Mama Madison: Politics for kids

Instilling civic-mindedness is a tough task

Sometimes I wonder whose children these actually are. Just last week my 15-year-old son had the opportunity, and my permission, to leave West High, walk east on Regent Street and head up to Bascom Hill for, perhaps, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a sitting president live and in person. He didn't take it. This came on the heels of the same kid attempting to turn the channel during last week's presidential debate to watch the final day of regular-season major league baseball. Really? Months of all-family discussions about rights and recalls, yet he'd rather listen to John Kruk babble on about Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown?

But I guess in some ways a parent can't necessarily expect that their children will inherit an interest in politics. Sure, we can bring them to rallys, pin buttons on their backpacks and let them draw the lines to finish the arrows in voting booths. But I just haven't figured out how to force the excitement to go along with it.

I encouraged my 10-year-old daughter, for instance, to run for student council this year. It seemed like a great chance to gain a few leadership skills, feel empowered and get a taste for public service. I had loved student council, perhaps too much, when I was a kid -- you could argue I was the original Tracy Flick. But my daughter wanted nothing to do with it. "Mom," she said. "All the kids running will say things like 'If I'm elected I'll make sure recess is 20 minutes longer and will try to get Gatorade into all the water fountains.' It's not like a fifth grader in student government can actually make that stuff happen."

For her, the election felt like a bunch of empty promises. Kind of sad to be so jaded, if not right, while still in elementary school.

And sometimes I am reminded that there aren't even any guarantees on which way the pendulum will swing when it comes to a child's eventual political persuasion. A couple weekends back my middle son went clothes shopping with my mom. He didn't come back from the mall with a new hoodie, skinny jeans or whatever else 12-year-old boys are wearing these days. No, the only purchase he came home with was a pink necktie. A Donald Trump Signature necktie to be exact. If there is a clothing item that screams future conservative Republican more loudly, I have no idea what it is.

I guess I understand the apathy and disillusionment. They've seen Governor Walker withstand a recall despite just about every adult they know signing the petition. They don't understand why they can see back-to-back political ads for opposing candidates that completely contradict each other. They've heard me say, "Just let it go to voicemail" when the fifth fundraising call, in the span of an hour, shows up on Caller ID during dinnertime.

I asked my son why he didn't take me up on my offer to skip class and head downtown to catch a glimpse of the President. He told me that he didn't want to miss history, his favorite class.

I guess he'd rather study history than try to make it.

And he's only 15 he reminded me, still three more years until he's old enough to vote, anyway.

Which, come to think of it, is the next Presidential election. Yikes, I've got some work to do.

Are your kids manning phone banks and passing out flyers yet? Have they been engaged and involved in the upcoming election?

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