In the U.S. these days there are more than a few things to bring out the raging pessimist in the best of us. Even many children, as much as I love them, can be a bit disappointing with their pleading that reading gives them headaches, against playing outdoors and lack of curiosity. However, not all of them are lost.
My mother, former classroom teacher and now media specialist, helped organize a civics project for third, fourth and fifth grade students at her school. Since the beginning of the school year she's worked with the classes on issues related to the election and civics. Don't freak Fox News, she's not indoctrinating! They talked about issues, candidates, how the students and their families feel they will be effected and what they want. One class hammered my mother with a slew of theoretical situations in a discussion on how you qualify for citizenship by birth: "What if your mother is a citizen, your father isn't, but you're born on an airplane over the ocean coming to the U.S.?" Students were encouraged to talk with their parents and to read and bring in articles on the campaign. Many did, filling a bulletin board with news and opinion articles they read and reported on, using comments from their parents as starting points for class discussions. Students were asked tough questions about issues and asked to think critically - something almost lost in our training to the test educational system. In recent weeks, students wrote a letter to either Sen. Obama or Sen. McCain; the choice was theirs and they were encouraged to write for themselves, not their parents. Monday the school will hold their own election. Teachers will use that to teach everything from math to history.
My mother was in charge of copying the letters (for school archives) and sending them to the two candidates. Some of the letters featured the beautifully non-linear thinking of children and didn't quite manage to make a point. Some were achingly real: "My parents can't afford gas/food/to keep me in aftercare." All were incredibly sincere and impressive for a group of elementary school students. I don't know if it means anything, but far more students wrote to Sen. Obama, based on the weight of the envelopes. A few of the letters to McCain actually attacked his position on the issues. It'll be interesting to see if the school gets any kind of response.
All the kids are interested in seeing if the results Monday come close to the results on Tuesday. To have children so involved in and aware of what's going on, asked to really consider the candidates and the issues and to watch them get so excited about the process has given me hope. I hope, in the future, we can turn education away from training and back towards critical thinking. For now, I'm pinning my hopes on these kids.