Politics: How young is too young?
October 2, 2019
At the end of August 2019, the students of Meyerholz Elementary School received flyers from community members encouraging them to participate in a protest against the Homeless Navigation Center (HNC), prompting a debate over whether elementary school students should receive politically charged material. While some see this as an opportunity to educate students and encourage them to take action, it can also sway their thought processes without providing all the information and take away their chance to formulate their own opinions.
Following the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School, thousands of students joined together to protest gun violence. Protests like these are a key feature of our democracy, granting a political voice to all citizens. Although some believe that elementary school students are too young to be exposed to controversial political issues, it is necessary for all members of the community to understand the political process and be comfortable taking part in it. In the future, the younger generation will run government and vote, impacting the preceding generation and generations to come.
“Children can be introduced to political issues in a way that makes sense to them,” said Betty Chan, a math teacher at Miller Middle School and a mother. “[They] can be politically active if it’s related to something they care about.”
Additionally, due to the rise of social media, political propaganda is now accessible anywhere. This generation is unique in the amount of political information that it receives through social media. This makes it absolutely necessary for younger students to understand the political climate and be able to make their own informed decisions.
A 2016 study of 187 elementary school students regarding the presidential election shows that children do have an interest in politics. More than 90 percent of children could provide information about the candidates, and nearly 99 percent expressed a preference for one candidate and knew the election outcome.
“I would talk about [politics] as it comes up in real life or in the news or in school,” said Chan. “I would also give my kids space to share their thoughts and what they are hearing from friends, media, etc. Then as a parent, I would share my own view, explain it to them and let them know it would mean a lot to me if they adopt my view… if it’s something important to me.”
While Congressmen have the authority to make legislative decisions, citizens retain the right to make their voice heard through peaceful protest, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. Any citizen, regardless of race, gender or age, is guaranteed this crucial right, including children. In this day and age, it is especially important for children to become politically active, in order for them to find their voice and express it.
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As schools continue to incorporate current events into their curriculum in an attempt to keep students informed about events going on in their community, it is important to take a step back and consider the type of information that young, impressionable students are being shown. Children as young as five years old are being sent home with flyers encouraging them to participate in protests and take political stances before they are old enough to fully comprehend their implications. Sending politically-charged flyers home with elementary school students is where the line between education and influence needs to be drawn.
Members of the Meyerholz community sent home flyers with their students regarding a protest focused on publicizing the faults of the HNC. Protestors alleged that the HNC has a low success rate and a high cost compared to other similar programs, as well as poor management and a negative impact on neighborhood safety. While this issue is of great importance to the community, the flyers only tell one side of the story. Elementary school students are too young to understand the information they are being fed through these flyers and the consequences of both sides of the argument. The flyers that were handed out at Meyerholz highlighted all the negative aspects of HNC and everything that the government was hiding. However, it never covered the purpose of the program, the people it has helped or what being a part of the program is actually like. Giving them small bits of information in hopes of swaying them to stand in support of a certain viewpoint is merely taking advantage of their naiveté.
“Asking children to take a stance against an issue that they haven’t been well-educated on can be misleading and detrimental to the children,” said senior Anna Chiang. “They don’t have enough information to take a stance of their own.”
Instead, efforts should be directed toward providing students with an unbiased perspective of events going on in the community so that they are given the opportunity to formulate their own opinions on the situation, and politically-charged flyers should be aimed at parents rather than their children.
“I think you need to start from things that are more applicable to their lives, so that you can train them to form their own opinions,” Chiang said.
It is important to keep young children free of political influence, instead of overloading them with information they are not equipped to understand. Community members sending home these flyers with children goes beyond wanting to educate them and becomes a situation of people taking advantage of the innocence of younger children and how they are too young to fully comprehend the situation and its implications.
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