LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson County Public Schools and the Frazier History Museum have launched a new website that not only teaches students about the struggles of women and minorities as they fought for their rights to vote, but also allows them to register so they can vote in this fall’s elections.
District and museum officials unveiled the website, called What is a Vote Worth, during a news conference at Frazier Monday, a day before Constitution Day and eight days before National Voter Registration Day.
JCPS teachers have been using the site since the beginning of the school year, and it features content that correlates with exhibits the museum has in the works to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed barriers like poll taxes and literacy tests meant to suppress black voters. Frazier will open a year-long exhibit highlighting U.S. suffrage movements in March.
Ryan New, the district’s social studies instructional lead, said the website provides a wealth of sources for teachers and students to explore.
Rather than relying on textbooks that have been written largely from a white male perspective, New says the website will allow teachers to base instruction on firsthand accounts of the struggles that women and minorities faced as they pressed for their rights to vote.
Some sources included on the website include writings and quotes from Josephine Henry, a women’s suffrage leader in Kentucky; minutes from meetings of the Louisville Equal Rights Association; and photos of and articles on the civil rights march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965, including “Bloody Sunday” when police and onlookers attacked those who marched in Selma for equal voting access.
“As an ally, I can help raise a voice as a teacher to say, ‘Look, we need to not learn about their history from what has been written in some tertiary textbook source but through the actual lived experiences of those who were present at that time,’ so being able to pull in those primary and secondary sources from that era helps us get a better understanding of what those folks are facing,” New told WDRB News.
It’s also a shift to inquiry-based teaching, a newer concept for JCPS and other Kentucky school districts, he said. Instruction begins with a question – “Why did people oppose women’s rights to vote?” for example – and guides students through a series of tasks and discussion points as they develop their perspectives and arguments on a given subject.
“Being able to teach with questions and primary documents and then having students build arguments and then take action is not what necessarily teachers have been traditionally trained to do,” New said, adding that he’s seen “enormous excitement” from JCPS social studies teachers eager to use the new website and materials.
“Action” by JCPS students isn’t just limited to their classroom learning.
Monday’s announcement dovetails with a district initiative to register students who will be 18 by the Nov. 5 elections on Tuesday, which is also Constitution Day. Students will be able to complete their voter registration through the What is a Vote Worth website during the school day.
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio called low voter turnout in statewide elections “unacceptable.”
“It’s important that we teach our young people that voting is so important, and we start by increasing that number of voters by this type of work in schools,” Pollio said during Monday’s news conference.
The chairmen of Kentucky’s Democratic and Republican parties – Ben Self and Mac Brown, respectively – voiced their support for the initiative to get some of the state’s youngest voters registered and ready to cast their first ballots Nov. 5.
Self said voting is “the most powerful” way people can affect change, and Brown said some recent contests have been decided by razor-thin margins, notably last year’s 13th House District race won by Rep. Jim Glenn, D-Owensboro, by a single vote.
“Votes do count,” Brown said. “I don’t care what anybody says.”
The deadline to register for this year’s elections is Oct. 7.
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