Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Republican, naturally."

Depending on your level of media saturation, you may have heard about a YouTube video showing fatigued kids chanting and drilling in support of Barack Obama. I had seen the video online before, but only realized in the aftermath that it was from a school here in Kansas City. Here's a link to the story about it from the Kansas City Star, including a copy of the video. I haven't seen the whole thing and this entry really isn't about the video, so viewing it is not required to follow my entry.

The teacher involved has been suspended while the district goes through legal evaluations. The "big deal" seems to be questions raised about the appropriateness of such a display at a public school.

On one hand, I think it's great. I was involved with civic projects at our high school, even going so far as to have the congressional Democratic majority leader visit our social studies classroom during his reelection campaign. That's one of the best things that's come out of this "popular" election we're currently in: people are involved to a degree I can't remember.

I think a significant portion of this involvement comes from things like "The Daily Show". It reaches a portion of the electorate that the traditional news outlets don't. My youngest brother has never been interested in politics, but he's quite knowledgeable about the candidates and the issues this year.

It will be interesting to see if "The Daily Show" will maintain the traditional media role in opposition (to an extent) to Obama the sitting president. As many news scholars have observed, the media's role is to challenge the president and the government on everything, acting as an oversight board in representing the interests of the people.

But I digress. A little civics in school is fine. Now politics in school.... that's another matter. This particular teacher was suspended for putting together a sort of pro-candidate pageant. Were students who disagreed left out? Were they forcibly involved? Were they allowed to sit in a corner and think? I don't know.

My first encounter with politics in school was sometime around 4th grade. One of our teachers was talking about public policy, I don't even remember why. All I remember about the conversation was her saying to a group of kids, "The Democratic method is GIVE people welfare, GIVE them houses, GIVE them jobs. The Republicans say, 'We want you to WORK for that money, WORK for that job, WORK for that house.'".

I remember her laying emphasis on those verbs like a skilled orator. I'm sure all of us kids were confused, because economic policy is a little out of a 4th-grader's bounds. Eventually, somebody said, "Well, which one are you?"

"Republican, naturally," was her response. Again, I have very little context for this, other than the fact that a year hasn't gone by since without me thinking about it. It's just one of those childhood memories that becomes ingrained while others fade. For example, I don't remember what my elementary playground looked like, since it was long ago removed and replaced with one made of recycled milk containers. Me forgetting, in spite of the hours and hours I spent out there while growing up.

Would that statement have gotten her suspended or reprimanded? I don't really know. She didn't come out and endorse a candidate, but she was making implicit value assertions about the two parties.

I seem to remember our Scout troop being involved in the Bush/Dukakis election of 1988, too. Specifically, I remember all gathering at someone's house to watch part of the election returns, or maybe it was one of the debates. I think it was the first time I'd ever heard the word "abortion" as a term of interest.

I don't know that any of these events had a lasting effect on my political upbringing. I remember wanting to be associated with the Republicans in the Scout days, because other kids were making fun of Democrats as being "asses". This had nothing to do with the party's particular politics, per se, just the ability to use the word "ass" as a demeaning term for a fellow kid.

It's basically the same tone of voice that people use the terms "right wing" and "liberal" now.

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