Playground Politics

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Two weeks ago, I happened to call an old friend who lives in Ohio, with whom I speak once a year or so.  Before I could even ask how the kids were, my friend launched into a fiery political diatribe that caught me by surprise.

“Why don’t you do something about those idiots in your town?”  (I live in Washington, about two miles from the White House, but I’m not exactly on a first-name basis with the president.)  “I’m busy working my butt off to pay for the other 47% that’s too lazy to work!”

I was speechless.  Not because she’s not entitled to her rant.  In fact, I admire her passion for our country and our future.

But her vitriol left no room for any response from me except more vitriol.  For the first time ever, I felt glad that we live so far apart. Especially so my kids don’t have to hear such closed-circuit partisanship from my friend or presumably, her children.

This dispatch from Ohio made me think, involuntarily, about how my three kids are handling all this politicking – and the example we adults are setting.  Last week, The Washington Post ran an article about a DC private school that felt the baiting among kids had gotten so fierce that parents had to be reminded about teaching political civility at home.

A letter from the school admonished caregivers to: “talk to your child about respecting others’ views…our students at times [are] judging one another harshly for each other’s political views or party differences…Our children do mimic our adult behavior, and this is an excellent opportunity for each of us to express our views in a manner that is not insulting or demeaning of others.”

Note:  the children in question are in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade.

One of my neighbors has had to temporarily defriend people on Facebook after their political posts have enraged her.  Others seem to feel the only solution is to avoid all public discussions about politics.   Two different moms confessed to watching the televised presidential debates on mute – it’s too stressful for them to see the candidates brawling.  We live in a touchy time in our politically impassioned country, just two weeks from an incredibly close presidential election.

Many times, I’ve wanted to call my Ohio friend back and say:  don’t you want to hear my opinion too?  Can’t we discuss different political viewpoints respectfully?  Will you and your kids hate me if I vote for a candidate you don’t support?

I’ve been too afraid of her answers to pick up the phone.

If we adults face these diplomatic dilemmas, imagine how harsh the political discourse must seem to our children.

Future generations will pay dearly for our willingness to abandon polite political discussion like pennies on the sidewalk – once valuable currency, now worthless. I’m not sure today’s kids will be able to resolve political differences, if we as their parents can’t teach them how to debate politics rationally, with open minds and respect for opposing views.

Looking ahead, the uncertain election outcome doesn’t worry me. Instead, I fear the atmosphere in the hallways on Wednesday, November 7.  The day after the election is a school day.

Will eight-year-olds taunt each other?  I won, you lost, ha ha ha.

Or will adults take the high road and show our kids how to win, and lose, with dignity? It’s natural to want our kids to see life – and presidential candidates – from our viewpoint.  However, we’ve got to teach them to think for themselves, and to treat diverse views among their fellow citizens (and classmates) with respect.  No matter who wins this presidential election, our kids will remember the politics that we exhibit as we witness this race to the White House.

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