Participatory Democracy in the Upper School

by Director of Civic Engagement Shanti Elliott

While the country watches presidential debates and follows trails of sound bytes, Upper School students in Andy Bigelow’s Elections class are digging deep into the political analysis and civic engagement of participatory democracy. Students’ questions, research and experiences drive the class: they challenge themselves and one another to look past headlines and explore at relationships between local and global issues, examine the role of the media and polling in public discourse and consider the impact of policies on their own lives and the lives of other people.

Students’ independent research includes following diverse sources for news and analysis and regular volunteering for political campaigns. Individual students begin class each day by presenting to the class their analysis of a current event or policy area. Class discussions range from police violence in Chicago to the changes to the Republican party presented by Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Wonderful guest speakers have contributed to students’ learning in the class. Young campaigners represented Senate races with enthusiasm and personal stories of political engagement: Max Halm from the Kirk campaign and Nicholas Ramos from the Duckworth campaign. Following these visits, Christian Diaz, executive director of Chicago Votes, made a presentation focusing on youth engagement in elections. Governor Pat Quinn and Elizabeth Norden visited the class, inviting students to join the Take Charge Chicago campaign. Governor Quinn shared his in-depth study of democratic voice in the history of Illinois and made an animated appeal to students to take part in the democratic practice of petitioning. Illinois Democracy Scholar Shawn Healy will join the class later in October to offer his expert analysis of local, state and national elections.

As you go to vote on Election Day, look out for the Parker Elections students! From 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. they will be in polling places throughout Chicago, proud to be serving as your Election Judges at this historic moment for our country.

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