It’s not every day that students are asked to teach their teachers. But a successful class project as part of their AP Comparative Government and Politics course led to that very situation. A group of students recently presented to SMUS faculty about the four options they get to choose from in the BC Referendum on Electoral Reform.
British Columbians are currently voting in a referendum exploring the possibility of moving to a proportional representation voting system – Dual Member Proportional, Mixed Member Proportional or Rural-Urban Proportional – or keeping the current First Past the Post voting system.
“For AP Comparative Government and Politics, before we can actually compare any of the countries’ government foundations, we have to look at all the theories and the terms and everything that goes along with politics,” says AP teacher Mrs. Danielle Beare. “Our second unit is on democracy and elections, and the referendum was perfect timing to tie it all together. It’s a perfect real-world experience that we could apply to the theories and foundations of politics that we were learning about.”
Students researched all four voting systems, and had to be able to explain how each one works and identify the pros and cons of the systems.
“For me, it was interesting to see the students talk about these systems with no preconceived notions. They have not lived in a political world that long or have been engaged in this world for very long, so they had this clear slate of information only: ‘Here’s what this system is and here are the positives and negatives,'” Danielle says. “They presented with such an open mind and no bias attached to it. I’m hoping that opinion comes in over time, because we teach them to have an open mind and show them that understanding all sides can help you make better decisions.”
Students say they felt empowered getting to learn about the voting systems in an in-depth way.
“I went back home and my family had a dinner party one night, and they made me give them the PowerPoint presentation at the dinner party,” says Grade 11 boarding student Tessa Furey. “It helps make me feel more connected to the democratic process; even though I’m not able to vote, knowing my actions may have a bit of say in what’s happening, if not directly, then indirectly by informing my family.”
As Danielle heard more and more students share their experiences of teaching their families about the options on the ballot, she thought, “I bet you some of the teachers could really use this information before voting.” She adds: “It was so well done and because there weren’t any biases I felt the students could really speak as experts to the teachers.”
Three weeks ago, a group of students had that opportunity to be the experts for the teachers. They came prepared with a presentation, hand-outs and the knowledge to answer clarifying questions that were asked of them.
“Realizing that we taught a group of teachers and knowing we have helped make an impact so they vote with confidence feels really great,” says Grade 11 student Meaghan Power-Pollitt.
Danielle says the point of weaving this real-world example into her class is about more than just tying it to the curriculum. She says she wants students to understand the importance of being engaged and informed citizens.
“Our students will have a huge influence on our future, and they’re a year or two away from being able to vote,” she says. “This is a real-life scenario that they’re going to encounter in their lives. ‘As an active citizen, you have the opportunity to influence your government. What are you going to do? How are you going to get the information you need to be confident you’re making an informed decision?'”
Both Tessa and Meaghan recognize that, too.
“I think one of the biggest things I learned is that democracy is not perfect. I never really thought about what that means to me, so getting to examine all these systems was eye-opening for me,” Tessa says.
“I feel very invested in the referendum now. I’m excited to see what happens because I’m informed now, I have a new understanding of what these systems are and I’ll be voting in a couple years,” Meaghan says. “For me, being able to spend time understanding democracy and being able to know at a young age what this referendum really means makes me feel very lucky to be at a school that offers this kind of learning and teaching.”