Elections 2016: Kirk, Duckworth Campaigns and Civics Experts Visit Election Class!

By History and Social Studies Co-Chair Andy Bigelow and
Civic Engagement Director Shanti Elliott

This spring, students in Andy Bigelow’s Elections class have been immersed in civic education: in addition to research and reading, they have been volunteering for political campaigns and hearing from both Senate campaigns, as well as expert political analysts. With so much media attention on the national election, students have less access to information and analysis about local and state elections, so history teacher Andy Bigelow, with the help of Civic Engagement Director Shanti Elliott, arranged a series of speakers, including local experts Shawn Healy, Marilyn Katz and representatives from Kirk’s and Duckworth’s campaigns.

Bigelow approached McCormick Foundation Democracy Scholar Shawn Healy with questions about on-the-ground political work. Dr. Healy spoke to students about the local context in relation to the national scene: the presidential race, congressional races, the Illinois General Assembly, Illinois Comptroller and legislative redistricting. Students were impressed by Healy’s depth of understanding: “he knows something about everything!”

Healy has been supporting Parker’s civic education efforts for the past two years while we went through the process of joining McCormick Foundation’s Democracy Schools Network. In addition to his insightful overview of Illinois politics, Healy shared recent blog posts with the class, such as this one, on teaching civic discourse in the era of Trump.

Political strategist Marilyn Katz is a Parker parent emerita and leader of a range of political groups and campaigns, such as Chicago Women Take Action. She visited the classroom to offer perspectives on Chicago political history and current reality. She emphasized the role of young people in politics. Like Healy, Katz has written publicly about the Trump campaign in articles such as this one.

Turning to the Senate campaign, Bigelow asked Kirk campaign representative Max Hahm to explain the campaign and the significance of the U.S. Senate’s role at the state and national levels. In Parker’s largely liberal-moderate environment, students were eager to hear from conservative voices and understand alternative approaches to the economy, the Supreme Court of the United States and more.

Hahm is in charge of all interns and volunteers for the Kirk campaign. Hahm is from Lasalle, Illinois and just graduated from Illinois State University in Normal. He is openly gay, and when he met Senator Kirk, he came out of the closet and was then celebrated by the Senator as he announced his new openly gay friend Max at a GOP event. Students researched Senator Kirk’s campaign and chose 10 of the following 15 subjects to research for their discussion with Hahm:

  1. Environment
  2. Energy
  3. SCOTUS
  4. LGBTQ rights
  5. Abortion
  6. NAFTA/Trade
  7. Immigration 
  8. Trump/VP?
  9. Tammy Duckworth
  10. Illinois’ debt
  11. Education
  12. Taxes
  13. Chicago Violence/Police Brutality
  14. What is his agenda/priority in his second term?
  15. War and Peace
  16. Drug Policy

Following the Kirk campaign visit, the Duckworth campaign sent Aaron Hill, a professor at University of Chicago and resident head who is also working full time with the Duckworth campaign. David Applegate is a full-time recruitment/field manager for the campaign. They each told their political growth stories—how they became involved in politics and civics. The students asked plenty of sound questions and clearly knew their subject well. As they did with the Kirk campaign, they challenged these die-hard campaigners and were respectful and engaged. We are so impressed with their passion and knowledge of events!

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