Editor's note: Submitted by Prairie Creek Community School.
The basket of gourds didn’t look like a civics lesson at first. Students in the fourth- and fifth-grade classes at Prairie Creek each chose a gourd, named it, and interviewed it as part of a creative writing assignment.
But their gourds were citizens of the United States of Gourd—and a presidential election was coming up in a few weeks. They feverishly began preparing, learning about the Declaration of Independence from King Gourd III, the three vines of government and, of course, the platforms of the two political parties, the Free Gourds and the Poligourds.
“Kids this age are very passionate about politics, but their understanding is often superficial. We needed to teach about the election, but we needed to find a way to go more deeply without things getting personal,” said Cathy Oehmke, one of the fourth- and fifth-grade teachers. “By creating a parallel country with a lot of humor, we were able to create a space for discourse.”
As the project has progressed, one class has been taking a poll regularly to gauge students’ opinions.
“It’s anyone’s game,” said fifth-grader Oran Frenstad who has been a lead pollster. “At first the Poligourds were way ahead, then the Free Gourds. Now it’s the Poligourds but there are still 11 percent undecided. The debate really shook things up.”
The polling group takes a random sample of 25 percent of likely voters and makes sure to ask the same question of everyone.
Likely voters? Yes. Every gourd had to register to vote by the end of last week. Alas, there will be no same day registration.
“The kids had to get registered themselves—we weren’t going to hand the slips out and require it. We wanted them to have to choose to exercise their right to vote, just like they will when they are eighteen,” said Michelle Martin, another teacher. “Of course, some very dedicated partisans started voter registration drives.”
The school is festooned with campaign posters and the hallways and playground have been filled with debate about taxes and health care (several gourds are rotting so this is an important topic.)
“It’s a paradox, but making the election about gourds has made it more real for the students,” said Amy Brown, another fourth- and fifth-grade teacher. “They are able to listen to each other, and laugh together—if only all political contests could be as amicable.”