Gap in student’s learning of American politics

The lack of knowledge regarding third party politics revealed itself during this year’s election. With the media storm that surrounding Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton this year, the major third party candidates got close to no media coverage. But the problem isn’t just with the media, it goes back to how students, future voters, are taught about American politics.


Goodrich High School located in Goodrich, MI Photo taken 12/3/16 by Sandra Harris

A throw-away vote , a protest vote, a vote for the opponent. These are all things people claim a vote for a third party candidate is . This year’s election in particular caused quite a bit of debate among Americans as to the point of a third party vote.

Contrary to what some people might think, the problem goes much deeper than protest votes or throw-away votes. The issue goes back to the way politics is being taught in our schools and the way it is talked about between teachers and students.

This year, Goodrich Middle School held a mock election. The school spent some time discussing the different candidates and political parties with the students. The catch, the only two candidates on the mock ballot were Trump and Clinton.


AP U.S. History book used by students at Goodrich High School. Photo by Sandra Harris

According to an AP United States History student at Goodrich High School, Ellen Chernowsky, third party candidates are hardly ever discussed. “We talked a lot about the election this year, but everything was about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.”

Even in the history books used, nothing is mentioned regarding third party candidates. Nothing is mentioned in the AP U.S. History course overview regarding third party candidates.

Although there may not be a huge history of third party candidates winning elections, they have played a vital role in many elections. A role that has affected the outcome of some presidential elections. This timeline lays out a short history of third party candidates in the United States.

This ideology sticks as these students go off to college. Brittany Gardner, a former student from Goodrich High School, now a students at Northwood University, holds the view that third party votes are a waste in today’s political atmosphere.

While some people may argue that third parties should be included in a student’s education. Some teacher’s focus is on teaching to the curriculum. Teri Jenson, a former U.S. history teacher, believes that third parties are left out of history classes because there is already so much to cover in our country’s history and third parties play such as small role.

“We teach to prepare kids for the near future, for tests,” says Jenson. “We don’t teach about third parties in depth because they don’t play as large of a role as the Democratic and Republican parties.”

Teachers like Jenson hope that by the time their students are old enough to vote, they will take the initiative to learn as much as they can about all the candidates.

For now, third party candidates take their small victories in stride. In this year’s congressional election, Libertarian Candidate Lisa Lane Gioia, was happy to walk away with just over 10,000 votes.

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“If anything we let people know that options do exist,” says Gioia. “We don’t have to have a two party system, we brought that upon ourselves. The more people know about their options the bigger chance we have in the future of making an impact.”

To learn more about what children are learning, contact one of Michigan’s Education Associations. We can’t blame young people for being uninformed, if schools aren’t taking the time to inform them.

If you would like to learn a little about your third party options, check out this quick Twine game.


Author: Sandra Harris

Hi, my name is Sandra. I am a senior at Wayne State University majoring in public relations with a minor in new media. My anticipated graduation date is May 2017. I hope to pursue a career in either corporate communications or copy editing. At Wayne State University I am one the "Salute" editor-in-chief for the Wayne State chapter of PRSSA. I am also a fourth year member of the Wayne State University cheer team.

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