My tween returned home from another eventful day at fifth grade, and in addition to discussing how the spelling test went and which boys were kicking each other under the table, she had some questions about the upcoming election. She then busted out with, "So Mitt Romney's son owns all the voting machines and he's going to rig them and cheat to win."
After some questioning, my tween said she heard this from a classmate. While I'm pleased that the fifth grader are discussing the election, I have to admit to feeling a little disappointed that my tween was willing to buy into this so quickly and so completely. We've talked a lot about the election and I've tried hard to give her the chance to make up her own mind and not force my views down her throat, but perhaps I'd given her a bit too much space? I clearly hadn't done an adequate job in several respects, and so I jumped on this opportunity to talk about determining what is a valid sources and not believing everything she hears/reads. I don't want her to always be skeptical, but I don't want her to be gullible, either. Along those same lines, we talked about bias, and what that means in the media as well as for individuals and for tweens.
Although her initial response was to believe her friend, I told my tween that she needed to learn to find the truth herself. FactCheck.org says that "There’s no evidence of that. A spokesman for Tagg Romney’s private equity firm states that it has no stake in Hart InterCivic, a supplier of voting machines in two of Ohio’s 88 counties." The site went on to explain that "[i]t’s true that the voting machine supplier is controlled by an investment firm whose executives are some of the biggest donors to the Romney campaign, and it’s also true that Tagg Romney has done business with that investment firm. However, Hart InterCivic supplies electronic voting machines in just two of Ohio’s 88 counties, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. After a chat about how very wrong the internet can sometimes be, we checked out the About Us section of the FactCheck.org website and did outside research on the site to decide if it was trustworthy, and about the Plain Dealer.
So, that's one source, but is that source reliable? I may be a little too into research, or a little crazy, but I wanted her to find another source to verify those two. NPR had an article appropriately entitled "No, Romney's Son Is Not Gunning To Steal Ohio Vote By Rigging Voting Machines" that explained how the voting works in those 2 counties that use the voting machines, how the rumor seems to only apply to Ohio and not Virginia, which uses the same machines. My tween wasn't around for hanging chads and all that fun, so we talked about the logistics of how voting works, how absentee ballots work, and all the logistics of physically making your choices.
In addition to a lesson about being an informed voter, this was also a teaching moment about word of mouth and how tween friends are not always right, be it about Romneys or 5th grade gossip or anything in between.
We didn't talk about the candidates or the issues. I've tried to give her space to make up her own mind, and did not mention my opinions at all during our fact checking fun. A couple eye rolls on her part made it clear that we may have different ideas of fun, but even if she doesn't see it as fun, I do see doing your research and thinking for yourself (or at least not believing what any Joe Shmoe tells you) as an obligation of democracy and one that I plan to continue teaching her.
My tween decided that these sources were a more reliable source than her friend. Victory!
I hope that she learned that it is important to verify. She may not have enjoyed this exercise, but I'm hoping it sticks with her and that when she's able to vote for President in 8 years (eek!) she will do her homework and so that she can be independent and intelligent when deciding how to cast her vote.