This past week, I spent a day in Olympia with five of my students testifying in support of House Bill 1294, or the Youth Voter Equality Act. The bill will extend to 16 and 17 year olds something already available to all other eligible voters: the ability to register to vote when they receive their driver’s license. After celebrating Temperance and Good Citizenship Day on January 16th, where my classes discussed the meaning and importance of good citizenship, including registering students to vote in class, this seemed like an appropriate piece of legislation for my government class to support.
One of my goals of my AP US Government Course is to demystify government for my students and give them opportunities to engage. While down in Olympia, Representative Steve Bergquist, the prime sponsor of the bill (and a social studies teacher who has presented at the WSCSS Fall Conference) took time out of his schedule to meet and answer questions for my students. He then went on to take them around the capitol and introduce them to other legislators, capitol staff, and even took my still unregistered students down to the Secretary of State’s office to register to vote. We then finished the day with two of my students and myself testifying in support of HB 1294 in front of the House State Government Committee. My students did a phenomenal job (and made their AP US Government teacher very proud) and were absolutely buzzing with excitement the entire van ride home. Along the trip they told me that government was, “not as scary as they thought,” and that, “they definitely wanted to get more involved.”
As an AP US Government teacher, I try and always come back to the six proven practices of civic education. I hope that by combining my students’ coursework with actual government experience will inspire them to be active citizens. We often discuss the old maxim, “old people vote and young people don’t,” and the fact that young people are underrepresented in government due to their lack of engagement. Hopefully with my work with my students, and the great work that is happening in social studies classrooms across the state, we can help change that maxim to something less catchy like, “everybody votes.”
While school should prepare students for college and career, it must prepare them for citizenship. They must leave our schools understanding their rights and ready to assume their responsibilities.