When asked why they did not want McCain to be president, they screamed simultaneously with giggles and grins, “Because he’s going to die!”
Only a group of fifth graders can make such a brutally morbid comment and get away with it. The San Francisco Day School on Golden Gate Ave. and Masonic St. held their annual mock elections on the Monday before the 2008 Presidential Elections.
The SF Day School Mock Election gives the eighth graders the job of playing the candidates and the teams that work behind each candidate. The fifth graders write the questions for the debate and all students, fifth through eighth grade, vote.
The eighth grade teacher, Joel Young, has been orchestrating presidential mock elections since the 1988 Bush/Dukakis election. This election was his 20th anniversary of getting San Francisco Day School excited and informed about the political process. Young said, “I’ve been doing this for years and every (presidential) election the kids are getting smarter and smarter.”
Two students from the eighth grade class were assigned to play each candidate. There were two Obamas, two McCains, two Bidens and two Palins. They were given brief class time to divide into their political parties to prepare for the debates, which were held the same day as the mock election. Young assigned the eighth graders to either the Democratic or Republican party.
Although the Green Party was not involved, all the issues relevant to American voters were discussed thoroughly by the eighth grade class. Every eighth grader was given a job. Some were campaign managers, a few were speechwriters and others were given a specific issue to research, such as the environment, abortion, women’s rights, foreign policy, Iraq or the economy.
The two playing Palin took special delight in getting into character. One of the eighth grade Palins, when asked how she would convey what Palin is about, responded, “Well, there is not too much she has to say on policies so I am going to dress like her and talk about small town values.”
The speechwriters were observant and had fun writing speeches based on the addresses the candidates had made in the past four months. “McCain likes to say, ‘my friends’ when talking, so we are going to use a lot of that,” said one eighth grader.
On Obama, the writers noticed that he speaks very little about his childhood and past in general, so they didn’t want to incorporate much of that dialogue into the mock election. “You know McCain likes to talk about his past and his war experience and Obama likes to talk about the future. You know, change,” said another eighth grader.
Although the students were well informed, they didn’t seem to capture the essence of the real debates. That may have been because the mock candidates listened to the moderator, answered the questions that were asked, stopped when their time was up and didn’t slander each other while on stage. The mock election candidates seemed more polite and mature than the actual candidates running for president.
Young said, “I didn’t want this to be a mud slinging event like we see so much in politics. I wanted this to be about the issues.”
Despite the strong and genuine debating the mock Republicans displayed, the odds were against them, and the voters’ minds had been made up. The mock election outcome for the 2008 presidential election was 129 votes for Obama/Biden and 34 votes for McCain/Palin.
A group of fifth graders spoke about the actual election candidly. They spoke with great enthusiasm about the election and their general adoration for Barack Obama. Although their comments about McCain’s age were off color, many pundits on major news stations have alluded to such an issue. In fact, many commentators have suggested that McCain’s age was a bigger issue in voting for the other candidate than the color of Obama’s skin.
Perhaps these soon to be voters are not as juvenile as we think and regardless, Barack Obama seems to have captured the support of a large proportion of the San Francisco Day School and the majority of the United States voters as well.
If the San Francisco Day School says anything about the future of America’s voters, it is that they are going to be more informed on the issues and more keen on the nuances.