Are Real Kids into Real News?

When Time magazine chose Ben Bernanke as their Person of the Year, kids across America -- at least those not competing in "kid genius" reality shows -- might have wondered, "That’s not Ben 10 is it?" (For the record, Ben 10 is Ben Tennyson.)

Of course, it’s a stereotype that kids pay attention only to pop culture. Though they’re not watching C-SPAN in big numbers, many kids are actually interested in current events, so long as those events tie in with issues they care about. Not just celebrities and zoo babies, but war, charity, books, government, the environment, social equality, and justice. I know this because I used to produce news for kids and visited a fair number of classrooms to gauge their interest.

When I was a kid, CBS aired short current event briefs smack in the middle of the Saturday morning line-up. The series was called In the News, a simple one-topic report with a futuristic sound effect at the end. (I remember learning about the 1979 peace pact between Egypt and Israel this way). Unlike School House Rock, In the News was neither cutely animated nor explicitly pedagogical.

But rather than being bored by it, I was fascinated. It wasn’t just the subjects that intrigued me, but the idea that someone cared to explain what was going on in the world outside my own home without any condescension. It didn’t bother me to wait just a little longer for Shazam to come on (remember, this was before DVRs).

TIME For Kids (the classroom edition of TIME) has its own "Person of the Year" contest, in which the winner is decided by audience vote and announced in January. TFK editors chose the following finalists:

Barack Obama  
Bill & Melinda Gates  
Derek Jeter  
Jeff Kinney  
Michelle Obama  
Sonia Sotomayor  
Chesley B. Sullenberger
Taylor Swift  
The U.S. Armed Forces 

The list is diverse, to be sure, but it reflects the wide range of what contemporary kids are exposed to, and are honestly interested in. Sure, it may be a while before they can recognize the often balding men who run the Federal Reserve, but we’re doing kids a disservice if all we do is label them as either pop culture zombies or genius freaks.

See what your own kids really know about the world -- the answer may be news to you.

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