Education Matters: Election spawns discontentment

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

I substituted in a government class this week on election day, and the first question I asked a group of kids that will be eligible to vote within a year was: "If you were casting a ballot today for governor, raise your hand if you would vote for Meg." In each of the five classes I covered, one or two hands went up. It was the same result when I asked how many would vote for Jerry.

"May I conclude then that the great majority of you either don't know anything about the candidates or don't care?" I asked.

Most nodded their heads, leaving me to wonder whether passage of the 26th Amendment (18-year-olds can vote) was such a good idea. But then I thought about the months of campaigning prior to the election, and it occurred to me that there's a very good reason for the apathy among our youth.

They've heard us older folks complain about the barrage of negative attacks by candidates, about the mindless mailers and obnoxious automated phone calls and the general consensus that political dialogue in this country has degenerated into well-financed campaigns of lies and distortions.

Why participate in such a process?

As a teacher, I've tried for years to get my students to wade through the garbage piled high by each side in our political contests and try to discern actual positions in the rare moments of candor and honest exchange of views. Even if their choice of candidates is, as it has so often become, a lesser of two evils, it is far better than withdrawing from a process that is the very essence of our democracy.

For years I've believed that the poor voting record among our youngest voters was more due to laziness than any other factor, but I'm not so sure anymore. We older voters have become jaded about elections and more or less accept the degeneration of the whole electoral process as business as usual.

We know we're being lied to, we accept negative campaigning — in fact we sometimes encourage it by eagerly tuning in to the hear about the newest dirt that has been dug up on an opponent — and we're even OK with having our intelligence insulted.

Every election cycle, when I am inundated with large glossy mailers that use meaningless slogans and unflattering photos of an opponent, I ask myself, "Who reads this junk?" I am left to conclude, by virtue of its widespread use, that many people actually are influenced by this type of campaigning.

Political strategy is all about pandering to the lowest common intellectual denominator, and it reminds me of H.L. Mencken's observation that "no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

Still, I can salvage some good news from this latest election, starting with the shifting of political power in Washington. While the results are not what I hoped for, I do recognize the value in the periodic changing of the guard in our system. I'll be most curious to see what magic the new House majority has up its sleeve that they did not perform in the previous administration.

I'm encouraged that large oil companies did not derail this state's commitment to lessen global warming, and I'm encouraged in our state's gubernatorial and senatorial contests to see that big money doesn't always buy an election. I'd be far more satisfied if all elections were publicly funded and monetary limits were imposed on each and every candidate at every level, and take money permanently out of the equation.

My nephew in Michigan phoned to read me his speech in running for president in his elementary school. Here's what he said:

"Good afternoon, fellow students. Hello, I'm Simon Kimber.

Friends, I will fight for less homework, so you will have more free time at home and at school. I will try to get a fifth-grade dance. I will also try my hardest to get an open gym after school. I think it's a good idea to get us more fun activities.

Also, I will try to get us to have more fun projects. Hey, does anyone like popcorn? Well, I will try to get popcorn Friday. We should try to raise money for charity, like we did for the walk-a-thon. I will listen to your ideas. Let's help the school and have fun doing it!

Vote for Simon. Thank you, fellow students; I'm the one for you."

It was a good speech, but alas, Simon lost the election to a boy who gave out candy at recess. Now there's a young lad with a political future in this country.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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