Wednesday, January 07, 2015


I've been introducing voting to young children for as long as I've been teaching. With all its imperfections, with all its potential to leave some people perpetually holding the short end of the stick, I still view voting as a hallmark of community decision-making. Sure, we strive to reach consensus before moving on to a vote, but that's not always possible, and voting, especially voting that follows a discussion in which the entire community is heard, is as transparent and fair a way to make group decisions as humans have yet concocted.

A few days ago, I wrote about how we used a series of more than a half dozen votes to cooperatively build a new birthday throne for the school. And this was just on a Tuesday. Our 4-5's class has adopted voting as a major part of it's identity. Whenever multiple voices rise up with ideas or opinions, I've come to count on other voices calling for a vote. We vote on something almost every day. We vote on what book to read, on where to sit, on what song to sing. I am responsible for introducing voting, but the kids have chosen to make it part of their identity. It's really quite remarkable.

Often we vote by raising our hands, although there are a few kids who still vote twice for everything, just raising their hand when they see their friends doing it, which kind of works as a reverse abstention in that it doesn't change the outcome. Sometimes we vote with our "whole bodies," which means the kids actually sit on one side or another to indicate their preference. Most of our votes are of the either/or variety, but when there are multiple "nominees" on our ballots, we employ a process of elimination model with those receiving the least votes being eliminated before the next round. Or sometimes we allow ourselves to vote as many times as we want.

Everything about our voting process is transparent. There are no secret ballots. Everyone can see everyone's vote. Everyone sees how the votes are counted. There is campaigning, with kids trying to persuade friends. Sometimes chants erupt, "Red, red, red!" countered by "Green, green green!" And sometimes there are tears, although not as often now as at the beginning of the year as we began to learn that fairness doesn't mean we always get our way in this process of determining what the larger we wants.

We've already returned to our voting ways here in the first week back to school after our holiday break, but that, I suppose, is to be expected as we ended last year with one of our most personally meaningful and entertaining votes: we voted on what we, collectively, were going to call our "bottoms." That's right, a few of the kids were concerned that referring to bottoms or butts or bummies or tushies was too close to potty talk, which we earlier in the year agreed to ban outside of the toilet (we don't vote on classroom rules; those are made by consensus because they are too important to be left up to voting). I argue that body parts are not potty talk, but I've not swayed everyone, so the subject comes up quite often, as that particular body part does in preschool.

We received seven nominations:

Kadoodly boppers
Construction paper

The winner, by a single vote, was "snowflakes." We now sit on our snowflakes. The kids returned from the break remembering this and insisting upon it. It doesn't snow in Seattle every winter, so it may not happen this year, but I can imagine there will be great joy if we get to talk about snowflakes falling from the sky.

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1 comment:

Diane Streicher @ Diane Again said...

I personally think that kadoodly bopper is mad genius, but snowflake is pretty cute too.