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Great Idea Archive
Kids and Politics
The US political campaign weighs heavily on many minds, including school administrators wondering if, or how, to address the headlines. Thoughtful engagement is a necessity for independent schools. We are able to provide guidance to students and even parents during a confusing and sometimes frightening time. This is not to say a school should promote a particular candidate. Rather, this political season is an ideal opportunity for schools and parents to help children better understand and clarify their values. Instead of seeing the current campaign as a problem, it can be seen as full of timely “teachable moments” to clarify and possibly more deeply embrace shared values at school, and to offer parents tools for the home.
The following tips are offered by the authors cited below:
- Encourage children to talk. A survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows that some students are quite disturbed by the current political discourse. Conversation is important for all ages, including very young children. We may think of only upper school children as listening to political discourse but, as with many hard topics, young children have big ears. We are often surprised by what Pre-K children know and how they misinterpret complex arguments. Ask them what they know about the candidates and ask them to explain to you what they are hearing and how they feel about it. For older children, asking questions about campaigns might be a way to start a rich values conversation with a typically quiet teenager.
- Teach how to disagree. Faculty should have clarity about how to have a conversation on this topic for the various ages. Be sure everyone knows: a) the school does not endorse any candidate, b) all students should feel safe in saying what they are thinking, c) students should listen well enough to repeat what others have said, d) school values can be held-up as a guide for political judgments.
- Define values. Children of all ages should have a good understanding of what the values in “our home or school” are. Core belief that “this” must always be upheld is best achieved after offering examples of how people are positively or negatively impacted by values, or the lack of a good value system. Don’t assume children of any age understand the lessons of history that show the fruits of a political system lacking respect for human dignity, honesty or civility.
- Do something. It is good modeling for complicated conversations like this to not simply be theoretical. Children cannot vote, but parents can take them to a political rally, or place a political sign in their front yard. Schools can hold an in-school election or participate in Scholastic's nationwide, online student voting.
Submitted by Bob Mattingly, CSEE
August 23, 2016
Patterson, Te-Erika, “Do Children Just Take their Parents Political Beliefs? It is Not that Simple.” The Atlantic, May 1, 2014.
Briscoe, Allison, “How to Talk to Your Kids about Donald Trump,” Greater Good Center Berkley, April 13, 2016.
"Talking Politics: What to Say to Your Kids." Kids Health. Kidshealth.org. Web. 22 Aug. 2016.
Southern Poverty Law Center, “The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on our Nations Schools," April 13, 2016.