A Class Project With A Difference – Making Politics Personal

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Teaching about elections is never easy. The whole drama of conventions, ballots and propositions can seem far removed from the everyday issues in students’ lives. It becomes a civics lesson - students reviewing the 2012 candidates, issues and campaign strategies with little sense that this process can involve them.

But listen to the KQED News report by Peter Jon Shuler about students at San Jose State University - In San Jose, Once a Class Project, Now a Major Political Battle  (August 27, 2012). This is a whole different approach to teaching about elections.

As Peter Jon Shuler says in his report, “Sociology Professor Scott-Myers Lipton designed the class to help students make the leap from merely thinking and talking about issues to engaging in the political process…………. he hopes all of his students learn that democracy is not a spectator sport and that they really can make a difference.”

In November San Jose voters will decide on Measure D, which started in the social action class at San Jose State University. Students launched a petition on this minimum wage measure to raise wages from $8.00 an hour to $10.00 and spent nearly a year fundraising, and campaigning in their community to gather support.


In five weeks, they collected enough signatures to qualify the measure for San Jose’s November ballot, garnering support from a coalition that includes labor unions and non-profit organizations, like Catholic Charities and United Way. Business groups oppose it, and plan to spend more than a million dollars to defeat it.

It is an inspiring approach to teaching about politics.  Measure D was the result of students recognizing a concrete problem - the struggle many students faced trying to live on the minimum rates their employers pay – and working out how to take action.