Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Democracy for All

Well, I hope everyone got out and voted and did their civic duty yesterday.  As anyone who follows this blog knows, I did not.  I'm still feeling icky about it, but the worst part is knowing that however the polls turned out, I get to live with a result I abstained from, whether by accident or by choice.  Yay me.  (That was sarcastic, by the way.)

Anyway, I wanted to talk about democracy and young children.  It's interesting to ponder how we pass political, cultural, and societal messages on to our children, even at very young ages.  Sometimes we do this in really appropriate ways, such as voting over a class pet's name or the restaurant we want to go to eat at for dinner.  Other times, not so much.  I've known people who have let their preschool children weigh in on whether they move to other states, whether they attend school, and the ever-tricky proposition of letting children decide the consequence for another child's behavior.  Yikes, times three.

Young children don't have the world experience or perspective to be able to make such decisions.  There's a reason the voting age is eighteen years and not eighteen months.  Although I think an argument could be made (and fairly succesfully) for sixteen-year olds to vote, obviously there are limits to what young children can understand.

When you participate in a democratic--or even a republic--process, there is an implication that you have done your research and are well-educated in your choices.  Part of what we do when we give children the opportunity to choose things, whether it's outfits or the veggie at dinner, is helping them to learn how to make educated choices.  Not only are choices critical for kids to learn because they will be making them for the rest of their lives, but they're an integral part of the political and social process of our country.  Don't like what's going on this four years?  Vote for change.

Every culture and society has its own unique value system.  In our country we value independence and democracy quite highly, and it's reflected in all we do.  Individual choice is something we treasure over group thinking and pressure.  Children in and from other cultures have different early experiences that will later feed into how they choose to live their lives, and what their culture deems as appropriate.

As you ponder how you're building a "democratic" citizen, keep in mind what kids are able to do.  They're able to choose outfits and cereals, to choose their toys and their friends.  They're not able to choose where to live, where or when to go to school, or major decisions for family or classrooms.  By giving children a voice at home and in the classroom, they learn that they do have power and that power can result in many different things.  And THAT lesson is at the root of democracy.

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