On November 7, 2020, CNN, the Associated Press, and several other news outlets all called the 2020 Presidential Election for Joe Biden. But, the people who voted for Joe Biden didn’t just vote for him. They also voted for Kamala Harris, the new Vice President-Elect of the United States of America.
By now, everyone knows that Harris will become the first female Vice President in American history, as well as the first Asian woman and Black woman to hold that office. For our kids, this matters perhaps more than it matters to us. If you have a baby or a toddler right now, once those children start learning about American history, they will learn there has been at least one woman to hold the office of the Vice President. For the purposes of kids learning about the true promise of equality and equal opportunity, this isn’t a small thing. Even if you voted for Trump (or Kanye West) the simple fact that America just elected its first woman to the second-highest office in the land is already changing the way our kids can think about opportunity and equity.
When parents were children, we were (mostly) all taught that the promise of America is that concept of equal opportunity for everybody. Growing up, many parents find that is barely true in practice, but we’ll be damned if we don’t repeat this hopeful, lofty concept to our children. Even as Black people are killed by police, even as economic inequality soars, and even as a President separates children from their families, parents and educators tend to make sure that young children are told that the principles of the United States are good, but please don’t look at the man behind — and in front of — the curtain.
Obviously, educating children about political issues is tricky. As children’s musician Raffi told me recently, you have to make sure what you’re talking to children about is “appropriate” for their age. An episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood tries to teach kids about voting with the song “Stop, Think and Choose.” Here at Fatherly, we published a list of picture books to help your kids learn about elections. And yet, savvy kids need some evidence. Picture books only go so far. An election diddy resulting in Daniel Tiger being bummed about not getting the playground stuff he voted for might not translate into actual elections. Kamala Harris isn’t a cartoon tiger or a character in a book. She’s a real person and kids are going to hear about her a lot.
Vice President Kamala Harris is proof that America can actually deliver on the promises of equality and equity. The election of former President Barack Obama was another one of these positive historic moments, and when our children’s children are taught the history of the early 21st century in school, there’s a good chance that look-on-the-bright-side educators will highlight these forward-thinking moments, and spend less time on the overwhelming unpleasant reality that makes up the majority of the political experience.
As a child, I certainly remembered more about Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation than I did about his debates with Stephen A. Douglas. For many families, the idea that we are becoming history is something we overlook, but, to be sure, in Lincoln’s time, there were plenty of people who weren’t crazy about his policies. It’s easy to look back with bafflement at the amorality of political history because, as young children, we’re often only told to think about the good stuff.
But, maybe for very young kids, that’s okay. Maybe children don’t need to be reminded that the election of Vice President Harris is shockingly late and long overdue. Maybe kids — at least grade school kids — shouldn’t be confronted with the bitter divide in our nation’s partisan politics. Maybe it’s okay for kids to have something nice and actually inspiring to think about.
In the days before the election was called for Biden-Harris, a video went viral of Kamala Harris telling her young niece — sitting on her lap— “you could be president.” Kamala Harris isn’t a theoretical symbol of hope anymore. When this video was recorded we were still thinking about the idea that Harris “could” be Vice President. But that is real now; she’s actually going to become the second-most powerful person in the country. And for those of us with little kids on our laps right now, kids who don’t look like the vast majority of the human beings who have been president so far, the future is already a tiny bit better.