Talking to kids about politics

As teachers, we find ourselves constantly answering questions from our students about the current political news.  Students want to know why we hold them to such high standards of behavior in the classroom when they watch the presidential debates and see adults not following any of those rules.  In her pre-school classroom, Catlyn teaches students not to raise their voice, to take turns, to compromise.  During the “Town Hall” debate at Washington university in St. Louis last Sunday, both candidates raised their voices, name-called and broke the time limit rules repeatedly.  

In my Project Based Learning school, junior high students work in teams to do deep academic inquiry and solve challenges.  We actively teach them strategies to “share the air”- speak less if you tend to be a talker, speak up if you tend to be a watcher.  We also insist that they cite sources and verify that what they say is true repeatedly.  As we watch the debates and follow the political news in my 8th grade US Studies classroom, students ask why the candidates are so rude to the moderators and why they won’t allow each-other to speak. We use PoltiFact to fact check what the candidates say and they are astounded at how many blatant lies politicians use all the time.   You may have noticed that memes about Ken Bone, the “man in the red sweater,” have gone viral since the debate.  In the heat of political argument, something about him just wanting the candidates to say one nice thing about each other struck a chord in many of us, who are craving civility and integrity in our country’s leaders.  It is hard to imagine the world getting better when the people leading it can’t calmly present to us their vision for change.   Ken Bone for president, in deed!


If you get a chance to talk to the children in your life about the current political climate, my suggestions are to include these talking points:

  1. The way people treat each other continues to be important in our country, and both candidates will get higher approval from the public in accordance with their ability to maintain  integrity.
  2. Everyone can get angry and all of us will find ourselves wanting to name call and interrupt and argue when we know we shouldn’t.  This makes our candidates human.  The candidates most likely found themselves regretting some of the things they said afterward, and we have all been there.
  3. This run for the presidency, for both candidates, is the most stressful thing they have ever done- and the most important.  Trying to convince millions of people you don’t know to trust you to run the country must be intense, and you usually only get one chance.  Everyone they know is counting on them to win this.  This kind of competition can bring people to be their best selves, but also can make them stoop to things they might not usually do.  
  4. We should all try to listen for the way each plans to run the country, the policies they plan to make, rather than focusing on their demeanor or tone.  We need to vote for the person who we trust to make the right decisions for our whole country.  

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