While adults are getting geared up for the election and heading off to polling stations (I hope) to exercise their constitutional right, I decided to dedicate my Library Lunchtime session today to the importance of voting with some children from Year 2. I grabbed a potted biography of Emmeline Pankhurst and sat them down to listen and debate.
The biography was specially written for their age group and had authentic photographs from last century. One they particularly wanted to see was Mrs Pankhurst being carried away by a policeman after protesting outside of Buckingham Palace. The book explained what the suffragette movement was and how she started it.
Her life story inspired the children to think about what it would be like to live in a society where not everyone has the right to vote but it had a few tricky moments – particularly when relating the violent methods the suffragettes used to put their view across – smashing windows with hammers, etc. The children ooohed and ahhhed about this, with mischief sparkling in their eyes and I felt a moment of conflict – I totally owe my right to vote to these brave and unstoppable women but I also had to remind the children that we can’t solve problems with violence, or else they’d go and clobber one another on the playground. Hmmmm…
We also looked at the punishments inflicted on these women for trying to stand up for their rights, including imprisonment. When I revealed that the women went on hunger strike to protest, the children were astounded by this (having just had lunch). When I then said that an act was passed releasing starving women home until they had gained their strength and then imprisoning them again once they were stronger (the suffragettes called this the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’), this caused more bafflement. I asked them to guess how many times Ms Pankhurst was released and re-imprisoned. “One thousand!” yelled one child and I had to disappoint them by saying “Eight”. I thought this was quite enough but … you know … kids.
The children had a basic knowledge of the suffragettes and were quite interested to hear more about them. When I revealed that Emily Davison had died on this day in 1913 after being knocked down by the King’s horse, they were amazed by the coincidence in date.
This then went rather off-topic, as is typical of discussions with young children. When they heard that Ms Davison had died, they started telling me about all their relatives who had died, and then asking each other what the cause of death was, and then talking about attending (or not) the parades (funerals) of family members. Apparently having white hair can be a cause of death – I did not previously know this.
Anyway, I then asked who they would vote for if they could today. A couple of girls shouted “Jeremy Corbyn!”, having heard his name a lot at home. The majority of children didn’t really know the electoral options, so I widened the scope. If they could pick anyone – real or imaginary – to lead the country, who would they choose?
One girl picked herself – “Because I like me!”
Another picked Jesus – “Because he was a very nice man”
And another picked Winnie the Pooh – “I like him!”
I think that’s a pretty good field, actually.
Which fictitious character would you vote for?