Why I Didn't Watch 'United 93'


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My son and daughter, who attend public elementary school in New Jersey, came home one day with an interesting assignment. Their teacher gave them each a sheet of paper with a list of items to be found in a polling station on election day such as voting machines, flags, tables, chairs, registers, etc. They asked my wife and I to take them to the nearest station so they could count the number of each item on the list and write it on the sheet their teacher gave them. They were told that the student with the highest number of items identified and counted would be given a prize. I'm sure it was no coincidence that this assignment was given on a day when elections are held in every school district in the state to elect board members and approve the proposed school budget. My wife and I had no intention of voting, so we made excuses for not taking the kids. My son was upset about not being able to do the assignment, but after a while he got over it.

To fully appreciate the sinister implications of using impressionable first and second grade children to influence voter turnout by demanding their parents take them to the polls so they can count the number of machines and possibly win a prize, one has to understand the peculiarities of New Jersey politics. This is the same state which recently had a US Senator leave office for taking expensive gifts from lobbyists, and the Governor resign after he admitted putting his gay lover on the state payroll as his antiterrorism advisor. This is also one of the very few states left that allow politicians to hold more than one office, so that the mayor of the largest city can also serve as a state senator. Finally, this is the same state where a prominent Republican political operative (Ed Rollins) became disgraced after he bragged about giving money to African-American preachers so they would not urge their followers to vote in the 1993 gubernatorial election won by Republican Christine Whitman.

I have no doubt school administrators will explain that the election day assignment was purely to educate children about the political process, and that they were not instructed on who or what to vote for. However, it should be noted that no such assignment was given in last year's gubernatorial election, or the previous year's presidential election, and you do not need a college degree in political science to know that voter turnout is usually more important in an election than persuading individual voters how to cast their ballots. The Ed Rollins affair, and subsequent controversy over the use of "street money" to influence voter turnout, amply illustrated that point. It should also be obvious that parents of children enrolled in public schools are more likely to vote in favor of school budgets, even if it means a tax increase, than voters who do not have children in public schools. Therefore, an increase in voter turnout among parents of public school children also increases the chance that the school budget will pass. I'm certain this notion was not lost on those officials who dreamed up the assignment.

It should come as no surprise that voters approved the school budget in my township. However, throughout the state only about half the budgets passed. This does not necessarily mean that voters in New Jersey have a libertarian streak. Voters who do not have children in public schools, and hence no vested interest in passing the budget, simply turned out in larger numbers than public school parents. Senior citizens in particular tend to turn out in disproportionate numbers, and they are more likely to vote against school budgets. Yet the latter will squeal like stuck pigs anytime a political masochist has the temerity to suggest even the slightest tampering with social security, Medicare, and other taxpayer-financed benefits for senior citizens.

What really disturbs me about the whole episode is the potential for insidious mischief that comes with exploiting school children to achieve a political goal. For example, will school administrators require teachers to report those students whose parents did not vote? History is full of examples where children in government schools were encouraged to snitch on their parents, neighbors, and friends who do not adhere to politically correct orthodoxy. Even those who otherwise support public schools and voted for the budget might question whether the ends justify the means. At a critical time for personal liberty in this country, there can be no more important issue than the government's use of taxpayer-financed education to manipulate the hearts and minds of our children.

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Ken Bank's picture
Columns on STR: 12

Ken Bank has done some writing (including movie reviews) from a historical and libertarian perspective, and his background includes masters degrees in history and business.  He used to be active in the Libertarian Party but has given up politics.  He currently resides in Barnegat, New Jersey.  He is a retired real estate broker, and currently works part-time as an investment manager and consultant.