How the Presidential Election is Just Like Grade School

More recess! No more homework – ever! No wonder we hear so many unrealistic promises in the Obama-Romney contest. Kids learn to campaign this way in school.

Remember sitting in school listening to a student body hopeful throwing out campaign promises so good – so revolutionary – that you had to vote for that kid?

“If I am elected I promise: More recess and better cafeteria food!”

Hey! I want more recess and better food, too! – what third grader wouldn't sign up?

If it looks like presidential elections are starting to resemble grade school elections, maybe they are. After all, getting votes with empty campaign promises is what we've been taught to do since we sat at those miniature classroom desks.

Kids promising iPads for everyone at school sounds good. However, even today, with lightning-speed access to information, potential student leaders aren't called out to check if their claims are feasible, much less who will pay for their campaign promises – the district, the school, the parents?

Perhaps the real lesson in school politics is for kids to hone their public speaking skills while standing in front of a large audience to lie, ahem!, I mean, deliver a speech.

And here's a thought. Instead of handing out candy and buttons to sway voters, it might be worthwhile for a candidate in training to use the age-old, but reliable campaign promise which, really, no candidate has been able to keep: “No new taxes!”

Oh, wait. Wrong age group. The school-age appropriate, but equally unrealistic pledge: “No more homework!”

Wait up, buddy! Let me round up my friends so we can make sure you win, 'cause I've had it with homework, too!

So should kids be allowed to make campaign promises that are obviously impossible to keep?

You've got two minutes to answer. Go!

Tonia Accetta: No! students are in the learning process, let's teach them that deceitful conduct is never acceptable. We should be striving to produce a new generation of productive adults and leaders. This does not mean to copy the past and to perpetuate the mess that government finds itself in today. The job for our leaders, whether in school or public office, is to find compromise between all sides and to find solutions to the issues in an honest way. School elections can be very amusing, but let's guide these future politicians to be truthful.

Tam Dorow: Absolutely. That's what the big kids do in local, state and national politics. This is part of what we have student government for, right?  To learn about politics and “public service.” This is what happens every day in every country, county, state, city and village. It's consistent throughout history, across borders, religions and cultures. It's the human condition. Each young candidate needs to ask him/herself whether winning this election is worth the price of making false promises. Every voter needs to ask questions about how feasible and likely grandiose campaign promises are. Maybe the voters just like grandiose promises and they don't care if those promises will actually be delivered. 

Kelly Dunbar: Student elections are a great time to remind our children that serving others and having a right to vote are both hard-earned privileges. Exercising their voting privileges and running for office are great ways to honor the sacrifices of others while having an influence on future policies. Since student elections occur annually, let's use them as an opportunity to teach our children to look at the big picture. False promises may win a popularity vote and earn a seat in student council one year, but if you don't come through on the promises, will your classmates want to vote for you again the following term? These are formative years, let's encourage students to use their elections as a platform to show personal integrity and learn about accountability. It won't be long before these students will grow and become our future leaders.

Suzette Valle: If you can't beat them, explain why. Discussing elections from elementary through high school with our kids included student council, ASB, homecoming court, class presidents, and any other election that occured during their school years. There is no denying that student leader candidates don't end up on ballots based on merit. These positions are based primarily on popularity and have been for years. Student leaders are supposed to be role models for those they represent, but it isn't the best role models who consistently end up winning school elections. Talking to kids about empty campaign promises, as well as why and how school politics turn out some surprising candidates, is important so they can instead look to those who are worth emulating – both peers and adults.


Tonia Accetta is a stay-at-home mom of a teenage boy and a preteen girl.

Tam Dorow, who emigrated from Vietnam when she was 10. She worked at all of the Big 3 U.S. car companies and has been a stay-at-home mom of two for the last 10 years.

Kelly Dunbar is a military veteran and spouse. She has three children who attend elementary school, junior kindergarten and preschool. 

Suzette Valle is a 20-year Coronado resident who was recognized by Time Warner as one of the local “50 Best Moms” in 2006. She has appeared on the Dr. Phil Show and blogs at MamarazziKnowsBest.com.

About this column: Parents talking about issues important to parents.


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