Problems with Involving Minors in Politics

Cross-posted from The Dangerous Servant

When I was six or seven years old, a new Nashville resident, I remember vividly going to the Nashville Fair Grounds with my parents to visit the flea market, and our family being approached by campaign volunteers for then-Mayoral candidate Phil Bredesen, a centrist Republican who never won on a Republican ticket until he switched parties years later. He would later become one of Nashville’s most popular Democratic mayors and one of Tennessee’s most popular Democratic governors; on a personal note, he played an instrumental role in bringing my beloved NHL expansion franchise Nashville Predators to the Music City in the late 1990s, and he and former First Lady Andrea Conte were vocal critics of Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie’s sneaky, manipulative coup to buy the Predators and relocate them to Hamilton, Ontario in the summer of 2007.

But I digress.

At the fair, we were given and wore white stickers and pin-on buttons that had depicted blue bones with a circle and diagonal bar around and over them; Bredesen’s opponent in that race was a man named Bill Boner.

But my point here is that my parents didn’t drag my siblings and me to the flea market because they wanted to expose us to political campaigns, or force their views on us, or because they didn’t want us watching cartoons, or because they thought we would be useful instruments in former Governor Bredesen’s failed mayoral bid in the late 1980s. They brought us with them because we were too young to be left at home alone.

But that’s not the case in Fairfax County, Virginia (where I currently reside), where Liberty Middle School teacher Michael Denman assigned his 8th grade Civics Honors class to conduct opposition research on GOP candidates, write up summaries, and forward them to the Obama campaign:

A Virginia middle school teacher recently forced his students to support President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign by conducting opposition research in class against the Republican presidential candidates.


“This assignment was just creepy beyond belief — like something out of East Germany during the Cold War,” one frustrated father, who asked for his family to remain anonymous, told The Daily Caller.

The assignment was for students to research the backgrounds and positions of each of the GOP candidates for president and find “weaknesses” in them, the parent explained. From there, students were to prepare a strategy paper to exploit those weaknesses and then to send their suggestions to the Obama campaign.

The Daily Caller goes on to note that “No similar assignment was given to research Obama’s history, identify his weaknesses or pass them along to the Republican candidates.”

But even that belies what’s wrong with a situation like this. I don’t think Mr. Denman’s 8th graders would have been any better served by an equal opportunity to flay the incumbent Democratic president with their studies/de facto campaign coordination activities. No, the problem with this is that 8th graders are minors, and as students in Mr. Denman’s class, they are captives of his. Their grades — the benchmarks by which they are judged for advancement into the next phase of their education — literally depend on their willingness to acquiesce to whatever political motivations Mr. Denman might have in conducting this exercise.

Dangerous Servant reader Dani Muccio, a mother of three boys on New York’s Long Island and an active member of the PTA over the last ten years, sends the following comment:

It’s not as uncommon for teachers to force their political views on students as you think. Granted, this is blatant, but we have repeatedly been blown away by what my 17 year old tells us about “conversations” that erupt between students and teachers in history class. Last year marked the first time ever, through 24 school years (all three boys combined) of teachers, that we had to ask for a classroom change due to a “difference in opinion.” My oldest has formed very strong political views and isn’t afraid to share them. Unfortunately, his history teacher last year spent the first three weeks of classes telling him his opinions were WRONG and that his reasons for wanting to go into the military to serve his country were due to misinformation and some sort of brainwashing. So, yeah… it happens.

Do Fairfax County parents have the luxury of requesting class changes? I don’t know — I’m not a Fairfax County parent, only a resident. But for any adult to bully a captive, impressionable minor — either by public berating, or through force of academic achievement marks — on the basis of either’s political views is morally reprehensible, if not altogether unlawful. The Daily Caller also notes that

A district policy, which addresses employee political activities, states “employees shall not involve their schools in political campaigns, distribute political literature on school property or attempt to indoctrinate students with their personal political beliefs.”

Whether or not Mr. Denman will face scrutiny from his union colleagues the school board, or whether or not the district’s policy carries the force of law with it, remains to be seen.

It’s hard to ignore the “our children are being indoctrinated by liberals” crowd when stuff like this happens.

Hat tip: Washington Free Beacon

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