Voting for the First Time -- and Teaching My Kids

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I was born during a dictatorship. Three and a half years later, my parents decided to go back to my father’s home country, Uruguay, where the family had to wait three more years to see a democracy back in place. Although my grandfather was a lawyer and politician and, at some point in time, my father was a law student himself, my family was lucky enough not to fully suffer the consequences of an authoritarian form of government. As an adult, when stories from “back then” were narrated to me, I was told about the occasional imprisonment of family members, but nothing out of the ordinary during such times. I was six years old by the time Uruguay beheld, once again, a democratic government.

Maybe it is the fact of growing up in a post-dictatorial political environment; perhaps due to my grandfather’s background; or possibly the simple fact that voting in Uruguay is a mandatory duty. Whatever the reason might be, I not only ended up studying Political Science, but also teaching civics (Actually, with a strong desire to teach this subject to high school students.) Let’s put aside my educational background and go back to the cultural aspect of the fact that being civically responsible is part of the Uruguayan identity – during los asados del domingo, two topics are always present: Soccer & politics. My son [barely] answers me back in English when I speak Spanish to him; I cannot pass on my culture to him through food because I don’t cook (much); passing on my civic culture to him in a country where, on average, between 1828 and 2004 (we all know history was made on 2008!), 46.3% of the citizenry constitutionally permitted to cast its vote has done so… It truly diminishes the uncomfortable feeling of him not being Uruguayan enough for my liking, due to my own doing (or, better said, lack of doing), of course.

I voted, Image Credit: Shutterstock

Yesterday, 10.29.12, I voted for the very first time on a presidential election in the U.S. Albeit the fact of such an exciting event for me, nothing could compare to my son asking me to wait for him to get back from school so he could go vote with us. And this is where I say: 1st phase – Awareness ==> Accomplished!

Why Is Civic Awareness Important?

As much as I would like to share with all of you my 27-page undergraduate thesis, which I wrote just a few years ago, entitled "A Better Democracy," I want you guys to come back to my blog. And, yes, my thesis was all about voting behavior, political knowledge, and mandatory rights. In turn, the National Conference of State Legislatures offers a great summary of the "Goals of Civic Education," which I quote:

Civic education should help young people acquire and learn to use the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives. Competent and responsible citizens:

1. Are informed and thoughtful; have a grasp and an appreciation of history and the fundamental processes of American democracy; have an understanding and awareness of public and community issues; and have the ability to obtain information, think critically, and enter into dialogue among others with different perspectives.

2. Participate in their communities through membership in or contributions to organizations working to address an array of cultural, social, political, and religious interests and beliefs.

3. Act politically by having the skills, knowledge, and commitment needed to accomplish public purposes, such as group problem solving, public speaking, petitioning and protesting, and voting.

4. Have moral and civic virtues such as concern for the rights and welfare of others, social responsibility, tolerance.

It is not difficult to realize that a civically engaged person, whether kids or adults, tend to care and support their communities at higher rates than those who decide to stay in the sidelines.

How to Do It? Where to Begin?

Don't worry guys, our kids do not need extracurricular classes of Civics! It most definitely starts at home.

We talk about economic and social issues, and we disagree about them in a profoundly passionate manner... Latino style! (No chanclasthough, yet.) Adding the evening news to our daily routine has certainly helped, especially during an election year. When my son asks a question, we answer with the truth. Believe me, at 7 and with an incredibly inquisitive mind, if your kid is watching the news with you and getting informed about current events, he or she will ask you what is the meaning of the term "abortion." In many, many cases we have to explain to him both sides of the issue at hand because my husband and I might have different points of view about that particular topic. Volunteering in the community is another great way of getting the kids involved in local issues. Finally, take advantage of online resources; this will not only be good to increase their civic knowledge but also to put into practice their digital skills.

If you want to jump right in, here are a couple of fun sites to let your kids learn more about their civic responsibilities: The Democracy Project by PBSKidsVoting USA, and iCivics.

Most importantly, let your actions speak for themselves ==>

                                              

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