A teacher from Jennings, Florida, on the Georgia border wrote the most eye-opening civics lesson I had ever seen while recently teaching in an elementary school. It was the middle of 2008 when the presidential election was really heating up on television screens in American homes and children were showing an interest.
With permission, I decided to try the civic's lesson plan in my own classroom.
The concept was simple.
The class would hold an election for class president. This would help them to understand the process that was going on around them, hopefully reflecting what some parents might be saying at the dining room table.
To simplify the process they would choose their own nominees, no other class being involved. The nominees would discuss why they would like to run for office. From these classmates two would be selected, each making a campaign speech. Then the class would vote.
We discussed what kinds of characteristics the nominees should have such as honesty, character, and ability to get the job done that they promised to do. We got many nominations, and from those came two; Jamie and Olivia, who were finally picked to run for the mock office.
Each would make a speech giving their platforms and why they should be elected to represent the class. It was just like the American politics in the summer of 2008. The children had even been encouraged to discuss the class election at home, getting their parents to help select the best candidate.
The day of the election was at hand. The class seemed to have done a great job in their selections, excited about the vote. Both candidates were good kids. I thought Jamie might have an advantage because he got lots of parental support. But I had never seen Olivia's mother, so I didn't know how she felt about the process.
The day arrived when Jamie and Olivia were to make their speeches.
Jamie went first. He had specific ideas about how to make our class a better place. He ended by promising to do his very best. Everyone applauded, as he sat down.
Now is was Olivia's turn to speak. Her speech was concise and short. She said, "If you will vote for me, I will give you free ice cream." She then sat down.
The class went wild. "Yes! Yes! We want free ice cream.We want free ice cream!" they shouted.
Olivia surely would say more, but she realized quickly she didn't have to.
A class discussion followed.
"How did Olivia plan to pay for the ice cream?" She wasn't sure.
"Would her parents buy it or would the class pay for it." She didn't know.
But the elementary class of children didn't care how the promise made was going to be kept. All they were thinking about was the free ice cream.
Soon Jamie was forgotten and Olivia won the election by a landslide.
One year later after the interesting classroom study into electing a leader within a democracy, I think about this as I listen to the new president of the United States.
Every time the presidential candidate had spoken, it was like the offering of free ice cream. In the end 52 percent of American voters had reacted just like those nine-year olds the summer before. In this case, and with adult voters, they wanted their gas tanks filled with free gas, their mortgages paid, and they didn't care how it was to happen. It was not unlike the discussions we had in the mock election about free ice cream.
The other 48 percent, who didn't vote for the new president, knew someone was going to have to buy the cow, take care of it, feed it every day, clean up its daily mess, milk it every morning and then deliver the milk to the place that made the ice cream, no one having to pay anything for all the work since the ice cream was going to be free once made, distributed, and consumed.
It is a stark reminder that no government can give anything to anyone for free unless it's been stolen from someone else first.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of our democracy, had given a stern warning about this if ever the American voter was to act like a fourth grade class of children who simply wanted free ice cream and didn't care where it came from.
"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not." - Thomas Jefferson
Webmaster's edits from e-mail. The characters are fictional. The story real
TKS to Bill of Florida