The Disinterest Disease

Elliott Stallion, photographer

Dear parents-who-are-not-voting-this-year,

I understand some of you are disgusted this election year. Your children tell me in my classroom you are so upset with the choice of candidates that you are not voting in this election.

Ok. I get that.

Let me tell you what’s happening. Your kids are shutting down in my social studies class. They don’t want to learn about the election. We had “Kids Voting” this week. Half the class shouted, “I don’t want to vote!” They are repeating very hateful phrases that I cannot believe you’d ever let them hear, let alone say.

This is uncharacteristic of my students. They usually want to engage in discussion of real life issues. They are always thirsty to express their thoughts, to learn, to analyze and participate. I’ve never seen them like this.

So I reminded them that people in some other countries (North Korea, for one) are not allowed EVER to vote. Your kids know about North Korea because I told them my parents were children during the Korean War and that they didn’t have access to a school or new shoes for at least six years of their childhood.  Many of our American children (my daughters included) are untouched by deprivation of basic needs: freedom, shelter, food. But not all American children are untouched by hunger, homelessness or hate. 

I reminded my students that millions of people have given their lives so that their children might vote. Voting is a right in America. If apathy continues to grow, it might become a privilege for just a few. It once was, you know, right here in America.

I encouraged instructed the class to log onto the Kids Voting website. I distributed access codes and told them to open another tab and look up words and issues if they did not know what they were. I told them to vote according to their beliefs. I told them there is no right or wrong answer. Beliefs are your own, like opinions.

They talked to each other, they looked stuff up. They talked some more. Not a single  argument. Friends disagreed, but remained friends. No one tried to talk the other out of anything.

It took 30 minutes for the students to research and vote on about 5 issues/positions.

When they were done, most were very pleased. “I finally know what an electoral college is!” I noted that the students who were not that enthusiastic were the ones who just guessed and voted. I know this because when I asked why some felt “Just OK” they answered, “Because I didn’t know what I was voting for.”

As an educator, it’s my job to ensure I teach your child to think critically. How can they do that if they shut down? Why would they think critically if they adopt a “what’s the use” attitude? Why strive to reach compromises for the Greater Good if you only hear hate?

Upon completion, they received an “I Voted” sticker. Remember those? Remember how proud you were to wear one?

Catherine* raised her hand.

“Mrs. Wipff, why can’t we all just have our beliefs and still be nice to each other, even with people who disagree with us?”

Indeed, why not?

*not her real name