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classroom politics

So here's a (semi) interesting work/politics story for you.

You have to understand that the school I work at as a student population that's maybe 60% Hispanic, 20% Asian, and 10% for both blacks and whites. During the 2008 Presidential race, most of the older black students (say, 7-10 years old) would eagerly voice their support for Obama. There were Obama t-shirts and hats and the whole nine yards. There was also a lot of support for him among the other students, especially the other minorities. (Of course, most of them didn't care either way. These are elementary school kids.)

Of course when you talk about politics and kids, it's not so much about what the kids think as what they're hearing and learning from their parents legal guardians. You can't get into discussions with a 3rd grader on the merits of one political party over another, so I don't try. When my students asked me who I was going to vote for, I told them, in essence, that I didn't think it was my place to influence them towards one side or the other. Sometimes I wonder if this ever got back to my colleagues with the life-sized Obama posters in their classrooms.

The other day I was teaching my 3rd grade reading group - 90% Hispanic - about laws and rules, and how the Constitution sets the rules for what the government can and can't do. One example was that it ensures we have elections so that the same people don't always get to be in charge (no, I didn't go into term limits). The kids have seen a lot of posters around town for the local election next month, but they asked about the Presidential election. I said something to the effect of:

"In November of next year all the citizens in the country will vote to decide if they want Obama to be president for another four years, or if they want someone else."

There was a pause while the kids digested this - after all, during the 2008 election they were all about 5 years old. Then one of my favorites (teachers aren't supposed to have favorites, but we totally do) says thoughtfully, as though having come to an important decision, "Hmm... someone else."

Back in 2008, I don't know exactly what the reaction to such a heretical statement would have been, but there would have been one. I held my breath a second to see if this poor little kid was going to get torn a new one... but a couple of the other students nodded in agreement, some looked lost, and a few, I'm pretty sure, couldn't tell you what country's elections we were talking about in the first place*.

Like I said, a 9 year old's opinion about national politics isn't indicative of anything as much as what he's hearing from other sources, and those sources are usually family, unless he's some weirdo CSPAN addict. But in my small sample there has certainly been a big shift in attitudes. It'll be interesting to see what the next year brings.

* True story: In several instances I've had Hispanic kids assure me that either we're in Mexico, or that Mexico is one of the states in the USA, or that they're not American when I know from their files that they were born a couple miles away. Goodbye, sweet America.
  • Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
I don't really think Hispanics are a good sample group. They're usually very religious (-> should vote GOP), but then again, they're immigrants, so all that border protection stuff might scare them off. Just as examples. Right now, Obama couldn't care less about religion, while at the same time, debate about religion constitutes 90% of the GOP debates. So right now, I imagine, the GOP talks more about issues pertinent to Hispanics than the current administration - therefore, it gets talked about more in kids' homes, kids hear something on TV or at home - and retell what they heard on TV.

Still, I don't think it'd be fair to say "kids that age usually get their political opinions only from their parents." I know a lot of people do that and I witness it in my own family that kids get told "politics isn't for kids" and so on. But: pre-pubescent children usually have pretty solid personalities and opinions, if you leave them enough room to develop them. I also remember myself at that age and even though I watched the news with my parents, I sometimes asked questions they never thought of asking. And while I still share some of my parents' political views, I do vote for a different party. And we have a lot more parties to choose from than you guys. :D

It's just a matter of fact than people (and I include kids) who think at all - will, even if given the same information to begin with, come to different conclusions on a subject, depending on their heritage, their upbringing and their current situation. For example: A 70-year-old Hispanic male who's never been married will probably think differently about abortion than a 16-year-old white girl who was raped and is now pregnant. And that's why I can't understand all this "what we think is right and what you think is wrong" business that both major parties in the U.S. engage in. Depending on where you stand, one party's black, one's white. If you had more than two parties, it'd be easier for everybody (particularly the people whose voices ARE heard) to recognize that politics doesn't really work without shades of gray.

Also, fun fact about me: in Germany, I'm considered a moderate conservative. With everything you know about me, I doubt that's what you would've guessed, right? Over here, it's completely normal to vote for several different parties over the course of your life. Not because we're all schizophrenic, but rather because the political spectrum constantly changes. Traditional parties change slightly (i.e. become more moderate), new parties are founded, some cease to exist...

And I know I said "in Germany" a lot now, which I know pisses a lot of Republicans off - to compare the U.S. to such a "petty, unimportant" (I'm quoting here) country as Germany, but the thing is... Between the U.S. and Europe, we can barely separate cause and effect anymore. Like it or not, our political decisions affect your country and your political decisions affect ours. But I know you're one of the smart ones. ;)
I don't really think Hispanics are a good sample group. They're usually very religious (-> should vote GOP)

Ahh, but Hispanics come in many different flavors. Hispanics in California are different from those in Texas and very different from those in, say, Florida. And I know from 2008 that there was a pretty pro-Obama feeling among the Hispanic students as well (although not to the degree of the black students).

Still, I don't think it'd be fair to say "kids that age usually get their political opinions only from their parents."

Depends upon the kid, but I'd maintain that most 8 or 9 year olds I know don't have much in the way of a political identity.

Not because we're all schizophrenic, but rather because the political spectrum constantly changes.

Oh, that happens in the US too... we just end up re-labeling the same parties with different positions ;) As many commentators have said about the current GOP primary field, Ronald Reagan would probably have a hard time getting the nomination these days because of some of his positions. And that was only 30 years ago. Go back to the 50s and you had Democrats opposing racial integration. Times, they change. And if you can't decide on a party (and don't want to be Libertarian or Green or something) you can be Independent, which is the largest and really most powerful voting block in the country today.
While I do not teach elementary school, I do teach jr high and have seen the same thing. Currently I substitute so I'm not sure of this year's crop of students. I find this highly amusing and particularly love the bit at the end about us not being in America. It was absolutely hilarious...and yet at the same time unbelievably sad.