'Social Studies' class shouldn't be the only place children learn about the government. By shielding them from politics, are we doing them a disservice?
“We didn’t get rid of a military regime to replace it with a fascist theocracy!”
“Fascist Theocracy? I don’t even know what that means …”
“Fascist Theocracy is when you manipulate religion and enforce extremist regulation in the name of religion, even though religion doesn’t command that.”
The video of a twelve-year-old Egyptian boy bamboozling an interviewer when asked about the political situation in his country has been doing the rounds lately. In a manner bizarrely articulate, unnervingly perceptive, and heartrendingly impassioned, he goes on to critique the constitution, especially its hypocrisy when it comes to women’s rights.
When the interviewer – half-amused, little skeptical and fully impressed – asks him how he knows all of this, the boy replies offhandedly “I just know it.” And when probed further, “I listen to people a lot, and I use my own brain, plus I read newspapers, watch TV and search in the Internet.”
Working with The Hindu In School I repeatedly come across similarly profound insights from children. Some of these kids clearly have more than just a textbook knowledge of the way a our system works, and how it should.
Like Mohamed, the sources of their information must be the Internet, TV, newspapers and people. But can we expect the average child today turn on the computer or television and switch to a news channel/website? I can say with some certainty that the odds of that happening are slim.
This lack of enthusiasm children generally have towards politics is often interpreted wrongly as “children find politics boring.”
That’s not true. I think parents, teachers and other adults around the child bear the responsibility of showing kids how relevant politics is to our everyday lives. It’s not enough to just know about the mid-day meal scheme; it’s also important to engage children in discussion about why the tragedy in Bihar happened, who is responsible, and how it could have been prevented.
Once this is made a habit out of, then it is fair to expect children to pick up the newspaper and maybe give them the chance to develop into remarkably astute political commentators like the 12-year-old Egyptian boy.
Interestingly, The Daily Beast reported that the boy, whose name is Ali Mohamed, is the son of a housewife and a cleaner at Egypt’s Metro stations and lives in a poor neighbourhood. He often accompanies his family members to Tahrir Square where much of the revolution is taking place.
Being in such a politically-charged atmosphere and coming from a not-so-affluent household, Mohamed is probably constantly reminded of how much the functioning of his government affects his lifestyle, hence his strong views.
It’s not as if living in our country is a much smoother ride. If children don’t know that now, they will know that in a few years when they have to deal with life on their own. Bringing them up to be politically aware from a young age (when there are many distractions to ensure they don’t get bogged down) may help them cope better and become intelligent citizens with solutions, instead of bitter cynical ones resigned to their fate.
(Nandita Jayaraj writes about her encounters with the strange and interesting. You can send her feedback at email@example.com. You can also tweet her @nandita_j )