Teaching Resources for Election Day: Gen Z’s Prom at the Polls!

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Monday, November 2, 2020
Prom at the Polls logo

Prom at the Polls logo

Gen Z's Prom at the Polls:

On October 27th, PBS NewsHour EXTRA sat down with the Gen Z civics leaders behind @PromAtThePolls to discuss youth civics leadership and how young people can make a difference.

  • Generation Z is the generation of people born between 1997 and 2012. Gen Z is more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations, tends to be more progressive and is the first generation with little or no memory of the world before smartphones.¹
  • Data suggests that Gen Z was hit especially hard by the economic fallout of Covid-19 compared to other generations.²
  • Historically, young people are less likely to vote than their older peers. This trend remains the case when it comes to Gen Z, too.³
  • Prom At The Polls is an initiative started by Gen Z leaders to encourage young people to vote. Its founders were inspired by the fact that due to Covid-19, many high schoolers had their proms cancelled — so they encourage young people to dress up in their prom outfits when they go vote.

 

 

After reading the summary and watching the video above (13 minutes), watch one or both of the videos below (about 2 minutes each) and do the warm-up and discussion activities associated with the video(s) you chose. These videos were selected from an hour-long Zoom discussion with teachers held by PBS NewsHour EXTRA on October 27th. To watch the full discussion, click here. If time allows, read NewsHour’s Candice Norwood’s article How new Gen Z voters could shape the election.

Video 1: Switching the Narrative

Prom at the Polls Warm-up: Word Cloud:

What do you think of when you think of voting? What emotions do you associate with voting (e.g., exciting, boring, empowering, frustrating, happy, sad, etc.)? What places, people, and ideas do you associate with voting? 

  1. In big letters, write the word VOTE in the center of your paper. 
  2. Next, surrounding it, write all the words and phrases you think of when you think of voting.
  3. Do you notice any trends? Are your words mostly positive? Negative? Why do you think that is?

Video: Matthew Weinstein talks about flipping the narrative about voting. 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Essential question: How does the unique state of the world today (e.g., Covid-19) affect public sentiments about voting this election cycle? 
  2. In the video, Matthew Weinstein talks about how he noticed the narrative (= stories, ways we tend to describe something) about voting was very negative this year (“It’s difficult,” “My vote won’t make a difference”). He also describes the creative steps he took to flip that narrative into something more positive.
    • If you had to describe his process in steps, like a recipe, what would be Step 1? What would be Step 2?
    • What steps can YOU, as an individual, take to change public narratives about important things?
  3. Media literacy: What stories do you hear about voting in the media? Are they positive or negative? How do those stories encourage people to act?

Video 2: What’s Important to You

Prom at the Polls Warm-up:

When you think about how you’d like your country to be, what are the most important issues to you? If you had to choose one or multiple top issues that would inspire you to take action, what would they be? (e.g. gun laws, the criminal justice system, climate change, the economy, the voting system, etc). Write down these top issues. Then, besides each issue you wrote, write briefly about why that issue is important to you. How do public policies on this issue affect your life?

Video: Santiago and Jerome talk about important issues and ways to get involved. 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Essential Question: What political issues are most important to you? Share what you wrote in the warm-up activity, and discuss why the issues you chose are particularly important.
  2. Early in the video, Matthew Weinstein said that Gen Z (= the generation of people born between 1997 and 2012) agrees on things like climate change, LGBTQ+ rights and gun control. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
  3. In the video, Jerome Foster II says that interning for Congressman John Lewis made him realize that when people call or email politicians, it actually makes a difference. This is an example of something you can do to make your voice heard, even if you can’t vote (or, in addition to voting!). What are some other ways to engage in civics besides voting?
  4. Media literacy: How often do you see young people interviewed as political experts in the media? How do you respond to an expert’s opinions when they’re young vs when they’re old? Why?

Extension Activities:

Extension activity 1: Next steps

Go back to the issue or issues you wrote about during the warm-up activity. On the same sheet of paper, make three columns titled LOCAL, STATE and NATIONAL. Then, brainstorm ways you could make an impact on your issue in your community (“LOCAL”), in your state (“STATE”) and in the entire country (“NATIONAL”). Voting can be part of these columns but it shouldn’t be the only thing! 

  • If you’re stuck, think about the things you enjoy and what you’re good at — do you like to code, or want to learn? Do you like theater? Sports? Writing? TV shows? How might those skills and interests be mobilized for social change?

Extension activity 2: Intersectionality

In the video, Jerome Foster II talked about how multiple important issues affect one another. For example, the issue of health care might also be linked to the issue of education (How easy is it for people to access education to become doctors?) or the issue of lobbying regulations (Is it okay for big pharmaceutical companies to donate to politicians?). 

  • Using what you wrote in your warm-up activity, create a list of the most important issues to you and your classmates. Write all of the issues on a whiteboard or a piece of paper.
  • Next, think about intersectionality — how might one of these issues affect the others? On the big list, draw lines between the different issues to map out their relationships with each other.

Sources:

  1. On the Cusp of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future: What We Know About Gen Z So Far (Pew Research)
  2. On the Cusp of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future: What We Know About Gen Z So Far (Pew Research)
  3. Why Don’t Young People Vote, and What Can Be Done About It? (NYTimes)

Republished with permission from PBS NewsHour Extra.

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