Elections have consequences for the day to day lives of adult learners, including immigrants, low-wage workers, and others seeking to make their way in times of uncertainty. For example, for undocumented students immigration reform could make a difference between living in the shadows and being able to fully claim a place in their new home communities. For workers, a living wage and access to affordable health care could enable adult students to take real steps toward the goals they have for themselves and their families. Elections provide an opportunity for us all to consider each candidate’s proposals for making life better and to register our preferences through the ballot box and other civic engagement.
As it has done for the past five federal elections, the Voter Education, Registration, and Action (VERA) campaign (a project of the New England Literacy Resource Center at World Education) has compiled resources to help adult students understand current electoral issues and prepare to be informed voters. These resources invite students to analyze the history of voting, examine media critically, research and consider ballot questions, compare candidate positions to their own, and learn the mechanics of voting by participating in a mock election.
VERA’s non-partisan campaign is one response to statistics showing that, apart from increased turnout for the historic 2008 election, voter participation has otherwise been on a steady decline. And it is adults who have not completed a high school education who are the least likely to vote. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the 2012 election, only 32% of U.S. citizens lacking a high school diploma voted compared to 48% of those with a high school credential, 61% of those with some college, and 72% of adults with a college or advanced degree.
Civic engagement, and the particular skill set of researching, analyzing, questioning, considering, and advocating that underlies it, is an endangered focus area within the adult education classroom. Yet the state of civic discourse across our nation makes it clear that these skills are essential for adults in today’s world and we should take every opportunity to nurture them. Despite flaws in the electoral system, elections remain one important way that members of our local, regional, and national communities can express their preferences on important social policies. We invite our adult education colleagues to make use of the resources we have gathered, to adapt them for local application, and to continue giving adults practice in the civic skills they need to make their voices heard.