October 27, 2004

HOW TO CAMPAIGN IN WISCONSIN -- EXPLOIT SCHOOLKIDS? Slate takes a close look at campaigning in Wisconsin -- especially the way the Republican Party is organized throughout the rural counties and the way the get-out-the-vote effort for Kerry is dominated by independent groups. Don't I know! Every day I get at least one phone call trying not just to get me to vote but also to get me to join the get-out-the-vote effort. This morning I heard a story on Wisconsin Public Radio about how schoolkids in Milwaukee have been assigned get-out-the-vote work. (The story isn't up on the WPR website yet, but it will at some point be here.) The Milwaukee Journal is also covering the story. Here's an excerpt:

Hundreds of public schoolchildren, some as young as 11, are taking time out of regular classes to canvass neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Madison and Racine in a get-out-the-vote effort organized by Wisconsin Citizen Action Fund - a group whose umbrella organization has endorsed John Kerry for president.

The coalition says the effort is non-partisan, but because the group is targeting minority neighborhoods and those with historically low voter turnout - overwhelmingly Democratic areas - Republican operatives are crying foul amid the highly charged political atmosphere in the state.

Kerry and George Bush are virtually tied in recent polls; in 2000, the state's 10 electoral votes went to the Democrats by 5,708 votes - a margin of two-tenths of one percent of all votes cast.

"They are exploiting schoolchildren on the taxpayers' dime to conduct what is clearly a Democratic, partisan get-out-the-vote effort," said Chris Lato, communications director for the Republican Party of Wisconsin. "To spend this time on a clearly partisan effort when these kids should be in school learning is shocking. It's a disgraceful use of taxpayer money."

MPS spokeswoman Roseann St. Aubin said the school administration approves of the program as long as children or teachers are not conducting partisan politics on school time and that the curriculum meets the state standards for teaching. The program involves 33 schools in Milwaukee, three high schools in Madison and one high school in Racine.

I firmly believe that once the state compels young people to attend school, deprives them of their freedom, it owes the highest duty to them to use their time only in ways that benefit them. To see them as a source of free labor or to exploit them for any purpose that is not itself a good reason for depriving the young of their freedom is a great wrong.

The various people who promoted and approved of the idea are going with the theory that it is a great "civics lesson." Well, maybe part of that civics lesson will be kids talking to each other about why the teachers are making them do this, why it's supposed to be more important than those classroom exercises that the teachers normally think are so worthwhile, whether they are being exploited, and whether the effort is really partisan politics. And why shouldn't they think such things? They are teenagers, primed to question and rebel against authority. I hope it is a valuable civics lesson that takes on a life of its own in the students' minds. (Maybe some of them will email me -- use my last name followed by -- and give me some inside information.)

UPDATE: An emailer notes the resonance between the program described above and Kerry's own plan "requiring mandatory [community] service for high school students." The link is to the Official Kerry-Edwards Blog, which has two links that purport to take you to more information but are, in fact, dead ends. (I note, schoolmarmishly, that "requiring mandatory" is a redundancy. Stay in school and learn some grammar, kids!) Isn't it interesting that Kerry is the one who tries to scare young people into voting for him by falsely asserting that Bush is inclined to bring back the draft, when he is the one who with a plan -- "part of his 100 day plan to change America" -- to compel young people into service? Well, I guess if you're old enough to vote, you're old enough to escape the compulsion.

UPDATED to correct the name of the newspaper. It's the Milwaukee Journal, not the Milwaukee State Journal. Milwaukee, I note, is not a state.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Swimming Through the Spin, which blogged the service proposal a few weeks ago, notes that the material the Kerry site seems to have pulled is preserved here:

High School Service Requirement

As President, John Kerry will ensure that every high school student in America performs community service as a requirement for graduation. This service will be a rite of passage for our nationís youth and will help foster a lifetime of service. States would design service programs that meet their community and educational needs.

The regular Kerry site now has its service proposal here, but it no longer includes mandatory service for high schoolers.

Let me add a lawproffy note: an attempt by the federal government to force states to design and impose these service programs would violate the federalism principle announced by the Supreme Court in Printz v. United States. But maybe Kerry can restock the Supreme Court with new Justices who will do away with all those terrible federalism cases.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader sends this link to Little Green Footballs.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Joanne Jacobs agrees with me that the students are being misused.