Friday, October 24, 2008
So we're getting ready to watch the final presidential debate a couple of weeks ago and my 4 year old niece says to my sister, "Mommy, how do you spell John McCain?" So my sister and I look at each other with a wide-eyed "wtf" look. Here's how the conversation continues:
My sister: Why Kennedy?
My niece (Kennedy): Because it's the Cookie Campaign at school.
My sister: Do you want to know how to spell Barack Obama too? (hoping)
Kennedy: ponders for a long uncomfortable moment Um...yeah?
Me: continuing to stare in disbelief
My sister: Okay tell me about this cookie campaign.
Kennedy: It's the Cookie Campaign and we have to vote for the cookie we like.
My sister: So what does this have to do with John McCain? raised brow
Kennedy: Because we have to vote for John McCain and Barack Obama.
My Sister: Well what are the choices for cookies?
Kennedy: There's a sugar cookie and a chocolate chip cookie.
Me: So wait a minute (trying not to sound as annoyed as I really am)......there are no other choices? Just sugar or chocolate chip?
Kennedy left the room, and my sister and I continued the conversation with much suspicion. The manner in which the conversation played out really had us thinking that my niece was connecting the sugar cookie to John McCain and the chocolate chip cookie to Barack Obama based on the cookie colors.
By this time, my sister is optimistically searching through her email to find the information she must have overlooked about this so-called Cookie Campaign. We are very vocal about our support for Barack Obama and my niece is there every step of the way while our eyes and ears are glued to CNN on a daily basis. Needless to say, she knows who the candidates are. My sister never found any correspondence from the school about the Cookie Campaign. We both decided that we needed to talk to the teacher before we jumped to any conclusions. It's almost unbelievable to think that a 4 year old could make this up especially with all of the implied racial connections. We are trying to give the school the benefit of the doubt and assume this whole thing is a mixture between an innocent Cookie Campaign and Kennedy's witty perception. Why wouldn't the school send home information about this?
The next day, my sister asked the teacher’s assistant about the Cookie Campaign. The only information she disclosed was that the kids are voting on two cookies and that they will buy the cookie that wins. The woman also said that a lot of parents had been inquiring about it. My sister felt like she was pulling teeth, so she decided to talk to the head teacher the next day.
Each week the students have a “weekly reader.” Well a few weeks ago, the weekly reader was all about the presidential candidates. The kids went berserk, and wanted to know why they could not vote. The teachers explained that it was only for adults, yada yada. Since the kids were so passionate about voting, the teachers decided to come up with something they could vote on without relating it to the presidential election; hence the birth of the Cookie Campaign. My niece’s class got the sugar cookie candidate and the other preK class got the chocolate chip cookie candidate. Each class is going to talk about the ingredients of their respective cookies and the process of making the cookie. They will discuss the “character” of the cookies and then there will be an election. The cookie that wins will be purchased by the school. This campaign is only happening in the preK classes, and it is still unclear if other classes in the school will be voting on their two cookies or not.
I believe the school had good intentions for the Cookie Campaign, but unfortunately it was poorly thought out. First, the parents should have been properly notified about this. Second, they really should have had a primary election for the cookies or chosen cookies that didn’t “resemble” the presidential candidates quite so much. Lastly, they need to pay closer attention to the conversations their students are having about the presidential election. Stating that you are not discussing the candidates with the students is one thing, but ignoring your students’ reactions to an article about the candidates is another. Pretending that you don’t hear what the kids are saying is doing a disservice to them. There is a way to discuss the election without being biased. We have no idea what kind of conversations are going on inside of the classroom, but some how Kennedy’s sugar cookie candidate seems to have caused her to take a liking to John McCain because she never even mentioned his name prior to the Cookie Campaign.
Fast forward to yesterday. A commercial for Nickelodeon came on about kids voting for president. Barack Obama was the winner on Nickelodeon. This is the conversation that followed:
Great-Grandmother: Who are you gonna vote for Kennedy?
Kennedy: John McCain
My Sister: Why?
Kennedy: Because I love him!
My Sister: Why do you love him?
Kennedy: He talks really nice.
My Sister: What about Barack Obama?
Kennedy: He’s good. He talks nice too, but I’m going to vote for John McCain.
At that point, my sister just gave up. Forcing a 4 year old to vote democrat just seemed insignificant. I can’t help thinking that this Cookie Campaign has something to do with it. Is she connecting John McCain to the sugar cookie or is this just a result of her liking sugar cookies better than chocolate chip? I wonder what would happened if both classes were polled on their picks for president? I wonder if the chocolate chip cookie class would lean towards Obama and vice versa for the sugar cookie?
While I am a bit crushed that my little angel is already leaning towards the Republican Party, my concern is deeper than this. Children tend to develop their own bias at a very young age based on their environment and society in general. I am thrilled that Kennedy did not have anything negative to say about Obama because too often black children possess an internalized racism based on how our culture negatively portrays black people. As an educator, I’ve seen this time and time again in my classrooms. The only way that I’ve found to combat this is to continuously expose children to positive images of people who look like them. I believe we have done this for my niece, so I am optimistic that this situation will not manifest into something else. I’ll keep you posted on the outcome of the cookie campaign.