Long Island City, NY—In a city where only less than 40 percent of registered voters cast their ballot in the last mayoral election, the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives has developed a curriculum that teaches fourth graders a lesson on the importance of voting.
“Kids do not know that much about voting,” said Lisa Sita, the associate project director who was instrumental in developing the local history curriculum. “The idea is to get them thinking and learning about it so that they will have an interest.”
The six-lesson curriculum begins with a historical overview of local politics in the 1880’s during the notorious Tammany Hall reign and Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia’s battle against the corrupt political machine. It goes on to look at LaGuardia’s time in office and his success in improving the lives of New Yorkers.
“The lesson that we wish to convey to these future voters is that their vote allows them to have a say in who governs,” said Dr. Richard K. Lieberman, the director of the archives. “And that the people we put in office are responsible for making decisions that affect them.”
To show the youngsters the importance and power of the vote, several lessons are devoted to the struggles women and African-Americans endured for the right to vote. “We want to raise the children’s consciousness,” said Dr. Lieberman, “and make them aware that, not too long ago, women and African-Americans could not vote.”
One lesson on the African-American vote includes an interview with Daisy Kinard, an 82-year-old Queens resident, who spoke about growing up in the segregated South and what it meant to her when she finally voted.
“Oh, we were very happy to have that privilege and opportunity,” she said “Early on, I don’t know how much our vote counted, but it was just the idea that we had the privilege and many of us took advantage of it.”
Integrated into each of the lesson’s narratives are primary documents—political cartoons by the famous cartoonist Thomas Nast, a letter dating back to 1872, and an excerpt from a speech by Mayor Robert F. Wagner honoring new voters. “The State requires that fourth graders must be familiar with documents and be able to answer questions based on documents,” said Dr. Lieberman. “We are providing curriculum to help students learn that skill.”
In Joe Brincat’s class at P.S. 99 in Long Island City, his fourth graders were busy finding answers to questions that were found in a 1941 Daily News cartoon that illustrated LaGuardia’s service record.
“The voting curriculum is a valuable tool to use in the classroom,” said Mr. Brincat. “It provides the classroom teacher with an excellent source of document-based questions relevant to the fourth grade social studies curriculum. And it is great practice material for the fifth grade standardized social studies test.”
Since it was published, 10,000 copies of the curriculum have been distributed, upon request, to schools throughout the five boroughs. Because of the demand, another 10,000 are being published.
The curriculum is part of a larger partnership under the direction of Jay Hershenson, CUNY vice chancellor for University Relations. In partnership with the New York Times Knowledge Network, CUNY published a curriculum on voting rights and citizenship for social studies teachers in the seventh/eighth and eleventh grades. That project was made possible through the financial support from JPMorgan Chase. The fourth grade curriculum is made possible by financial support from The New York City Council and The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and a grade from Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc.
“Once again, the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives has developed a tremendous curriculum,” said Tom Newell, vice president of Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. “This year’s curriculum on voting and citizenship is enlightening and quite applicable to the city’s culturally diverse student body.
Teachers interested in viewing the fourth-grade curriculum and teacher’s guide can go to the website at www.laguardiawagnerarchive.lagcc.cuny.edu. Click on “Fourth Grade
Curriculum” for this and other online publications. Teachers interested in seventh/eighth and eleventh grade curriculums can go to the website at www.cuny.edu/votingcurriculum. Those interested in obtaining printed copies may call at the archives at (718) 482-5065 for details.
LaGuardia Community College, part of the City University of New York, is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges. Its vibrant and culturally diverse student body, representing 159 countries and speaking 110 languages, has established LaGuardia as the “ The World’s Community College. ” The college provides a broad array of academic, workforce development, and continuing education programs to over 41,000 students. LaGuardia is located in the heart of western Queens. To learn about our exciting college, please go to www.laguardia.edu.