If you knew one candidate was a great juggler, but that his opponent could play a mean electric guitar, who would win your vote?
Those are the issues and assessments that can send one student rocketing to the office of elementary school student council president, while ending forever a competitor’s political aspirations.
As you’ll find out from reading our cover story this month, school politics really isn’t that much different from the professional kind: The candidates make lots of promises, and the voters decide whether they like what they hear.
And just like in real life, the promises can be – how can I say this gently – a little optimistic.
I’ve seen an elementary school auditorium erupt in a tumultuous standing ovation when a candidate solemnly pledges to cut down the amount of homework fellow students will be required to perform.
I’ve seen candidate after candidate pledge to extend daily recess so long that it would scarcely be necessary to bring books to school.
I’ve seen candidates promise to effectively require all lunchroom food to be deep-fried in sugar, to start the school day later and end it earlier, and to eliminate the uniform dress-code requirement – regardless of what the school board says.
Just like in real life, school-age candidates seem to start off with a script and the best intentions: What can we do to make school better, and how can we explain our plans to the voters?
And then the speeches are generally vetted by a teacher or administrator who presumably is less concerned with the achievability of the promises as opposed to making sure there are no references to mothers, Army boots, drug paraphernalia and alcoholic beverages.
But the excitement of the campaign and the rush of a frenzied crowd of peers can push an otherwise even-handed candidate over the top.
I recall watching an otherwise demur kid turn into a veritable Jesse Jackson Jr. during his speech, fist-pumping rhythmically along with his clarion-call for a soda on every lunch plate. And I recall an otherwise cheery young woman calmly approach the microphone, confidently look out into the audience, and then freeze – speechless – for what seemed like an eternity, before turning quietly around and returning quietly to her seat.
Sadly enough, not everyone emerges from a campaign as the winner.
At the end of the day, a school election mimics a real election in that it all comes down to the will of the voters. A candidate strong on the issues but short on promises can win, of course, but a candidate strong on juggling and quick with a joke is a virtual shoe-in.
So the next time you’re trying to predict the result of any election, student or professional, here’s the one tip I stand behind: The winning candidate will be the one strongest on the ice cream issue.