Rock the Vote Launches “Democracy Class” Bringing Pop Culture to Civics Education in High Schools

As schools get back in full swing, Rock the Vote (RTV) wants every student to have a new favorite subject–Democracy Class. With this new program aimed at high school juniors and seniors, RTV is working with educators, artists, elected officials and students to reinvigorate our country’s democracy by reaching potential voters as they turn 18.

Over the past 30 years, civics education has been systematically cut from public schools, opportunities to learn about politics and government are limited, and programs to register newly eligible high school students are not widespread. As of 2009, only 21 states included civic learning in their state assessment and accountability systems.* Democracy Class offers a unique and creative opportunity to connect with high school students and engage them in discussions about citizenship and elections.

“Turning 18 and becoming eligible to vote is a tremendous rite of passage,” said Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote. “Junior and senior year of high school is the ideal moment to connect with young people, and give them the tools to become life-long voters and participants in our country’s democracy.”

Through this free and non-partisan class, youth nationwide will learn about the history of voting, the connection between issues they care about and those they elect to office, and their right to vote. The lesson engages students with music and pop culture to start a discussion, and demystifies the voter registration process by walking them through the key steps. The supporting website,, offers easy access to election information, ways to get involved in registering voters, interviews with artists and athletes, and materials for teachers and community groups to use in their classrooms. The 45- to 90-minute curriculum is also available to all educators for free download, making Democracy Class available in any classroom or after school program.

Teachers like Barbara Wainer, a social studies department chair in Columbus, Ohio who has brought Democracy Class into her classroom, says it’s an “excellent way for students to learn that they have a voice in the future if they take the time to vote. They loved reading the rapper’s words and hearing the songs that spoke about voting. This program helps to make the students understand that voting is essential to their future.”

The most common reason why young people don’t register to vote is that they don’t know how, and every student deserves to be empowered with this knowledge.

“Imagine the possibilities if we truly educated young people about their right to vote,” says Eric Axelson, Democracy Class Program Manager. “Consider the way we teach them to drive. At 16 when you get your driver’s license, you learn the key things you need to know in driver’s education and then you’re told to go to the DMV. Just as we celebrate that milestone and ensure that everyone on the road is adhering to public safety standards, it is as important to realize each person’s right to be an empowered citizen who can exercise political power by voting in every election.”

To kick off the 2010 school year RTV will host a month-long series of Democracy Class events that begin on August 31 at schools in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, and continue across the country. A series of classroom presentations will take place in Denver, CO, Orlando, FL, Raleigh, NC, Columbus, OH and Philadelphia, PA.

At Arleta High School in Los Angeles, hip-hop group Cali Swag District, whose hit single “Teach Me How to Dougie” is climbing the charts after receiving more than 4 million YouTube views, will join Rock the Vote in the classroom. The rap quartet has a video on the Democracy Class site, where they encourage kids to stay in school and register to vote. A KIIS FM (102.7) street team will also be on site to document the day.

In Washington, D.C., Democracy Class will be in session at The School Without Walls. Eric Axelson will lead the program with assistance from rapper / filmmaker / clothing designer, Tabi Bonney, who was once a public school teacher in Washington, DC, with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a masters in teaching.

NOTE: Media advisories with full details for the LA and DC events will follow.

Democracy Class is supported by an impressive and diverse advisory board of public officials, education leaders and artists, including: The Honorable Debra Bowen, Secretary of State, California; The Honorable Sam Reed, Secretary of State, State of Washington; Steve Barr, Founder and Chair Emeritus, Green Dot Public Schools; and Benji and Joel Madden of the band Good Charlotte. A full list of advisory board members is available on the Democracy Class site.

RTV will be presenting Democracy Class at the national meeting of the National Council for the Social Studies and other educator conferences this fall. The lesson will also be available to Teach for America members on their teacher resource page and will be brought to B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) chapters nationwide.

In tandem with its largest midterm voter registration drive ever, Democracy Class is an important part of Rock the Vote’s outreach plan in 2010 and beyond, as almost 13,000 young people turn 18 every day. High school students care about the issues that affect them, and Rock the Vote is committed to making sure they have the information and resources they need to participate when they become eligible, and to encourage them to make a lifetime commitment to vote in every election.
*Data from the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools.

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About Rock the Vote |

Rock the Vote engages young people in our democracy and builds their political power by registering, educating and turning them out to vote, by forcing the candidates to campaign to them, and by making politicians pay attention to youth and the issues they care about once in office. We use music, popular culture, new technologies and old fashioned grassroots organizing to engage and mobilize young people to participate in every election, and provide the information and tools they need to do so. And we amplify the actions of those young people who step up to claim their voice in the process in order to create political and social change.