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Women can be president, too!

With the 2016 presidential election just a few months away, news from the campaign trail continues to dominate the headlines. Our students are thus very likely hearing names of candidates and snippets of information about politics and elections. While discussing politics in school is often viewed as taboo, the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina in this election cycle offer an important opportunity to discuss gender and politics in a nonpartisan manner with even the youngest learners.

In my second grade classroom, I actively tried to challenge my students’ thinking about stereotypes. Each year, I used a book called Grace for President to open a discussion about the job of president and the fact that the United States has never had a female in the Oval Office. Each year I was surprised to learn that while my students knew that a person of any race could hold the office of president, at least three or four students thought that women were not allowed to be president.

The prominence of women in the current political climate offers a chance to actively counter messages that our students may be receiving about who can run for — and possibly win — the presidency. By using children’s literature and then tapping into the current headlines, we can build real-world connections using books such as those mentioned below to broaden student understanding and counter possible misconceptions.

madam_presidentMadame President written and illustrated by Lane Smith
In the style typical of Lane Smith, Madame President takes a humorous look at the duties and responsibilities that a president must perform. As the female main character imagines herself fulfilling the role of president, students will learn about some of the many facets of the job of president, which can spur discussion about what type of qualities an effective president should have.


grace_for_presGrace for President by Kelly S. DiPucchio, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
After her teacher shares a poster of all of the presidents, Grace demands to know, “Where are all the girls?” Her question leads her teacher to create a mock-election in which Grace, of course, participates. The book provides an engaging introduction to how the electoral college works, but it is the gender dynamics at play throughout the book, including questions about whether Grace can win the votes of boys in the school, that will spark follow-up discussions about gender and leadership.


woman_pres_woodhullA Woman for President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Jane Dyer
In this biography, Krull chronicles the life of Victoria Woodhull, who in 1872 became the first woman to run for president. In A Woman for President, we learn of many “firsts” that Woodhull achieved, including giving a speech in Congress. In addition to discussing Woodhull’s campaign, the story also opens the door for a conversation about women’s rights and the 19th amendment, as Woodhull campaigned for president before women were permitted to vote.


As election season draws ever-closer, we can cultivate engaged young citizens by allowing current events to enter the classroom and form the basis for important conversations about equality and representation in the United States.
Nicole Hewes
Nicole Hewes
Nicole Hewes is currently serving as an impact manager at a public elementary school with City Year New Hampshire. She previously taught second grade in rural Maine for two years and received an M.Ed in language and literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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