Friday, February 08, 2008

Raising an Educated Voter

I have taken Meikina with me voting since she was three years old, but it is only this year that she has started to understand what it was we were doing in those lines. Her assignment in her fifth grade class was simple enough: Put together a poster board with the leading candidates from each part. We could do that. "Oh, Daddy," she added, "I need to pick one and make a speech about them."

Who do you want to campaign for? I asked her. "I don't know," was her reply. I was encouraged. I fully expected her to support Mitt Romney, since he was the favorite son of our area here in Utah. "How about if we study each candidate," I suggested, "and see who most agrees with you."

The first step in her education was a questionnaire developed by WQAD Television out in Mississippi. The questions started with a bang: "What is your opinion on the war in Iraq?"

This one was pretty easy for her, since she has heard me curse and shout about the War in Iraq since the invasion in 2003. But I wanted her to not just answer the questions, but understand them -- to understand the issues involved, the ideologies at play. So we chatted about the war, why we ostensibly went into Iraq, why I felt it was a fool's errand, and what we should do at this point. Meikina selected option "C": "I favor immediate and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops."

We moved one by one through the remaining questions, allowing us to discuss the problems with immigration, the hopes and concerns behind stem-cell research, abortion, and many other deep and important subjects. We had an interesting and engaging discussion.

I'm sure she didn't understand all of the issues, but she answered all of the questions as best as she could, and hit the "Find Your Candidate" button at the end of the questions.

The candidate that best represented her fifth-grade views was Barack Obama. I congratulated her, telling her that she now understood the issues more than most of her peers in class. She was excited to begin preparing for her class presentation.

Meikina came home the next day very excited, proudly proclaiming that the class had had a vote, and 22 of the 25 students had selected Mitt Romney as President. "Only three people voted for Barack Obama," she exclaimed with a definite gleam of pride in her eyes. "What did most of your class give as a reason for their support of Mitt Romney?" I asked. "He's Mormon," she replied.

I asked her if she felt one's religion was a good reason to vote for someone; I asked her if they had discussed any of the issues espoused by Mitt? "No," she replied, "we just voted." But, she went on, we are going to be able to campaign for our candidates over the next few days.

I told Meikina that the most important question to ask someone in politics (and in life) is "Why?" "Why do you believe that person will be the best President?" "Why do you believe that issue is important?" I told her that many voters select a candidate based on their religion, their sex, their race, or some other criteria. "Voting for someone because they are Mormon is silly," I explained. I gave her the assignment to ask her classmates why they selected their candidate, and what ideas they thought were important.

The following afternoon Meikina's teacher approached me at the school. She excitedly recounted for me how Meikina had asked each of the presenting students why they supported Mitt Romney. "Did you know," Meikina had asked one student, "that Mitt Romney supports drilling in the Arctic for oil, endangering polar bears and caribou?" The poor student answered with only a stare. Meikina's teacher was so thrilled that someone in the class had actually asked a question about a candidate's position, since it fostered a broader discussion. I was a very proud Daddy!

As "Super Tuesday" approached, I took the girls to an Obama support meeting, and were told about Michelle Obama coming to Salt Lake City. Over the following week the girls overheard their father calling hundreds of voters in Utah, urging them to vote on November 5th. The day before the primary, I took the girls from school and we headed up to the Salt Palace in Salt Lake and heard Michelle Obama speak.

Election night was spent watching some favorite TV shows, all the while flipping back to election coverage to see how "our" candidate was doing. "Did he win in Utah" Meigon asked? "Is he the President now?" was another question. My kids, in a limited but growing way, were becoming politically involved.

I don't know how my girls will vote in future elections. I don't know if they will end up espousing the progressive values I am teaching and demonstrating for them in our home. I hope they do. But most important for me is that they reach their decision smartly, that they study the candidates, their positions and ideologies, and cast educated ballots. If they do that, whether they vote left or right won't matter, they will be an engaged member of American democracy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brian, youre doing a hell of a job raising these girls!! Gladys

3:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I felt tears well up in my eyes, as I read about the beginning of your daughters' journey in being a good citizen of the world. They are informing themselves and taking an active role in forging their and our futures. Bravo for them and you, Brian.

1:02 PM  
Blogger franksplanet said...

I have been taking my daughter to the voting booth since she could walk. Our little civic adventure. She is now in third grade and when asked in class who the primary candidates were she rattled off the three remaining ones and provided some additional Clinton / Obama factoids. I think she knows more about the electoral process now than she does the 2007 line-up of the Red Soxs. . . . yikes

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you still proud you educated your daughters about the positions of Mr. Obama? Have they begun to touch the subject of economics?

2:33 AM  
Blogger Ray said...

Obama has been a disaster. Can't wait to read any follow ups. Poor kids.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Research-China.Org said...

Actually, our family is proud of what President Obama has accomplished in his 7 years. No regrets at all.

2:28 PM  

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