using creative initiatives that explore the full potential of all the resources available to us in this information age. Social networking sites like twitter, blogs, and Facebook, can be of great use in reaching out to young voters or even would-be voters, not by creating corny videos that patronize, but by making information available to them through sites they check every day.

The Australian class is a perfect example not just of how to use technology, but also for how to use the classroom as a direct route to young people. Schools, after all, are the most efficient and broad-based way to provide civic education to young voters-to-be. FairVote’s “Learning Democracy” curriculum manages to engage students through powerpoint presentations that facilitate discussions about policy issues and voting rights in addition to an interactive history of suffrage. It was developed by FairVote in conjunction with curriculum experts, and can be adapted to different classroom settings.

As our own 2010 mid-term elections and 2012 presidential election approach, it’s time to think about recruiting the newest generation of voters. Many campaigns already use Facebook and Twitter to attract supporters, and with a little bit of a change in target audience, many more students and young people could be reached through these media outlets. As the civics teacher in Australia realized, a federal election is too great of a “teachable moment” to pass up. Let his work be inspiring, not limiting—figure out an innovative way to get teens, whether they are your peers, students, or children. Get involved!