I may have blogged about this before, but it’s cool enough that I don’t mind repeating myself. USC’s Annenberg Center has a very nice on-line redistricting simulation, with multiple scenarios, including partisan gerrymanders and racial gerrymandering to comply with the Voting Rights Act. I assign this to my American Government students and I get great responses from them. To get full credit for doing it, all they have to do is demonstrate in an essay that they actually did it and that it made them think a little bit. But almost every essay shows that the students really get into it, and really do learn something from it. The responses have a pretty standard formula that begins, “After the first scenario I thought this was going to be easy, but…” then details the difficulties they had in the next two. They frequently mention that they had no idea districts had to be compact and contiguous, and that they could so easily be gerrymandered for partisan advantage. The overwhelming majority of them come away from it disliking partisan gerrymanders. As a teacher, it’s a rare moment to find an assignment that students find so innately compelling, without any prompting from me. It also has the advantage that grading takes approximately 10 seconds per paper.
If you haven’t played with the simulation, I encourage you to do so. I require my students to play missions 1, 2 and 4, and write a one page single-spaced essay on 2 &4, explain what issues made the task difficult, what they learned from the assignment, and whether they think partisan gerrymanders should be allowed? Are they fair to voters? Are they good for democracy? I encourage you all to play the simulation and record your responses here. No grades, though.