On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes D.C.P.S. government and history teacher Erve Pyram to the show on Monday, November 2 at 12:30. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
How can someone get more votes than her opponent but still lose the presidential election? Why is it so hard for D.C. to become a state? How come people in jail can vote in some places but not in others?
American elections and government can be confusing!
But it’s important to understand how we elect our leaders, and how they can be held accountable. From the president to the town clerk, they make decisions that affect nearly every aspect of our lives.
As we approach an election that most voters consider one of the most important — if not the most important — of their lives, we welcome D.C.P.S. government and history teacher Erve Pyram to Kojo For Kids. He’ll help us understand how American democracy works, and why it sometimes doesn’t.
We also welcome the students of our school of the week, D.C.’s Columbia Heights Education Campus, where Mr. Pyram drops knowledge every day.
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Erve Pyram Government and History Teacher, Columbia Heights Education Campus, DCPS; @dcpublicschools
KOJO NNAMDIYeah, that's the song played at the inauguration ceremony of President of the United States, and sometimes at public events. We don't know yet who it will be played for in the coming four years, but we will sometime after tomorrow, which is, of course, Election Day. Election Day falls on the first Tuesday in November, but many Americans are calling this election one of the most important, if not the most important, in recent history.
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome the Kojo for Kids, the Election Show, where we'll aim to get a better understanding of this very messy thing called American democracy. Luckily, we found a good guide to help us figure out how Americans vote and how our government works. Erve Pyram teaches government and history at the Columbia Heights Education Campus in D.C., which is also our school of the week. We'll be taking questions from students at that school, but we also want to hear your questions about voting, elections and American government. Adults are welcome to listen, but on Kojo for Kids, it's kid callers only. Erve Pyram, thank you for joining us.
ERVE PYRAMYou're welcome, Kojo. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIErve, we'd like to get to the election in a minute, but first, let's learn a bit about you. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what did you like to do as a kid?
PYRAMActually, I was born in a rural city in Haiti called Pilate, and I came to Miami, Florida when I was 10 years of age. That's where I went to middle and high school, and then went to Florida International University.
NNAMDIWow. I've been to Haiti, but not to that place where you grew up.
PYRAMIt's a beautiful place.
NNAMDIDo you get back often?
PYRAMYeah. I was just there in January. Unfortunately, it was for my grandmother's funeral, but, yes, I've been there.
NNAMDIWere you interested in government and politics when you were young? Were civics and government classes among your favorites?
PYRAMHistory is really my passion, so that was my favorite class in middle school. I remember, in primary school, learning stories about the Haitian revolutionaries like Toussaint and Dessalines. And that was my first interest in what intrigued me about history. And it just so happens government kind of goes hand in hand with that history.
NNAMDIGot to tell you, when I was growing up in Guyana, all we learned in that British colony at the time was British history, until a history teacher introduced me to Toussaint Louverture. And that changed my perspective on life completely ever since. So, I do understand what you're talking about. (laugh) Tell us a little bit about the D.C. school where you work, the Columbia Heights Education Campus, and what classes do you teach there?
PYRAMAbsolutely. So, the school I work at, it's Columbia Heights Education Campus, CHEC. Like you said, it's in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. It's, I believe, the best school in the District. It's diverse. It's diverse in terms of staff, as well as students. Our principal, Maria Tukeva, she, I believe, is the best in the district in terms of her empathy, passion for students. And she recruits and promotes that in her teachers, as well as the kind of education she fosters.
NNAMDIAs a matter of fact, before the pandemic, we did our last Kojo in Your Community live in D.C. at that campus, the Columbia Heights Education Campus. But I'd like to hear from you, 800-433-8850. What are your questions about voting and elections? If you're a kid, you can call. Even though you may be too young to vote, are you politically active in other ways? 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Erve, let's talk about this election. All elections are important, but why are Americans and people around the world watching this one so closely?
PYRAMSo, as kids may not know -- but you and I can remember, Kojo -- pretty much every election, you hear a sentiment that this is the most important election ever. I would say that this election does have a striking component in terms of the polar opposite nature of the two camps. So, take it from the president, to the Senate, they do have polar opposite philosophies which are in the extreme end of polarization. So, that makes it the most important election, because the decision of voters will determine which side of the pole get to make the decisions for the country for the next two to four years.
NNAMDIWell, Erve, four years ago, Hillary Clinton got nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump, across the country -- what's known as the popular vote -- but Trump still won the election. Why is that?
PYRAMThat's just a product of the Electoral College system. So, the way the Electoral College works, it’s not really a college. What it does is assign a number of points to each state based on the fact that you have two senators and based on how many representatives you have, depending on your population. So, it's a winner-take-all system, for most states.
PYRAMSo, what can happen, let's say in a state like Virginia that has 13 Electoral College votes, if one candidate, let's say Trump and Biden, they're mostly a tie -- Virginia, right now I believe, has about six million eligible voters. But let's say there's a tie, and one candidate wins that by just a handful of votes. What will happen is it's a winner-take-all system. The candidate who won by just a handful, they would get to carry those 13 electoral points.
PYRAMConversely, in a state where one candidate may win pretty much all the voters there, they still can only get those electoral points. So, the number of people that voted doesn't necessarily matter in terms of carrying those electoral points. It's just a winner-take-all system. So, what happened in 2016 is that Mrs. Clinton, in the states that she won -- like California, like New York -- she really won big. But Mr. Trump won the Electoral College votes. He got to the 270 first, and that's what really matters.
NNAMDICould this happen again, as it happened before? And has it happened before where the person who gets the most votes does not get to be president?
PYRAMYes, that has happened before. In fact, that happened in the first election that I ever voted, the election of 2000, which was the election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. And, yes, it can happen again, because we have the Electoral College system. So, the person who ends up losing the Electoral College could've really had more people vote for them because they won the vote really big in the places that they won. But, again, what matters is that Electoral College count.
NNAMDIAs a matter of fact, you voted in 2000 in Miami, which was the center of that controversy, wasn't it? (laugh)
PYRAM(laugh) Absolutely. Hanging chads.
NNAMDIHanging chads. Here now is nine-year-old Alexander in Virginia. Alexander, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALEXANDERHey, why was Election Day picked to be on November 3rd?
PYRAMThat's actually a great question, Alexander. It goes back to the founding of the country, when they finished -- in the summer, they finished enacting the Constitution. They picked November because, I believe, it was more practical at that time. And the particular time also had to do with buggies. So, certain days weren't very practical, because Wednesday was the day that they brought provisions to market. And Sundays, that’s the Sabbath, when people went to church. So, the buggies wouldn't be available for Monday.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Alexander. Erve, some people want to get rid of the Electoral College. Can the system be changed, and what would the presidential election look like without the Electoral College?
PYRAMWell, can the system be changed? Absolutely. It would take Congress to change it, right. So, it would have to go through the legislative process in the form of a Constitutional amendment. In terms of what it would look like, what it would look like is the person who wins all the votes, they would win. So, it doesn't matter where they got the votes from in the country. It's whoever would win the majority, they would become the next president.
NNAMDIAnd what would it take to change that? What would it take to have that system in place?
PYRAMWell, it would take two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate to pass an amendment, and then ratified by the states.
NNAMDI800-433--8850. If you're a kid, give us a call. Do you know how voting and the Electoral College work? 800-433-8850. And 12-year-old Riley has a question that is really relevant to a lot of young people in D.C. Riley, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RILEYOkay. My question was: Why do some people choose not to vote?
PYRAMThat's a great question, Riley. I think that some people are essentially making a conscious decision when they don't vote, because they don't feel the candidates suit their particular ideology. But most people do not vote because of something called political efficacy, which basically means they don't see the value in terms of government impacting their lives.
PYRAMSo, there's data on this that social scientists use that younger people tend to vote less than older people, and in terms of demographic data, in terms of how much money people make, as well, which determines whether or not they're passionate about voting.
NNAMDIAnd I guess one of the fundamental questions is: How will voting affect my life? Here is 16-year-old George in Maryland. George, it's your turn. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GEORGEHi. This election is, like, very controversial, and many people are being dramatic about it. And I was just wondering, like, will this election really impact our lives greatly, or will it just -- like, I know we're in a pandemic now, but other than that, will it be impacted whether President Donald Trump is elected or if Vice President Joe Biden is elected?
PYRAMWell, yes. That's a great question, as well. In terms of the ideology of those two camps in the actions, the decisions the government makes. So, will your life be impacted by their decisions? Sure. So, if you were to go on the Republican platform and go on the Democratic platform, which one of these ideologies do you prefer? Will they impact your life directly with some of their decisions? Absolutely.
NNAMDIHow would it impact his life?
PYRAMWell, the decisions they make in terms of, for example, healthcare, the decision they make in terms of public policy. For example, their differences with COVID, what to do about, which approach. Will that impact your life? One way or another, depending on which candidate you choose, absolutely.
NNAMDIAnd I was about to ask you this question, but I think 10-year-old Sutton in Washington, D.C. beat me to it, so I'll go to Sutton first. Sutton, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUTTONWhat's the difference between the Democrat and Republic Party?
PYRAMThe difference between them have changed overtime, Sutton, but the short answer is ideology, what they believe in terms of what the role of government should be. So, that's the clear difference. The Democrats believe the government should do more things in terms of things like social welfare. The Republicans tend to believe in things like less taxes, which they believe stimulate business. There's more contrasts that we can go over, but it really bows down to their philosophy on the role of government. Less government, or a little bit more government when appropriate.
NNAMDIIf you're a kid, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Are you following the presidential race? How about other political races this year? Are you following those? Give us a call: 800-433-8850. Erve, tomorrow's election is between two candidates, Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump. How come, a kid would ask, it's always a Republican versus a Democrat? Aren't there other parties?
PYRAMAbsolutely, there are other parties. In fact, I just did early voting in Maryland on Friday and there were other candidates other than Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden. So, the other candidates belong to third parties. And political parties are really a private club people choose to be. It just so happens, since the Civil War, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have had more membership, therefore more support, more resources, so they're able to promote their candidates more.
NNAMDIYes. Over the years there have been other parties, the Progressive Party, the Green Party and others. Here is 12-year-old Amaya in Virginia. Amaya, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AMAYAWhy was the Electoral College created?
PYRAMThe Electoral College was created because the founding fathers did not -- or the founders, the framers as some people refer to them -- did not have a true belief in the wisdom of the average person. So, what they wanted to do was to kind of put a barrier between the common person voting and the actual voting for the president. So, when you vote, you're not voting for, let's say, Joe Biden or President Trump. You're voting for someone in your particular state who will cast the vote amid -- an elector who will cast the vote in mid-December for the president. Presumably, that person will choose whoever won in that particular state.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Amaya. Erve, even though young people can start voting when they turn 18, less than half of young voters went to the poles in the last presidential election. Why do younger voters so often sit elections out?
PYRAMPart of it is buy-in, Kojo. Another part of it is older people tend to have more experience and tend to have more at stake in the game. So, as for me, when I was 18, 19, 20 years old, I didn't really think much about -- especially the kind of politics that impacts us the most, which is our local government. I didn't really think about it because I didn't pay property taxes and things of that sort. But as I got older and thought about those things impacted me directly, I became more involved in politics. So, what usually happens is usually a trend. As you get older, you would become more involved in politics. And older people tend to vote at a much higher rate than younger people.
NNAMDISo, what would you say to younger people who share that view? What would you say to them to motivate them to vote?
PYRAMWhat I would say to them is that, well, elections do matter, and it does impact your life, from everything from college to tax rates to war. So, you do want to think about the -- not voting is, in a way, making a decision on who the leaders of the country are. Because if you don't vote, what it can do is allow someone you totally disagree with to get into office to make decisions that impact your life, like going to work.
NNAMDIWell, here is seven-year-old June with a question to test your historical knowledge. June, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, June. Hi, June. Are you there?
JUNEOh, yeah. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIWe can, indeed.
NNAMDIYes, we hear you, June.
JUNEOh, okay. Do you want to hear my question?
JUNEOkay. Who were the first candidates to debate each other?
NNAMDIWho were the first candidates to debate each other, Erve?
PYRAMI know of a famous debate, the Lincoln-Douglas debate, but in terms of who was the first candidate, I don't know that fact, June. Can you tell me?
JUNEWait, what? I can't (unintelligible).
NNAMDISay that again, June?
JUNEI said I can't really hear you.
NNAMDIOh, you can't say who were the first candidates to debate? Of course, the Kennedy-Nixon debates were the debate that essentially made debates famous. Isn't that right, Erve?
PYRAMIn terms of television, yes.
NNAMDIYeah, yeah, that's true. That's true. Thank you very much for your call. Here now is 12-year-old Brielle, in Maryland. Brielle, it's your turn. You're on the air.
BRIELLEHi. I was going to ask, what is socialism?
NNAMDII think I'll let Erve field that. (laugh)
PYRAMSure. Absolutely. Socialism is a government ideology, right. It's a belief in what the role of government should be. So, an aspect of socialism could be more government support for things like public education, college, housing assistance. But socialism is also people -- one of the aspects of it that people don't like is that you have to pay for those things, right. So, it may come with higher taxes and things of that sort. But it's one philosophy about the role the government should play in our lives.
NNAMDIExactly right. Here now is nine-year-old Naji in Washington, D.C. Naji, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NAJIOh, hi. My question is: Do you think black lives will be treated better with Biden if he gets chosen?
PYRAMThat's a great question. (laugh) And the truth is that's a hard question for me to answer. So, well, we would hope, in terms when we compare the platforms of the two leaders, I think that those people who are in favor of black lives matter tend to support the Biden and Harris camp more than they do the Trump administration.
NNAMDIErve, though the national voting age is 18, some people think it should be younger. What's that about?
PYRAMWell, the voting age is a product of the 26th Amendment, which what happened was people in -- kids protesting the war in Vietnam, calling out the hypocrisy of kids going to war and not being able to vote got Congress to pass an amendment to make the national voting age 18. So, people who want to make the voting age 18, there's a rationale for it, that kids 16 and up are reasonable enough in terms of responsible enough to make decisions with voting. I've heard counterarguments that kids would just be influenced by their parents, but there’s arguments on both sides in terms of lowering the voting age to 18.
NNAMDIThere certainly is. And Erve Pyram is an AP government and history teacher at Columbia Heights Educational Campus, a D.C. public school. Erve, thank you so much for joining us.
PYRAMThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIKojo for Kids, the election edition, was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our conversation about celebrating Dia De Los Muertos in the age of COVID was produced by Ines Renique and Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow, on Election Day, we take a look at voter turnout and what's happening at the polls. Then we take a pause from election coverage to talk about how we can help neighbors struggling with food insecurity and other burdens during the pandemic as we approach the winter months and the holidays. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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