by Courtney E. Martin
The other day, I was riding the subway and listening to a This American Life podcast called Kids Politics. As the site describes it: “What if, say, the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada in 1983 had been decided, not by Ronald Reagan, but by a bunch of middle-schoolers? And what if every rule at your high school had been determined, not by teachers and administrators, but entirely by teenagers? This week, stories about whether, when it comes to governing, kids do any better than grown-ups.”
As you might guess, kids–when given the power–resembled grown-ups in lots of ways. Some acted like proverbial sheep, doing whatever their friends were doing without going through the process of soul searching required of them as individual citizens of the classroom. Some blindly followed authority, wanting to get the gold star or the good grade regardless of other, less measurable, considerations. But some, and this is where I think the adults have a lot to learn from the kids, paused, became perplexed or distraught or both, and slowed down the momentum of what was going on around them. I urge you to listen to the podcast to pick out these captivating moments; you can almost hear the kid’s heart, shouting loud enough above the fray.
This month we’re exploring our own origins as citizens. It might have been heading to the voting booth with your parents. It might have been participating in a Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop. It might have been singing in the church choir. But perhaps, and this is what is so evident in this masterful radio program, it was the first time you listened to the leadings of your own heart about what was right and wrong in your little community, stood up, and said something about it. Perhaps this is the version of citizenry–the original form–that we are all trying so hard to get back in touch with in these turbulent times.