Friday, March 25, 2011

Democracy Day Takes Civics to the Classroom

The right to vote is a fundamental part of democracy, and 40 years ago this year, the 26th amendment lowered the voting age to 18. Now "Democracy Day", a joint effort between Rock the Vote and the National Education Association hopes to make the current generation of young people, the most civically educated ever. More than 800 teachers across the nation participated in Wednesday's first annual Democracy Day

By 2012, young Millenials will make up 24 percent of voters, and if the folks at Rock the Vote and the National Education Association have any say, Democracy Day have any say, they'll be the most civically educated generation ever.

More than 800 educators across the nation more than 800 educators are celebrating the first annual Democracy Day, committing to teach Rock the Vote's Democracy Class lesson plan to students in a massive push towards civic engagement. Democracy Day is a partnership between Rock the Vote and the National Education Association, enabling educators, student organizations, youth groups and after school programs to bring this civic education lesson to classrooms from Los Angeles to Chicago to Philadelphia, and everywhere in between.

Democracy Class is a one-class-period program that uses pop culture, video, a classroom discussion and a mock election to teach young people the skills necessary to navigate the elections process and engage as active citizens. (

Darren Criss, star of Fox's Emmy award winning mega-series Glee, will kick off the program at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, California on March 23rd. (For more information, see the schedule of Democracy Day Launch Events below.) In California alone there are more than 130 schools participating in the Democracy Day celebration.

"The voting process can be a bit overwhelming and at times confusing, particularly for first time voters," said Criss. "I'm very excited to be a part of such a comprehensive effort that both educates and encourages young people about the importance of their vote."

The Democracy Day launch coincides with the 40th anniversary of the passage of the 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. Educators and students worked together, and in doing so they amended the Constitution and empowered millions of American citizens to have a say in our democracy.
"Teachers and young people fought hard 40 years ago for 18-year-olds to have the right to vote, and we are excited to offer a program to classrooms around the country that can help high school students exercise that right," said Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote. "Turning 18 and becoming eligible to vote is a tremendous rite of passage. Junior and senior year of high school is the ideal moment to connect with young people, and give them the tools to become life-long voters and participants in our country's democracy. We are asking that schools take one day, once a year to bring Democracy Class to their students."

Democracy Day events around the country will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 26th Amendment. In addition to learning about their right to vote, young people in some states will also get the chance to interact with elected officials who impact their local communities. At Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia, State Senator Jason Carter will join Rock the Vote in the classroom and US Representative Jay Inslee will participate at Lake Washington High School in Kirkland, Washington.  Secretary of State Jon Husted will join students at LaBrae High School in Northeast Ohio in the Democarcy Day celebration.

In Pennsylvania, the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Youth Commission have partnered to host a week long Voter Registration Drive from April 11- 15th asking every high school in Philadelphia to bring Democracy Class to their students and get them registered to vote.

We are working with more than a dozen organizations such as Future Educators Association, SparkAction, Youth Policy Institute, and Junior Statesman of America who are supporting Democracy Day activities in their local communities by reaching out to their national membership and encouraging them to bring Democracy Class to their high schools.   

In April, the Youth Policy Institute (YPI), the largest after-school provider for high schools in California, offering tutoring and enrichment that increase academic achievement while keeping learning fun, will roll out Democracy Class at more than 40 high schools in Los Angeles.

Democracy Class is supported by an impressive and diverse advisory board of public officials, education leaders and artists, including: The Honorable Debra Bowen, Secretary of State, California; The Honorable Sam Reed, Secretary of State, Washington; Steve Barr, Founder and Chair Emeritus, Green Dot Public Schools; and Benji and Joel Madden of the band Good Charlotte. A full list of advisory board members is available on the Democracy Day website.

The supporting website,, offers easy access to election information, ways to get involved in registering voters, interviews with artists and athletes, and materials for teachers and community groups to use in their classrooms.

Teachers like Barbara Wainer, a social studies department chair in Columbus, Ohio who has brought Democracy Class into her classroom, says it's an "excellent way for students to learn that they have a voice in the future if they take the time to vote. This program helps to make the students understand that voting is essential to their future."

Democracy Class is an important part of Rock the Vote's outreach plan in 2011 and beyond, as almost 13,000 young people turn 18 every day. High school students care about the issues that affect them, and Rock the Vote is committed to making sure they have the information and resources they need to participate when they become eligible, and to encourage them to make a lifelong commitment to vote in every election.  

"The most common reason why young people don't register to vote is that they don't know how," said Smith. "Every student deserves to be empowered with this knowledge."