The documentary was called “Vote for me!” and was part of SBS’s week examining democracy, which they have called “Why Democracy?”.
And what did we see in this documentary? (If you watched the show, please comment; I hate talking to myself!) We saw Chinese children exploiting the weaknesses of the other candidates. We saw them canvassing their classmates for votes, and offering positions in exchange for votes (for example, ‘Deputy Monitor’ – clever!).
We saw parents writing speeches for their children and suggesting tactics for them to use – “Did he say he’d vote for you? Well, ask him in the debate who he is going to vote for, and if he says you, you can say he isn’t confident because he isn’t even going to vote for himself, and if he says himself, you can say that he is a liar because he told you that he’d vote for you.” We saw parents manipulating their children – “You can’t give up! You said you wanted to be President, and now you want to give up in the class monitor elections?!”
These children were eight and learning about democracy in a Chinese primary school. As I sat their, somewhat appalled, I couldn’t help but think how amazingly accurate this performance of democracy was. (Side Note: Australian election just 6? weeks away.)
So what is democracy? In my opinion, it’s about having a rigorous debate and then having an election where everyone gets an equal vote. We have this lovely, righteous view of democracy but it really isn’t all that pretty when you really step back and examine it.
In this election for classroom monitor, the kid with the rich parents ultimately won the race. Maybe he won because he exposed his friend as a decent, selfless liar or that he already had two years experience as prefect, or maybe it was the last minute sweetener!
Final thought on the documentary: my three arguments:
- Democracy in Australia can be improved. Especially the donations to political parties which limit the ability for small parties to participate, and the outrageous spending on advertising.
- If this is what children and teachers in China think that democracy is about – debates and name calling and conspiracy and strategy – maybe we need to work on that! Although I accept that these elements are present, democracy is really about the public debate (and the openness of that debate), that anyone can lead the country and that we all have an equal vote. On a side note, maybe my/our perception of socialism or utilitarianism is also somewhat un-reflective of the principles of those ideologies.
- On a less serious level, maybe children shouldn’t be exposed to the nitty-gritty of democracy! Note to teachers: concentrate on the equal voting and positive campaigning (we want to know why you would be great at the job!).