Learning about real life elections in the classroom sounds a little like a disaster waiting to happen - but there definitely are ways to talk about political situations in the classroom without attracting controversy.
1. Don't Avoid It
Elections happen and they're important. Students are future voters and they deserve to understand how elections work. Avoiding the topic might keep things from becoming controversial, but it can also be a disservice to our students who should be educated about the electoral system.
2. Keep Your Feelings Out of It
You might have really strong opinions about a particular candidate, but work to keep a neutral approach in the classroom. Students don't need to know about how you might be inclined to vote - it's ok to talk about how voters often prefer to keep their votes to themselves. It can also be an opportunity to talk about the use of secret ballots in elections and why they are used.
3. Set the Ground Rules for the Students
Discussions about elections can get heated, especially if students or their parents hold strong opinions. Establish some strict ground rules early, ensuring students participate in lessons in a respectful, considerate manner.
4. Use 'Primary' Sources
If you want to investigate to political positions of the candidates or how they use language in speeches turn to the words of the candidates themselves. Look for speeches on similar topics or speeches from similar events (like campaign launches or party conventions). Comparing the words of the candidates side by side allows students to see both sides of the political arguments and can also serve as a informational reading lesson.
5. Take a Technical Approach
It's possible to talk about elections without focusing too much attention on candidates or political parties. Look at how elections work, what people need to do to vote, how votes are counted. Look at the levels of government and what the different electable positions are. You can even take a look into how the government works. The technical approach allows students to look more critically at the political process and how they can be involved in it.
6. Take a Historical Approach
Instead of focusing on a current or more recent election, take a look into the past. What was the first election like? How have political parties changed over the years? What are the notable or interesting elections of the past? So much of history shapes the events of today - learning about the past can allow students to understand how we got to current political situations.
7. Take an International Approach
Lots of countries have democratic systems and elections, but they all have their own ways of voting and forming governments. Take your students on a look back at Ancient Athenian Democracy or take a peek into elections within other democratic countries. Compare and contrast the electoral systems and their principles with the electoral systems of your own country. Taking a wider view of elections can allow your students to have a better understanding of the electoral systems of their own country - and a global understanding of political events.
A controversial election can make the idea of teaching government seem scary. But with some firm ground rules and interesting side journeys, you can make the most of election season while avoiding controversy.