One activity I’m doing with them is to write a letter to the president. It’s simple enough to do: the White House website has an easy-to-use contact form, like those found on many websites. Or, of course, the letter can be mailed.
The activity sounds straightforward: the students should write about an issue that is important to them and send the letter to the president. It is an opportunity to discuss civics and current events, and to practice formal letter writing.
But it’s harder than it sounds, even with advanced students in middle school. First, despite their school classes in current events, most American children don’t feel connected to what’s happening in the world or in politics, or why these issues should matter to them. So we have spent a lot of time discussing some hot topics, like health care, food supplies, international wars and climate change. They really didn’t know much about any of these areas, so it was an opportunity for them to research and get to know more.
Once they each picked a topic, the next hurdle was what to say and how to say it. Getting the letters factually correct and written in a respectful tone was the first hurdle. Making sure the issues really mattered to them was the next. Since two of them chose health care costs as a topic, we spent a while discussing what health care would cost when they become adults if the costs keep rising the way they are now. We discussed the other costs of living and what they would be able to afford if they had to pay, say, $20,000 or more per year in health care costs. This helped bring the issue home to them.
This week I also encouraged them to put themselves inside the picture: let the president know why these issues matter to them. I think if more people involved themselves in this way, either as children or as adults, it could change the quality of our country for the better.
Oh, and as I was leaving today, their mom told me, with a beaming smile, that the boys really enjoy our classes. Imagine, middle school boys who enjoy having an extra hour and a half of school-like work added to their schedule each week!