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Planting the seed of citizenship

November 3, 2008

by Jenni Sebora

Get out and vote! Vote for the next president, senators, school board members, county board members, and mayor of your community.

It is our right, privilege and responsibility as citizens of the United States to vote. As Peter Bergen, president of the Weekly Reader put it in http://teachers.net, “The fabric of our country is woven from Americans being active, responsible citizens.”

Bergen noted that President Teddy Roosevelt’s definition of government wat the following: “The government is us; we are the government, you and I.”

Furthermore, fellow citizens, present and past, have fought and died for our right to vote. We owe it to our servicemen and women who put their lives on the line to fight for our freedoms and rights, including our right to vote.

We want our voters to get out young and vote, and we need to start early with this habit. An article by Susan Goodman on www.aarp.org, noted that researchers have found that kids don’t magically become model citizens on their 18th birthday, when they obtain the right to vote. We need to plant the seed of the importance of citizenship and participation in our democracy at an early age.

Goodman noted that when students participate in such activities as mock elections at school, their excitement is passed on. Five to 10 percent more of their parents end up voting also.

We need to discuss with our children why voting matters and, most importantly, we need to role model it for them. We as adults need to take action and vote in elections. Why not take our children along to the polls?

Taking action and getting involved also means getting involved in community projects and activities; attending school board meetings; joining the school’s parent group; helping with a community project, etc.

Our children can, and do, get involved in the community, and can also make a difference.

As Goodman puts it, kids innately care about what’s important to them, and that caring is pure and passionate. We should continue to feed that innate passion by giving them the right to have a voice in matters.

Allow them a voice in family decisions, Goodman explains. What restaurant should your family eat at? What should you serve at your Thanksgiving meal? Where should your charitable contribution go? Involve your kids in these decisions. Hold “mini elections.”

Talk with your kids about things that may matter to them: the possible extinction of an animal, global warming, etc. Read articles with them. Watch certain news shows with them. Teach them that caring counts.

My children are very interested in the various elections coming up, and we have split votes in our house regarding the presidential election. My husband and I talk a lot about the election, and most likely will not vote for the same candidate this year. But one thing we do not do, is talk negatively about each other’s choices for the various races. We respect each other’s opinions. We are making educated decisions that are just different from one another.

Our 4-year old knows who is running for president and, even has an opinion based on the name of the candidate. She thinks one of the candidates has a cool name. Makes sense for her age.

Our middle and oldest child also have differing views, and it is interesting to listen to them speak about the candidates.

Our family was at a bookstore a few days ago, and my son spent his time reading about Barak Obama and his family history and background. He could tell me various facts about Obama, such as where he was born, where his parents were born, where his family moved to, and what he did as a living.

My 11-year old son probably did more research on the presidential candidates than many adults do. It is important as adults and role models that we learn the true facts about the candidate.

We can talk with our children about current events and certain news shows. Bergen suggests using conversation starters, such as this statement by Louis Brandeis, an associate justice on the US Supreme Court from 1916 to 1939, “The most important political office is that of a private citizen.”

I recently heard an economist say that it is really only the private citizens and families who can truly make things better.

It is important that we teach our children about citizenship, and that we all have a voice. It is our right and privilege to use that voice. It is our responsibility as parents to teach our children about this right.