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Practicing Politics

Junior high school students impersonate candidates in mock political debates.
Friday, October 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:01 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

Bianca Aaron said she was born in 1946, went to Yale for her master’s and got an MBA from Harvard in 1975.

Her father had been in politics all her life, she said.

The 14-year-old took the podium Thursday as “President Bush” to discuss domestic and foreign issues at Oakland Junior High School’s political convention.

Pretend politics

Bianca, along with the rest of her classmates in ninth-grade honors history, spent Thursday posing as one of several political candidates, including the president, congressional candidate Linda Jacobsen and Boone County sheriff candidate Dwayne Carey.

Oakland’s library was temporarily transformed into the site of a political convention — the creation of 50 students, including Bianca, and their teacher, Josh Johnson. The event, a project introduced by Johnson in 2000 as a way to promote civic participation and understanding, represented the culmination of two months of research and organization.

“It’s important that kids realize that voting is just part of it,” Johnson said. “It’s also about seeking education and knowing the issues.”

Students presented what they learned while preparing for the convention on tri-board displays and in pamphlets and candidate biographies. The students also held an in-class debate and wrote letters inviting candidates, school administrators and parents to the event.

Representing Republican candidate for lieutenant governor Peter Kinder, students Juan Pelaez and Rae Brand designed a spread using Kinder’s campaign slogan, “Every Dollar Counts,” and included matching green pamphlets, stickers and candy.

Juan, whose family moved to the United States from Colombia 12 years ago, said this project has helped him become more interested in and informed about the American political process. Although he and his family are not yet citizens, Juan said preparing for the convention “helped me decide what I personally agree with.”

Expanding political knowledge

In September, Johnson assigned pairs of students to study local, state and national politicians, including candidates for Boone County sheriff, U.S. Senate and president. Johnson said that if he knew certain students already had partisan views, he tried to assign them to the opposite party for the project.

Student Dan Hurst, a self–proclaimed conservative, represented Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Dan said researching Kerry’s stance on issues made it possible for him to look at various opinions.

In practicing his role, Dan said he grew more confident in his own political knowledge.

“I can have informed discussions with adults,” Dan said. “I can debate with adults, too — if you can beat them, it feels even better.”

Dan’s father, Craig Hurst, said he and his son now have intelligent conversations about current political issues.

“Sometimes he knows more than I do,” Hurst said.

The importance of being informed

Linda Jacobsen, who campaigned at the convention beside her ninth-grade alter ego Ben Cooper, said the event demonstrated the incredible need for students to think through the issues “in a way that adults do.”

Johnson said this year’s event went more smoothly and drew a larger crowd than his first convention in 2000. More than 100 people attended this year.

During a speech by “Ralph Nader” and amid lively political chitchat, Bianca said that before this project she was not informed enough to participate in class discussions about politics.

“You have to be informed about it if you want to make a change,” she said.


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Comments

J.T. Smith September 14, 2008 | 7:31 p.m.

September 14, 2008 This is J.T. Smith. I am assigned Robin Carnahan along with my partner Ryan Swearingen in this years convention. I am looking forward to it and I'm glad it is published to the media.

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