Political season for children

Published 11:44 am Monday, March 29, 2004

By Staff
At this week's East Brewton City Council meeting, two local scouts were in attendence to observe the meeting and earn badges for themselves. I applaud the scout program for encouraging the boys to learn about local government, and I applaud the council and mayor Terry Clark for welcoming them.
I've wondered how much kids will be learning this year about presidential primaries and caucuses and elections. How much will they learn about our local government with its elections coming up this fall too?
The simple answer is "As much as we teach them."
If area social studies and government teachers are like the ones I grew up under the influence of, students will do projects comparing the presidential candidates, discuss debates and hold mock elections.
They will learn what the different political parties advocate, and they may even form ideas that will shape their political tendencies as adults. As bright as local teachers seem to be, they probably have election-related projects planned that are beyond what I could even guess.
Outside of school, kids will overhear their parents and other adults expressing their support for a particular mayoral candidate or district attorney candidate or council member. They've probably seen a campaign sign at least every three feet for the last few weeks already.
Why not take the opportunity to turn to those children and prime them for a lifetime as responsible voting citizens?
A six-year-old may not be ready for the finer details of government, but it's never too early to learn that democracy means -- among many things -- that we choose our leaders.
A ten-year-old is ready to learn about the structure of local, state and federal governments and how all the pieces fit together.
A thirteen-year-old, in that transition from childhood to young adulthood, is in the perfect position to start thinking as a person involved in the system, rather than just subjected to it.
A sixteen-year-old should be more than ready to start growing her own political ideas because she will be a voting citizen when the next election year comes around.
A child of any age can learn about politics from watching the news or reading the newspaper. They will learn even more readily if parents engage them in conversations about politics, the elections, government. Ask them to form opinions and they'll really get a lesson in processing and weighing all the policies and viewpoints.
Many children could learn by attending a city council meeting like those two boys did this week. They would see how our elected officials make decisions that affect us and keep our communities running smoothly.
By taking children to the polls or to observe local government at work -- or even by just having a conversation with them about the topic -- we can make the political process less intimidating to them and make them feel less removed from it.
They should, without a doubt, understand what the collective decisions of voters this year mean for all of us locally and nationally, because they will inherit those decisions.

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