Activity 3: Voting In The Demos Role-play
Activity time: 10 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Pieces of pottery (such as from smashed-up clay flower pots), large enough to write a name on, for all participants
- Pencils for participants to share
- A vessel such as an urn, bowl, or vase for collecting votes
- Several plastic toy figures or stuffed animals to portray characters to be ostracized
- Optional: Sheets (for togas) and sandals for dress-up as Athenians
- Optional: Copies of Handout 1: A History of Ostracism for all participants
- Optional: Newsprint, markers, and tape
Preparation for Activity
- Optional: Contact parents before this session, via a handout or group e-mail, to encourage them to send sheets (for togas) and sandals for their children.
- Review Handout 1: A History of Ostracism, which excerpts a Wikipedia article about ostracism in ancient Athens. Print out a copy for yourself to infuse the activity with more historical detail, and/or print out the handout for all participants.
- Set the urn, bowl, or vase for collecting ostraka (pottery shards with votes scratched on them) on a table.
- Optional: Use the newsprint to post a sign near the table to identify the agora (marketplace), where citizens cast their votes for ostracism. You may also use newsprint to write and post the names of the "citizens" the participants suggest for ostracism.
Description of Activity
The children experience voting and ostracism as practiced in ancient Athens' system of direct democracy.
If you are using costumes, invite the children to put them on.
Gather the group in a circle. Explain Athenian ostracism in these words or your own:
Five thousand years ago, Athenians - the ancestors of modern Greeks - ruled themselves using a system called "direct democracy." Every Athenian citizen - which meant the adult males who were not slaves or foreigners - had the right and the obligation to be part of Athens' government.
Instead of the elections for presidents, senators, and mayors we have today, the Athenian citizens held a lottery each year to choose 500 citizens to be in the senate. They were in charge and made decisions together.
One kind of decision the Athenians made was called ostracism. When a majority of the senate thought it best for the safety of Athens, they could send someone away. To ostracize someone was kind of like "voting someone off the island." A man who was ostracized did not have to give up his possessions, his home or his money, but he had to leave Athens for 10 years.
Tell the group that today they will have a chance to participate in direct democracy. Show them the toy figures and/or stuffed animals you have brought. Form small groups and give each group one of the figures, saying that it is a citizen of Athens.
Ask the small groups to invent a name for their character and some reasons why the other citizens might want to ostracize him from Athens. Remind them that ostracism was a solution when the group believed one of the citizens was a threat to the community's safety.
After a minute or two, bring the groups back together. Invite each group to briefly introduce their "citizen" and the reason other citizens might vote to ostracize him. Now distribute a pottery shard and a pencil to each participant. Invite the children to vote on which citizen to ostracize by scratching one of the names on a piece of pottery.
Count the votes, or have a participant do it, to learn which "citizen" will be ostracized from Athens. You may wish to then remove the toy figure or stuffed animal from the room.
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