Friday, January 27, 2012

Teaching Kids About Politics

The 2012 Presidential primary season is in full swing, and between now and Election Day on November 6th we are all going to be bombarded with political news. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, and whether you enjoy the often heated exchanges between candidates and parties or cringe every time there is a new controversy or debate, we can all agree that the election process offers a special opportunity to teach our children about our values and our nation.
What can parents do to help their children understand the political process? First of all, we can all model good citizenship by voting -- in all kinds of elections, including primaries and local contests in our cities and towns. Take your child with you when you vote. Show him the ballot, let her pull a lever, feed the ballot into the scanner, or fill out a form for you. If there is a printed copy of the ballot available to take with you, make sure you get one and bring it home to look at together. If there is a state or local referendum (should we change a local law or fund a special project?) discuss it with your child and explain how you voted and why. Some local elections have particular resonance for children -- such as school and library budget votes that take place in many suburbs in the spring. You can discuss this with students of any age, since they understand how schools function and can understand the issues in very personal terms.

We can also discuss our own values in ways our children can understand. If you favor a particular candidate or party it can be educational for you to consider why you do so and to break down your preferences in ways that make them accessible for your child. "I believe that government should be .... so I support this candidate because he or she agrees with me." Or, "I like this candidate because he or she ...." Like our views on other value-laden issues such as religion, we can expose our children to our opinions, let them see us practice what we believe, and know that as they become older they will also be exposed to other views and information that will help shape their perspective.  

We can at least try to practice civil discourse when discussing the candidates and parties. It's not always easy, but we should at least attempt to take the high road when criticizing candidates or their positions. At least try to keep from using language you would not want your child to repeat!

Teachers and parents can use some of the lesson plans available on the TeacherVision website to help children understand some of the considerations in the election process -- such as the nominating process and the Electoral College. Whether the returns on Election Night leave you pleased or disappointed, you can take pride in knowing that you helped your child to understand an important aspect of the world in which he or she lives.

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