The Girl Scouts rolled out a Democracy badge this summer. One of the most common themes I hear on groups I belong is, How do I teach it?
The reality is many of our girls may not have learned much about how our state and national government works beyond there being three branches. Here, other than a trip to Washington, D.C., in middle school, students don’t get a deep dive in government until senior year of high school, and frankly, that’s a little late.
Add in the challenge that we are in a hotly polarizing election year, and I was struggling to teach this to my Cadettes and Senior Girl Scouts in a meaningful, apolitical way.
At its roots, the Girl Scout Democracy badge wants girls to explore local, state and federal government operations.
It took a lot of research, and a lot of thought. But here’s how we’re tackling teaching the Girl Scout Democracy badge (and our local I Promised a Girl Scout I’d Vote) patch this fall:
Local, State and Federal Governments
Our scouts will as a team attempt to create an ABC list of how government impacts our lives. We might not get all the letters represented – I’m not sure about X for example – but the purpose is to get the girls thinking that it’s more than police, schools, and laws.
We’ll then talk about who decides whether the local, state or federal is responsible for those areas. To make this a little more active, stand up for federal, squat for state and sit for local. (We borrowed this idea from Rock the Vote’s democracy class resources.)
Look at the “who makes decisions for me” worksheet in the Cadette packet. Identify who your local, state and national representatives are.
Have a Say in Government
What are ways you can have a say, even as a tween or teen, in our government? Talk about the things you can do:
- Start a petition
- Write a letter – and give the girls a stamped envelope to mail it!
- Post on social media
- Join a campaign
- Attend a rally for a subject of importance to them
And yes, while protesting is a hot word right now, it can be part of a political movement. Remember, women were arrested outside of the White House for protesting their inability to vote a century ago!
Being an Engaged Voter
In the next presidential election, my Girl Scouts will be casting ballots. Now’s the time to educate them on the voting process.
I printed off a copy of my ballot, which I could find from my state’s website. We’ll review it with the girls to show that there may be more than Democrats and Republicans for major office running on your ballot. You may be asked to retain judges, vote for propositions for local government and choose “at-large members.”
We’ll talk about knowing what’s important to you and ways to research what your candidates’ stances and actions are – from looking at how they voted to going to their websites.
We’ll take a look at a form on how to register to vote and discuss what needs to happen when they turn 18. (And yes, in some states, it’s even younger to register.)
We’ll talk about what to do if they move to attend college in another city or state, which transitions into the options for voting: early voting, mail-in voting and voting in-person on election day, and talk about the pros and cons of each.
Yes, it’s a lot. But it’s worth it.
Does Voting Matter?
As a lifelong voter, I absolutely think voting matters. But our Girl Scouts need to understand that while you may live in a “blue state” or “red state,” your vote still makes a difference. It matters for initiatives across local, state and national levels. It matters to speak up for your principles.
And frankly, one vote can make a difference.
But as the electoral college becomes a question, it’s important to explain how this process does work. And many of us don’t fully understand. But yes, you can win the election without winning the popular vote, and it’s happened multiple times in the history of our nation.
I found this great video on the Khan Academy website that explains the electoral college. It’s about 11 minutes long, so you may choose to scroll to key points.
Other Issues on the Table: Supreme Court
We’ll also spend a few minutes talking about the Supreme Court, why it’s been at nine judges, appointed for a lifetime, since the 1860s. (Before then, it fluctuated.) As there’s discussion right now about changing the number of judges again, what are the pros and cons?
The Right to Vote
We’ll wrap up by talking about the women’s hard-earned right to vote.
Last month, I shared with the girls copies of The Woman’s Hour (Adapted for Young Readers): Our Fight for the Right to Vote. (While it says adapted for young readers, it’s written for a middle school and high school level.) The challenge was to read the book and then to share with someone else, whether a friend, a teacher or a library.
We’ll discuss suffrage and racial disparities in earning the right to vote. We meet in a Catholic Church, and I plan to share that Dorothy Day, who some have proposed a charge for sainthood, was among those arrested and imprisoned during the Night of Terror.
We’ll also talk about getting the word out about voting. For the suffragists, it was about music, symbols (like animals, flowers and colors), and campaigns.
And circling back, our Hamilton fans will get to watch a video on getting out to vote.
Our girls will design an Instagram message (on paper) on getting out to vote.
What other ideas do you have to teach your girls about Democracy and voting? Share your ideas below.
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