Election topics used for classroom lessons

By Mickey Winfield: PNT staff writer

The buildup to November’s historic election is providing invaluable lessons for area students, according to school officials.

“(The election) has a lot of hands-on value to (students),” PHS government teacher Mark Gallegos said. “They can actually see that there are some (issues) that are directly related to them.”

Gallegos has been teaching American government for several years.

“(The kids) have a lot of questions,” Gallegos said. “And those questions can be answered by seeing the whole process unfold right in front of them.”

One part of that process is the debate schedule — three presidential debates between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barrack Obama and one debate for the vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.

The second presidential debate between McCain and Obama will be held tonight.

“There’s been a lot of classes in the high school that watch the debates,” Gallegos said. “We’ve also been researching the issues and talking about how those issues affect the kids.”

Portales students are also participating in a nationwide mock election program that will take place in the last week of October.
“The kids will actually get to vote and see the results,” Gallegos said.

Sue Strickler, who teaches a political science class at Eastern New Mexico University, said as a college professor she tries to maintain objectivity when holding class discussions.

“One of the things that I require in my classes is that we discuss these issues as political scientists,” Strickler said. “Not as Democrats and not as Republicans. I pride myself that my students never know what my party identification is, because it doesn’t matter.”

Achieving total objectivity may be difficult, but Gallegos considers it a necessity.

“That is the hardest part for me. You have to be completely objective. It’s really hard, because you don’t want to bias the kids,” Gallegos said. “(We teachers) are going to make our opinion heard in the ballot box, but we have to keep it out of the classroom.”

The 2008 general election is less than a month away on Nov. 4.

“You’re going to have change either way you go, and that’s what we as political scientists study, is change. There’s so much unknown that makes it exciting,” Strickler said. “It’s an amazing way to teach about the process.”