In my job as Rhetoric and Writing teacher here at Oversized State University, I make every effort to keep my personal opinion about politics and current events out of the classroom, especially during an election year. It’s not cool to bring my own soapbox into class, even if students ask me point-blank how I vote; which they often do. I don’t tell them, because I never want them to feel pressured to conform to my beliefs.
But when I’m at home with my 11-year-old daughter, and she asks about my political views, like she did this afternoon?
Well, I mean… She’s 11. And it’s election time. And she asked. And what parent doesn’t hope his kids will share his beliefs about the world? Come on. All parents try to influence their kids in one way or another, right? Right? It’s not just me. I’m just trying to educate my kid and give her a good set of values. There’s nothing wrong with that, and no, I’m NOT acting defensive! Hey, get off my back already! Sheesh!!
It’s a knotty little issue, this whole brainwashing-our-kids thing. And I’m not always sure how to handle it.
I do know what I want for her. I want her to recognize the importance of filling out a ballot, and not see voting as a useless process. I don’t want her to be an apathetic person. I want her to be an activist, to believe that she can make an impact on the world. I want her to use her voice. And I don’t want her voice to just be a higher, parroty version of my voice. I want hers to be hers. I want the grown-up version of my daughter to know how to look at an issue from several sides, and not fall for all the polarizing partisanship that rules our culture. I want her to have opinions that are the result of careful consideration, rational thinking, and a sense of civic responsibility. I want her to weigh evidence carefully, and arrive at an informed opinion.
And I want that opinion to be the exact same as mine. Because everyone else is just being stupid.
Four years ago, my daughter asked me who I wanted to be president. I told her, and she said, “Me too. He seems nice.” She was seven then. Today, I let her sit next to me as I filled out my mail-in ballot. She watched me fill in ovals for various candidates, from the president on down to our local mayoral race. She noticed that I was pretty much following my own political party affiliation. I told her that wasn’t always the case – I believe in voting for people, not parties. I told her I like the idea of having a mix of perspectives in our city council, for example, to make sure that a range of viewpoints get a seat at the table. Such is the nature of productive dialogue. But this time around, I was voting for candidates in my political party pretty much straight down the line.
Then came the various propositions on the ballot. I’ve done my reading, and therefore have reasons for each of my votes. My daughter asked why I was voting this way or that way, and I explained. I didn’t disparage other perspectives. I didn’t preach about what values I find most important. I tried to be straightforward and clear.
Each time, after I finished explaining, she said, “That’s how I’d vote too.”
95% of my conscience felt a warm fatherly glow when she said that. The remaining 5% felt guilty that no matter how I tried to couch it, I was basically indoctrinating the kid with my own belief system. But that’s a part of parenting.
I guess the alternative would be to talk with her about the merits of the Other Guy. For example: after explaining my choice for president, I could talk about his opponent. I could extoll that other dude’s virtues, explain why many smart people think he’s a better choice, and talk about ways in which he’d probably do a good job too.
But I’d just be lying. And just can’t bring myself to do that. Not this year.
Maybe next election. For now, I’m just going to have to get comfortable with the fact that I’m trying to brainwash my daughter, and that’s that.