The Washington Times
November 21, 2000

Turn the Election into a Learning Experience

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
November 21, 2000

This year’s tight presidential election has brought the Electoral College under intense scrutiny. The situation may be excruciating for the body politic, but it presents an excellent opportunity for home-school lessons in geography, math, history and political philosophy.

Incorporate geography by having students learn the states.
In the United States, the individual states are far more important than just simple geographical points in map study—but map studies should not be shunned. A week before the election, my wife challenged all of our younger children to be able to label all 50 states on a blank map. On election night, 7-year-old Joey was thrilled every time the national map appeared on the TV screen and he was able to identify every state.

Need blank maps? They can be downloaded for free from the Internet at www.theodora.com/maps/new5/usa_color.gif.

Math lessons can teach the importance of individual states. Find out how many electoral votes each state has.
Have your child make a list of the 50 states in order of the number of electoral votes. Ask younger children to determine how many states with a large number of electoral votes are needed to reach 270 electoral votes. Then you can talk about the impact of the states with more votes being able to dictate to a much greater number of states with fewer votes.

Here is an advanced math and political science exercise for older students that will demonstrate how important the Electoral College is to the preservation of political significance for individual states.

The Electoral College is based on a combination of two factors—the number of members of the House of Representatives plus the number of members of the Senate.
Each state’s number of electoral votes is based on its number of representatives plus its two senators. The number of representatives a state has in the House is based on population; the number of senators is the same for every state—two. These two votes that each state gets mean the Electoral College is not based strictly on population.

Have your students figure the total number of electoral votes for the 10 states with the most votes. Then have them find the number of total electoral votes for the 10 states with the fewest votes. Determine the percentage of the total electoral votes for each group.Then subtract two electoral votes from every state (to remove the effect of including the two votes representing the senators). Now figure out the percentage of electoral votes each group has. You will see that the 10 states with the most electoral votes suddenly are even more important and the 10 states with the fewest electoral votes lose nearly half of their Electoral College impact.

History and political philosophy also can be incorporated into lessons. Even though at this writing it appears that Vice President Al Gore is ahead in the popular vote nationwide, it is possible that final counts will put Gov.
George W. Bush ahead in that vote. The closeness of this election almost certainly means there will be a call to eliminate the Electoral College.

Have your students read about previous elections that involved an Electoral College victory for a candidate who got second place in the popular vote nationally.

Elimination of the Electoral College would change our country’s political landscape dramatically. What presidential candidate would visit Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Delaware or Idaho? These states simply do not have large enough populations to make a real difference if the election were one big national popular vote.

All campaigns would focus on California, Texas, Michigan, Florida and New York. The East Coast, the West Coast, Illinois and Texas would see a lot of action—voters everywhere else would be dependent on television coverage for contact with the candidates. Winning a state no longer would matter. What would this do to American politics if states no longer were important?

My three youngest sons—John, 8, Joey, 7, and Peter, 3—all got up and put on suit jackets and ties the morning after the election. They pretended they were Mr. Bush. Peter started crying when John told him he was a fake George Bush.
Who would have thought of partisan bickering at such a young age?

Politics can inspire your children when tied to something that is important. Use this opportunity to teach about the Electoral College. It is an unusual moment that, one hopes, won’t be repeated soon.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and chairman of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

Copyright 2000 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit our web site at http://www.washtimes.com.