Troy Government teacher explores redistricting with students
Troy High School’s veteran government teacher Keith Yunker helps students explore redistricting in real-time current events study
For Keith Yunker, an 18-year veteran social studies teacher at Troy High School in western Ohio, redistricting offers the perfect opportunity for hands-on study and discussion by his senior American Government students, and his classes followed the controversial map-drawing process in real time last year.
“I’ve always tried to emphasize in class how the political system works, including apportionment and reapportionment every 10 years,” Yunker said. “The worst gerrymandering is no longer legal, but there is enough data publicly available to manipulate the shape of legislative districts and influence outcomes of elections.
“But more and more, I’ve been asking, how does the system work and is there a better way? I went to the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education (OCLRE) conference last year, and redistricting was the big topic of discussion.”
At OCLRE, Yunker met representatives of the Midwest Democracy Network, a coalition that includes the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Ohio Citizen Action’s Money in Politics Project, Common Cause Ohio and Ohio Votes, as well as volunteers from the Brennan Center for Justice.
He became more familiar with the population data and redistricting rules and standards.
“Like most people, I was surprised to learn how much data manipulation can occur and how district lines can detract from competitiveness between the political parties,” Yunker said.
In class last fall, Yunker and his students used the news stories from the Dayton Daily News and The Columbus Dispatch, as well as tools from the Redraw Ohio competition, which gave anyone the opportunity to use data and redraw legislative districts.
“I gave students some of the same data that legislators used,” Yunker said. “I didn’t have the students actually submit their map for the Draw the Line contest, but I was really surprised by their work and understanding of the process.
“We used a map from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office with the population per county. And we looked at whether we saw contiguous areas or unusual shapes and why those shapes might exist.”
The students were shocked when they went through the proposed redistricting maps this year and the different maps submitted by high school and college students and others for the redrawing contest.
“Most of the people submitting maps did a better job than the state legislators,” Yunker said. “If average citizens can draw a map better than the Ohio General Assembly, there’s something wrong here. Students came up with map ideas that would keep counties and cities intact and get rid of unusually shaped districts.”
As to controversies that continue over redistricting and the Voters First Amendment—now the Yes on Issue 2 campaign—Yunker anticipates more class discussion on current events. “People are so unsure about the redistricting process and what can happen. We need to teach our kids about this, but it’s also an awareness piece for us as adults. I ask the students to talk with their parents at home about this issue, like most issues we cover in class,” Yunker said. “After all, we went through this whole effort to expand the right to vote, but are we still denying some people the right to vote in a meaningful way?
“As a nation we believe in a government ‘of and for the people’ and that our vote is our voice. We owe it to ourselves, and those that have fought so hard to guarantee and expand the right to vote, to ensure our political voices are not minimized.”