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Children and politics: getting the (very) young engaged

A political journalist says that even though they can't vote, children should get engaged with politics. He explores that in a new book.

You've heard of politicians acting like children; should children act more like politicians?

Edward Keenan says that even though they can't vote, children should be politically engaged. (Toronto Star)

How young is too young to get politically engaged?

Edward Keenan says there's no such thing as too young.

The veteran journalist and radio host has written a new book, The Art of the Possible: An Everyday Guide to Politics, which aims to give kids the basic knowledge they need to be more informed citizens.

"I have three children, and the oldest one is now nine. I write a lot about politics, I spend a lot of time dealing with political people, and they ask me a lot of questions," Keenan said. "I wanted to write a book for children that explains the political process, why we need it, and how it works.

"Not in a, 'how does a bill become a law way?' More on a fundamental level: why do we need to make decisions together? And how do we do that?"

The main thrust of the book is that even kids too young to vote are affected by politics every day. So it's best to get involved.

'Our family is kind of a bicameral dictatorship'

Keenan tries to use examples from kids' everyday lives to show political processes are all around them.

He gives the example of a recent family car trip on the way to dinner, when the kids wanted to go to McDonald's, while mum and dad did not.

"From our kids' perspectives, our family is kind of a bicameral dictatorship where mom and dad get to make all the decisions," Keenan said. "But the fact that they're lobbying us, the fact that if we disregard their decisions they're going to engage in civil disobedience by screaming and refusing to eat, that means there's a decision-making process in place."

Keenan says that politics plays itself out in the daily lives of children in almost everything they do: their schools, parks, libraries, and even when they spend their allowances on taxable goods. That's why he thinks children, even those too young to vote, should get engaged, even if it's simply at the level of having conversations with people in their lives.

Building knowledge

The book explores some deep topics for a children's book. It goes into the differences between liberalism, progressivism, conservatism and libertarianism.

But Keenan hopes — and suspects — that this introductory book is something that kids can appreciate beyond the pictures.

"Kids are very smart, but they don't have a lot of knowledge. They don't have a base of information. You have to keep breaking it down and breaking it down," he said.

"That challenge made me realize that some of the concepts that I thought were important for kids to understand as part of the basics were ones that many of us don't ever really think through, even as adults."

Keenan said he didn't shy away from exploring the negative side of politics, but hopes the book's tone is ultimately optimistic.

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Get kids informed about politics to get them engaged: journalist


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