Schooltime for Candidates

By Ralph Nader

Earlier this year, while speaking in Fargo, North Dakota, Colleen Donley brought her nine year old son, Adam, from Perham, Minnesota, to the gathering to complain about the curriculum materials on the presidential race produced by Scholastic Magazine. Adam wanted to vote for me but their mock paper ballots had only two choices picturing John McCain and Barack Obama.

A “meet the candidates” again pictured only the Republican and Democratic candidates. Ms. Donley noted that it would not have been difficult to add the four other presidential candidates who were on enough state ballots to theoretically gain an Electoral College majority. There was extra room on the page to do so.

Pursuing her inquiry she noticed that only the Democratic and Republican options were available for research, games, posters and issues. For example, the game “Be a Candidate” had two party choices but only “their” issues and views.

Scholastic News Online did interview me on educational issues on March 3, 2008. But the students and their families in these public schools obviously pay greater attention during the autumn when mock elections and other interactive modes are produced by Scholastic Magazine to teach the children about presidential politics—past and present.

Exclusion of third party and independent candidates goes hand in hand with the failures to educate the children about the pioneering contributions of candidates and their parties that challenged the two-party domination in American history.

This continuing limitation of voter choice has been entrenched in exclusionary ballot access laws, a largely partisan judiciary, denial of being on the national debate stage by a corporation controlled by the two major parties and other obstructions unknown in other democracies.

Scholastic Magazine is published by a private corporation. For many years its reach into the public schools has been enormous—up to 18 million children. Its “educational” materials are colorful, easy to read and very often uncritically adopted by teachers and administrators.

Whether there are subjective political motivations by the top executives is something for further inquiry. Suffice it to say that children should know how alternative presidential candidates and their parties pioneered the anti-slavery, women’s right to vote, worker and farmer justice movements in the 19th century before either of the larger parties ever did.

The children should learn the connection between unobstructed candidate’s rights to be on ballot lines and voter rights to have a choice beyond one party gerrymandered districts or only two parties offering candidates sharing establishment political agendas.

Reducing the harbingers of advances in justice in America such as social security, Medicare, regulation of business abuses to minor footnotes or designations called “the other” is accepting the power structure’s mauling of a competitive democracy.

The public school teachers and parents should have the intellectual curiosity and democratic value systems of Ms. Donley and the outraged parents who contacted her with similar blackouts on their children’s alternative choices for president.

Year after year of these blackouts results in millions of children growing up to passively accept the two party “duopoly” and the restriction of voter choice. That there is another political world out there that they can help cultivate is not at their level of expectation. So nearly half of the voters stay home and many citizens reluctantly vote for the least-worst of the two big-party candidates.

Mock presidential elections, following classroom study and discussion, occur in October before the real voting in November. Children do take their exciting experiences in school home and spark conversations with their parents. To indoctrinate them in the inevitability of the two parties offering the only winners and the only agendas and the only debaters is to defeat the opportunities to recognize and support other political initiatives.

The very opportunity to build alternative politics from election year to election year is rooted significantly in such early age.

Shame on Scholastic Magazine, Incorporated for restricting these visions and understandings. Bravo to mothers like Colleen Donley and youngsters like her son Adam who strive to wake up the public school curriculum choosers and the boards of education.

– Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and three-time presidential candidate. His articles are regularly featured in

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