Framing the Issue

To introduce the lesson, it is helpful for teachers to con- sider three related goals: (1) stimulating studentsinterest, (2) building basic background knowledge, and (3) identifying the lessons essential question. There are several ways to do each step, and below are a few suggestions.

Although students might not initially be interested in or know much about this issue, providing opening hook" activities that illustrate the ongoing challenges and con- flicting perspectives on campaign finance can stimulate studentscuriosity and introduce them to the topic. For example, students might evaluate the conflict between democratic ideals and corporate campaign funding by critically examining political cartoons on the topic or viewing brief video clips, such as the parody of the supposed independence of Stephen Colberts SuperPAC (ColbertNation. com 2012). This could be coupled with a more serious television news story on influence of money on elections (e.g., Cordes 2011). To generate interest in current legislation, teachers can ask students to read and discuss proposed congressional resolutions calling for a Constitutional amendment to enable campaign finance reform and eliminate the extension of Constitutional rights (i.e., corporate personhood) to corporate entities. Working with students to analyze these documents and media not only garners studentsinterest but it also conveys that they are part of a national conversation. Finally, studentsparticipation in a brief election simulation involving campaign contributions, airtimefor classroom advertising, and persuading undecided voters, could generate interest by giving students an experience with some of the financial realities involved in modern U.S. elections.


Once students develop an initial interest in the practical and ethical challenges involved in campaign finance, it is important to help them to build basic content knowledge about the issue. To do this, it is helpful for students to review and strengthen their understanding of key social studies concepts, including judicial review, the Constitution, freedom of speech, and competitive elections. Building on these concepts, students can then learn about the role of money in elections and representative democracy as well as possible future approaches to reform, as described above. For this purpose, the teacher can use a PowerPoint presentation, short overview film, readings, and/or an interactive lecture. Then to focus studentsinquiry, the teacher can introduce the essential question noted above. If posted prominently and referenced repeatedly, this question can foster a powerful sense of purpose in the classroom. (Our resources page contains links to many documents and videos that would be helpful for framing the issue).