What Kids Learned from the 2008 US Election

I haven’t been able to get this out of my mind recently… even though I’ve tweeted about it several times, posted notes on my Facebook account, etc.

I have a genuine concern for what kids learned from the election process, and it definitely ties into 21st century skills, too.

Web 2.0 has changed politics forever. With 24/7 information, media saturation, billboards, text messages, blogs, groups on both MySpace and Facebook, young people in this country (and even those in other countries) have been inundated with political opinions. In fact,  you would have to live under a rock to have avoided hearing anything political in the US during the last year.

Sure, satire is one thing (SNL had some really funny skits!). But what messages did young people really receive from this information deluge? More importantly, beyond the messages from the media, what did our children learn from the adults around them?

In my opinion, they learned:

  • It’s acceptable to verbally bash the candidate(s) who are opposing your chosen candidate(s)- or translate that verbal bashing into blog posts or status updates.
  • Adults can join groups or add badges/bumper stickers to their social media that portray a political candidate in a derogatory manner.
  • Adults don’t have to “agree to disagree,”  even though that’s what they preach to kids.

Is that really what we want our kids to learn about democracy? Does the right of free speech negate our obligation to make responsible decisions about what we say and publish?

I listened to my own children, their friends (all teenagers), and younger children in our community… and I have to say that I’m very disappointed in what they’ve gleaned from this process. I’m also disappointed in my peers: for what I’ve read on Twitter, on their blogs, on their social sites. It was equal opportunity bashing… for every person badmouthing Democrats, there was someone badmouthing Republicans. Maybe I expected too much from people I respect; or that, because they are educated people, that they would make better choices in what they display in online forums.

Because… aren’t we all advocating that students be taught about responsible, digital citizenship? Don’t we tell kids to think carefully and thoughtfully about the comments they make online– constructive critique is always better than flaming or insulting comments? What do we tell kids about publishing disparaging remarks about someone else?

Are we modeling what we expect from digital kids?

7 thoughts on “What Kids Learned from the 2008 US Election

  1. I’m not trying to copout, but I think it starts with the candidates. How they run their campaign is our their supporters will act. One local politician was surprised that some of our govt students really didn’t like his personal negative attacks on the other candidate. While he “felt bad,” he said that they continue because “it works.” No one has the cajones to step up and run a legit campaign without throwing some mud. It’s not like we can vote for someone based off of how they run their campaign…but I guess they all run it the same way anyway…

  2. Sorry, Josh, but I disagree. Mudslinging from candidates is par for the course, even though we don’t like it. The only way we can stop that is to quit voting for politicians who run negative campaigns.

    What we CAN control, though, is what WE say and do… and the kids are watching.

  3. You make some great points! Twitter was a little harsh on some evenings and still can be even without the election. I think we all struggle, just like kids, with the idea that who and what we type doesn’t affect others since we can’t see their face. This is a great opportunity to remind others that what we say and write digitally affects others! thx for sharing!

  4. @Josh Oh… and just because I disagree with your comment doesn’t mean I dislike you in anyway, or think badly of you. I won’t trash you on Twitter because I disagreed with your thoughts (and I don’t remember you doing any of that either).


  5. @Deanna

    Exactly. As a parent and teacher, I’ve learned (the hard way) about how my actions speak louder than words. I think a lot of people missed the boat in teaching kids about how great democracy is, because they were too busy trashing the other guy who disagreed with their opinions/beliefs.

  6. You said it yourself: It was equal opportunity bashing. So who do you plan on voting for? It’s not like we can’t vote. We tried that the last 20 years and we are still in the same spot. We cannot change it until a politician with legit ideas runs a positive campaign. They have to step up.

  7. @Josh You’re right… but I think we can still control what WE say and do in public forums. We don’t need to trash the opposing candidates in order to support the ones we like. And that’s what I have been seeing in blogs and tweets from educators.

    If the politicians continue to mud-sling, fine. We really can’t control it… but we don’t need to follow suit, especially since kids are watching us more than they watch the politicians.

  8. I understand this comment is late in coming, but this discussion seems to be ongoing. Anyways, just a point on the mudsling campaigns – of course nobody likes it, conversely of course everybody thinks it works (maybe it does?)… but I’m not about to refuse my vote for someone who agrees with me on the issues just because they play mean. Unfortunately, that very thing is what has happened with the “moral” vote, people care only how the candidate stands with moral issues, completely disregarding their stance on foreign policy, economic issues, education, energy, trade, etc etc etc etc… life is way to complex these days to allow yourself to be narrowed down to one issue. Although it is simpler, it is not necessarily reflective of the true democratic route we should be engaged in.

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