Campaign Trail Curriculum

The Presidential Election served as a real-life example of classroom learnings.
This fall as the Presidential Election dominated national news cycles and personal conversations alike, teachers at Thacher were hard at work developing ways to incorporate lessons from the campaign trail into their curriculum. From analyzing and debating major campaign issues to mapping key connections between past and present elections, students in multiple classes were challenged to take historical and political lessons learned in the classroom and actively apply them to current events unfolding in real-time.

Honors Contemporary Ethical Issues
In this new Thacher history elective, students explore the world we live in today through current social, political, and global issues and their wider historical context. The election was, of course, a regular topic of discourse throughout the fall term. As Election Day approached, students worked on collaborative research projects, many of which also served to encourage civic engagement at Thacher and in the Ojai Community.

Ten of the students honed in on local issues playing out here in the state of California.They conducted research on the 17 initiatives slated to be on the California ballot, making sure to use sources from both sides of the issue. They then synthesized their research into arguments for use during in-class debates and into simple, nonpartisan guides that they shared with the Ojai community at the Sunday farmers market.

Five of the students turned their sights to the national election, working on short, persuasive video projects. Four of them worked on campaign advertisements for the two presidential candidates, making the case for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump without implementing attacks or criticism of the opposing candidate. One student developed a video focused on the importance of voting.

“The discussions that we’re having in this class are really powerful,” noted Chair of the History Department and history teacher Jason Carney. “Sometimes we’re talking about ethical issues on a global scale, a national scale, even here at Thacher. Most importantly we’re tracing the connection to everyday life.”

American Studies (History)
In the history component of the multidisciplinary American Studies course, students conducted in-depth research on pivotal presidential elections throughout our nation’s history and gave presentations that, in the aggregate, brought to life how issues, movements, and political phenomena evolve and reappear over time.

From the runoff between President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson in 1800 to the campaign featuring opponents Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain in 2008, students worked to understand the historical context and significance of their assigned election, as well as the key catalysts that drove the election outcome. Students were required to use at least five different high-quality research sources, including three primary documents.

Bringing it back to the present, students were also tasked with identifying and researching two key issues at the heart of the current election. From outlining the presidential candidates’ policy proposals on the issue to providing context, background, and leading opinions from both sides on the issues, students turned in a careful collection of notes.

American Studies (English)
In the English component of the multidisciplinary American Studies course, students used their research on key campaign issues as a jumping off point for their own editorial writing. Along with their own written pieces, they studied the history and evolution of editorial writing and read examples from various key points in American history. From the genesis of the editorial to evolving notions around journalism and objectivity/subjectivity, students dove deeply into the form and identified both the effectiveness and shortcomings of editorials as activism.

“This project helped bring home for the students that they are living in a historical moment that truly is pivotal,” said Dean of Studies and English teacher Blossom Beatty Pidduck. “We used this real life moment to instill the idea of being an active participant.”
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