For four weeks this fall, the conventional organization of the Lower School was tossed aside. Third and fourth grade, usually divided into sections, banded together to form the states Thirdgradesylvania and Fourthgradolina, while fifth and sixth grade students declared their allegiance to the strange-sounding states of Mertzerado, Gleasonansas, and Chinwaii (where the state motto is “Vacation Like You Mean It.”)
Far from an elementary school coup, the formation of these new political entities was part of a mock election project conceived by History Department Chair Bruce Chauncey to teach Lower School students about the presidential election process.
Growing up, many of us had the experience of voting in a mock election, an exercise that produces a popular vote snapshot but doesn’t simulate the real electoral process. Instead, Bruce decided to create an election with candidates and issues that students would care about and a voting system that replicated the Electoral College. “I wanted the students to have an immersive experience,” says Bruce, “instead of just supplying them with information.”
With the assistance of math teacher Tyler Auer, Bruce divided the Lower School into states with an assigned number of electoral points based on their population. Thirdgradesylvania and Fourthgradolina, the populous California and Texas of the Lower School, were balanced out by smaller fifth and sixth grade homevisory states named for their faculty advisors, such as Mrs. Fearey’s Fearisota and Mr. McCauley’s McCaulabama. Of course, an election is only as compelling as its candidates. Two fictional candidates stepped forward to run for President of the United States of the Lower School. Tyler Auer’s Mr. Stunde of the Mathematics Party and English teacher Christine Fearey, running on behalf of the Anglopublicans, played the role of Mrs. Osore.
Running on the Issues
The average Fay fourth grader may not have a nuanced opinion on immigration policy, but ask them about homework, snack options, recess, or dress code, and you are likely to get an earful! Each week, Mr. Stunde and Mrs. Osore presented lunchtime policy statements outlining proposals designed to keep the election balanced. “We wanted to simulate the idea that voters change their opinion over the course of a campaign,” says Tyler. While Mrs. Osore’s proposal to incorporate high-calorie fast food options into morning snack was more popular than Mr. Stunde’s fresh fruit smoothie bar, Mr. Stunde’s proposal to increase the length of first recess to one hour found greater support than Mrs. Osore’s mini-recess concept. “It was great to hear the students debating the issues,” says Tyler. “You’d hear them saying, ‘I know Mr. Stunde’s policy isn’t the most fun, but I think it’s what’s better for us!’”
Watching the Polls
Sixth graders played a special role in the election as roving pollsters, taking the pulse of the Lower School electorate after each policy speech. This was an opportunity for students to learn about polling methodologies and how they influence results. Students in each of the three sixth grade sections were given three different methodologies to use, and sure enough, the three different polls produced vastly different results. After the candidates’ snack policy statements, Stunde and Osore were tied in two polls, but Osore showed a commanding 30% lead in the third. “I think our polling mirrored the real campaign well,” says Bruce. “Students saw, based on the electoral map, whether candidates were getting enough support from the right people to win the electoral points and not just the popular vote.”
Tallying the Results
On Tuesday, November 8, the citizens of the Lower School went to the polls, voting in four different time blocks to replicate the staggered closing of the polls across the United States. Students provided their name, gender, state, candidate of choice, most important issue, and whether their vote had changed in the last two weeks. This produced some interesting data points. While both candidates won six out the 12 states, Mr. Stunde overwhelmingly won the electoral points with a slightly less commanding lead in the popular vote. One state, Chinwaii, was evenly split, resulting in a hand vote, followed by a decisive best-of-three in Rock, Paper, Scissors. Dress code and homework tied as the most important issues, and 46% of students switched candidates within the last two weeks. Only one state, McCaulabama, voted entirely for one candidate, Mrs. Osore, but it was rumored that she was campaigning there heavily the morning of the election.
Friday, November 11, marked Mr. Stunde’s one-day term as President of the Lower School, whereupon he implemented his dress code policies; took over the head lunch table and renamed it Table 1600; named Mrs. Osore as his Vice-President; and appointed a cabinet composed of Lower Schoolers.
While the students had fun with the project, “they also took it seriously and weighed what each candidate was saying,” says Bruce.
“I think one of the things I’m most proud of,” adds Tyler, “is that we modeled what civic engagement looks like in a healthy and positive way.”