A donkey and an elephant walk into a bar…

While watching the Sunday morning political round tables with my daughter – which has sort of become “our” thing, my little 4 year old made a very astute observation. She says, in only a tone that I can describe as annoyance, “why is President Obama on every channel?” Now this could be her own way of telling me I have a habit of flipping the channels too often – but what dad doesn’t, am I right? But it got me thinking, yeah she’s right. This has been one of the most contentious national elections I have ever experienced and the whole thing makes me feel like this little girl wishing for it to be over.

I have always had a love of politics which was first fostered in me as a young child and what ultimately convinced me to choose Political Science as my college major. When I was about 10 or 11, my dad ran for President of his Police Officer’s Union. Although I don’t remember what is platform was or what campaign promises he might have made, I do remember, quite vividly in fact (which if you know me, you know that’s a feat in and of itself), participating in campaign calls, walking the precinct and handing out flyers and eventually accompanying my dad to the polling location. Although this was the first, it wouldn’t be the last time I participate in such a campaign, but what struck me in particular about these experiences wasn’t the development of my political identity or ideology, but rather the value of civic responsibility – being connected and present.

I learned the invaluable lesson that as a citizen, I had a duty to serve my country by being involved. Furthermore, with my dad winning the election, I got a front row seat in witnessing how a person can make a difference in their community. I think ultimately, it’s this since of service to one’s community and country that led me to serving in the military. As much as I value that experience, in a way, I am glad I was not exposed to nor remember (most likely the latter) what campaign promises my dad might have made, if he kept them or what ideology he promoted. I believe, when it comes to politics, my parents provided an environment where I could develop my own political ideology. That isn’t to say that their beliefs and convictions did not have an impact on me, but I think we as parents need to be careful, especially in this politically charged climate. Like Chris Rock (parental advisory for language) points out, we are all a little bit of everything.

I think it’s a good thing to have your political convictions and to share them with your children but, like with all things, in moderation. To me, we do injustice to our children when we bombard them with visceral political rhetoric – whether it be from our own conversations with others or from the pundits on television – they are learning lessons about our political discourse that can possibly plant seeds of political disenchantment. I think about my own experiences and had I been exposed to the political environment that exist today, my thoughts about being involved might be a lot different. I do believe in exposing children to the civic responsibility aspect of these elections and I think one way we as parents can foster that sensibility is by talking to our children about voting and taking them with us to the polling place. I plan on doing this with my daughter and it’s my hope that I will be able to impart in her that voting is a way that we exercise our citizenship.

We have talked briefly about the concept and I am hopeful the Election special on PBSKids will help hammer the message home. Being exposed to countries where there is no political freedom – or any freedom for that matter – I have gained a new found respect for the ability to vote. And I think as dads and the “molders” of the future leaders of this country, we have the responsibility to foster civic responsibility in our children. Do you plan on taking your children with you to vote? How have you talked to your children about the election? Add a comment and let me know.

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One thought on “A donkey and an elephant walk into a bar…

  1. I loved this post, especially your line, “To me, we do injustice to our children when we bombard them with visceral political rhetoric – whether it be from our own conversations with others or from the pundits on television.” While I think that it is very important to expose our children to policitcs, democracy, and voting (especially as they get older), it needs to be done in a positive way. (I for one, hate, negative campaign ads… Tell me what YOU will do, don’t just put down the other person). I want my children to be open minded, and only complaining and putting down the other point(s) of view only instills in them the belief that no other views are okay. Its okay to get fired up about politics, and some issues hit closer to home than others, but it needs to be done responsably, especially in front of children.

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