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Published: Saturday, 11/18/2000

Florida's civics lesson

Students across the country have been startled out of their slumber in civics and social studies classes by an election that was at once troubling and fascinating. Call that our search for a silver lining.

Teachers could not have dreamed of a better way to instruct their young subjects about the importance of understanding and participating in the democratic process than what's occurred since Election Day.

Often schools try to interest students in politics by letting them “vote” using paper ballots that list the names of real candidates in school-wide “mock” elections. The advent of the Internet took that to a new level this year, when many students made their choices on the web and the results were later reported at their schools.

But not even high school students voting in mock elections via the Internet can top what's playing out in Florida. And it's not just the school children of America who are getting a hands-on “lab” experience in democracy. So are millions of adults who heretofore had little or no real working knowledge of the Electoral College.

An ironic note here in Ohio: Only a few weeks before the presidential election, Ohio youngsters took the state proficiency exams, one of which tests their social studies knowledge. One wonders how much the scores might have improved had the tests been administered after the election.

For election day, many students were assigned to watch election returns. Some had assignments to list which states' electoral votes went to the vice president and which to the governor. Florida, of course, remained blank, and no social studies teacher addressed the unresolved issue without discussing the media's role in the confusion.

As educators say, these are teachable moments. Surely teachers are taking advantage of them. Perhaps students will learn these lessons well enough to run their own elections a little better.

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