The Politics of Children
It started a few months ago. My first-grade daughter was talking a lot about a club her classmates had started. Each member got a special title upon joining, and I could tell she was anxious to be asked to join. The day she finally got the invitation, she enthusiastically told me that she had been granted the Princess Anything title by King Anything (a 7-year-old named Bennett). The hierarchy established by their King/Queen/Prince/Princess titles was obvious, but “Anything” created another alliance of some sort that I was not privileged to know or understand.
We’ve all made or joined a club or two growing up. I had the “Waterbomb Club” for the neighborhood girls to gain entry into my backyard swimming pool. Then there was the “Pink Ladies are Cool” club that I started with my best friend after watching Grease for the eleventh time. I never really thought of the clubs as anything more than innocent fun. Or are they?
King Anything made me wonder about the politics of children. How did King Anything gain this influence over the other kids? How did he behave to achieve this alpha male status? What was his motive? Was it just for fun? Did he get a hint of satisfaction, a spike in serotonin, in ruling over and controlling the other kids? When do children go from power plays to playing for power?
What evolutionary significance lies at the heart of alliances and hierarchy in child’s play?
About the same time my kid was ascending to Princess status, I came across three really great movies touching on the politics of children. Each gives a perceptive glimpse into the origins of our social makeup, asking and answering questions like:
- What tactics do kids use to get what they want? How much of of those tactics are learned from adults (vs. being innate)?
- What sense of justice and fairness is natural?
- What degree of freedom is instinctual?
- What are we willing to give up in order to fit into the “in” crowd?
The Movies (I highly recommend all of these):
- World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements (documentary): Social studies teacher John Hunter created the “World Peace Game” to introduce his fourth-grade students to global issues and improve their diplomacy and critical thinking skills. The children are divided into teams representing fictional countries, each with limited natural resources, economic dilemmas and enemies. There are arms traders and even a schemer planted among the students who is instructed to lie and throw everyone off their game. This movie follows one class through the 8-week game as they work hard to gather allies and protect their resources. We see them get angry when they lose control of their country’s power, and that’s when things get ugly. The only way to win the game is for each country to obtain a minimum limit of GDP so that “World Peace” can be declared. An absolutely fascinating look into the nature of politics!
- Blame it on Fidel! (narrative): A brilliant film about a young French girl whose parents become radical Communists and turn her world upside-down. In her confusion and anger, she asks the adults around her some of the most rational, insightful questions, but no one is really able to answer them correctly or thoroughly for her.
- Please Vote for Me (documentary): Chinese kids participate in their own, unprecedented, democratic election of their class monitor. One kid is eager to control his classmates and uses charisma to charm them into voting for him. Another kid says he doesn’t want to control people, yet already has a history of beating his classmates into submission. He learns to use a field trip as an incentive to buy votes. They try persuasion, deliberation and even intimidation to gain votes. The only thing they don’t try is an SNL skit to make the others look like idiots.
The politics of children is not unlike our own adult politics. There are hints of war in every playground squabble fought and diplomacy in every club alliance formed. Understanding how to maneuver through society resourcefully, peacefully, and ethically is critical to a child’s education, especially the entrepreneur’s.
A few days ago, my daughter told me she quit the club. Why? I asked, knowing how much it once meant to her. She quit because her friend Marcy quit, and Marcy told her to. Since my daughter is normally a very independent child, I found her blind obedience (or was it loyalty?) odd. I asked her why she quit just because her friend told her to. (I resisted from asking her if Marcy jumped off the Empire State Building, would she. I’m sure I’ll have another chance to use that one). She answered me, “I don’t know. I guess I was getting bored with it.” Oh, okay. That was a better reason. Then she said the next day they both joined the club again! Ha! So fickle!
I can only imagine what alpha male King Anything did to convince these two strong-willed little girls to rejoin his “boring” club, but I guess it was pretty persuasive. He’ll be one to watch!
NOTE: The 3rd book of the FBLS, Wyatt’s Laughing Lark (and the Search for the Secret Map), introduces politics to the entrepreneur kids of Nessibus through a mayoral race between two politicians: Flash the Fly and Barnacle Blah Barnes. From a political and personal perspective, they are complete opposites of each other, yet they share one thing in common: they both want to pass laws that will threaten the entrepreneur kids’ businesses, leaving readers to wonder which politician will they align to and how they will save their businesses?