Millennials Will Stay Home and It’s Our Fault

Enough of Ryan for this morning. On to a different discussion of our challenges. John was elected Chair of  Keansburg Dems at age 18, making him the youngest municipal chair in NJ. He cross-posted this from Huffington Post at my request.

– promoted by Rosi

There has been an awful lot of conversation this election cycle about “the youth vote.” Traditional wisdom suggests that young people will head to the polls for President Obama, others suggest widening margins for Governor Romney. All of these questions miss the real problem at hand: what if young people just don’t show up? Even worse — what if it’s our fault?

Think about it — if you go to any local political organization they are struggling to get more young people engaged. Ask any elected official how many young people showed up to their last town hall — you’ll be shocked to hear how low the numbers are. Campaign after campaign lacks concentrated efforts to target young people on the same scale as ethnic or gender groups. This is a serious misstep for anyone looking to seriously organize young people and a massive threat to our democratic system.

A recent Gallup Poll suggested that only 58 percent of voters between the ages of 18-29 say they will “definitely vote.” This is a sharp downturn from the 2004 numbers where 81 percent of young Americans said they’d be pulling the November-lever. The youth vote is continuously described as flakey and at first glance these numbers might simply confirm these assumptions. It’s not that millennial generation is flakey; it’s that many of them are under-equipped to participate in the political process.

In these tough economic times civic education programs such as social studies, current event classes and mock-elections are some of the first things to be cut around budget season. Studies continue to show that these programs are being phased out at a rapid speed and that nothing is taking their place. While a few school districts can still afford to keep these programs running now more than ever we need to think about the school districts that have let them go.

The current political climate in the United States has a great divide between the privileged-engaged and the under-served disenfranchised. Put more simply: there is a clear difference in engagement between students who have schools that can afford or prioritize civic education opportunities and those that do not. Even worse, this means we are systematically alienating young people who live on the margins of society. Anyone who subscribes to the core principals of democracy should see this divide as an immediate warning signal of what is to come.

Who could benefit more from a well-represented society than the most vulnerable? Political involvement comes with certain benefits such as access to your representatives, an understanding of legislative proceedings, the ability to navigate the often cumbersome channels of bureaucracy and the simple knowledge of who to call when something is wrong. It’s no wonder that the economically-underprivileged show a continual distrust for the government: their problems aren’t being solved because they don’t know how to solve them.

In 2012 I’d suggest we take action and change the political rhetoric. Now more than ever we need to be asking serious questions of our candidates regarding service learning requirements and civic engagement services. We often fail to acknowledge that many of our national political problems could be resolved with investments in civic education. Special interests would have much less influence if we had a one-hundred percent voter turn-out. Washington would certainly be a more amicable place if people followed and kept track of those representing them. We have the opportunity to give a generation of leaders the skills they need to lead — the question is: will we do it?

Comments (7)

  1. Couch Potato Politics

    I would suggest that this is exactly according to plan.

    In all actions on the “Right” side of our political leadership, there has been a  structured effort to both disappoint and disenfranchise the youth vote, the black vote and the moderate vote by stalling progress, putting up voter supression laws and generally building a sense of apathy amongst the “non-traditional” voters who showed up enmass for President Obama in 2008.

    As we move into the fall, President Obama has to make college campuses and larger public venues his campaign stage and we have to provide the fuel to keep the fires stoked once his campaign bus rolls off to the next town.

    GOTV, education and coordinated voter registration rallies are our strongest tools and we need to wield them with the same, if not more, passion than we did in 2008.

    I’m on board! How about you guys?

  2. Hopeful

    I’m not involved in high schools, but civics seems to be required in New Jersey, and is supposed to be a part of all the social science classes.

  3. carolh

    I thought of when I read this.  The words to that Nirvana song.  In this era of instant gratification and entertainment 24/7, the wheels of government grind too slowly for kids to be excited about sitting in a boring council meeting for two seconds, let alone two hours.  What needs to motivate these kids is taking an interest in THEIR OWN future.  Occupy Wall Street engaged the ones that understand college is now becoming out of reach for most or a road straight to debt for others.  Young women are beginning to wake up and realize, we can go backwards. They should be told what a Republican government means for them. That should galvanize them to get involved. Most folks never get involved until they realize they already have skin in the game. The 60’s meant Vietnam and the threat of getting drafted was a big incentive for getting involved.  We need to figure out what it is that motivates this new generation to get involved, and that will be the key.  Classes are nice, but they don’t invoke passion to get involved until something directly affects a person – no matter what their age. For me- it was Howard Dean’s take on healthcare in Vermont.  Everyone has their own awakening story.  THAT is what motivates folks to get off the couch and care. And VOTE.

  4. ken bank

    Don’t blame “cuts” or lack of funds. It’s all about curriculum changes and a greater emphasis on “core” subjects like European and American history.

    When I grew up in the 1960s my Social Studies classes consisted of nothing but “civics”, current events, politics, mock conventions and mock elections. In fact, I didn’t learn American history until I got to tenth grade. 8th grade and ninth grade was all about civics and political education (or indoctrination if you take the right wing perspective that most social studies teachers are leftists and, I have to confess, my social studies teachers were inclined to the leftist persuasion).

    Today, it’s completely different. It isn’t a question about lack of money. In fact, my kids prob ably spend more time in social studies classes than I did when I went to school. The difference is what, not how much, they are being taught. In sixth grade they did nothing but learn about ancient Egypt, ancient China and ancient Greece. They spent more time learning about Greek foods (no mock elections, but they did have a Greek Food festival) than they did about current events and presidential elections.

    In 7th grade they learned American colonial and early 19th century history. They learned all about dead white males and what a wonderful job they did building the greatest country in the history of the planet. They spent more time learning what a great military commander George Washington was, and little if anything about what the greatest military machine in the world was doing to countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Eighth grade was all about 20th century American history, and my kids spent more time learning how George Patton could have won WWII single-handidly than they did about more recent events in political history. Of course, my sons social studies teacher was a retired state police captain, so you can bet that the subject of racial profiling never came up.

    Ironically, my kids science teachers were more concerned about current events in science than their social studies  teachers were concerned about current events in politics. They were required to do a weekly current event in science class, but there was no such requirement for social studies. It seems to me if science teachers can make time for current events in science, social studies teachers can devote the same time to current events in politics.

    The bottom line is that this issue has nothing to do with budget cuts. It’s all about social studies teachers having less flexibility and discretion than they used to have, and a stricter curriculum that puts more emphasis on teaching traditional history than current events and civics. Also, I believe that unlike my own social studies teachers in the 1960s, social studies teachers today are simply less interested, or perhaps more reticent, in discussing civics and current events. My teachers exhibited a real passion for their subject, whether it was history or modern current events. Today, I find social studies teachers are more likely to spend time coaching football or basketball than they are in engaging in politics and civic issues.

  5. Nowlan

    “I’m a high school history teacher.”

    Response:  “That’s great.  How’s the team looking this year?”

    [Okay, it’s a variation of the ancient “I’m an actor–which restaurant.”  Or “I’m working on my novel.  Response:  Neither am I.”]

    I’ve met very few noncoaching social studies teachers.  

    Coincidence or conspiracy?                          

    Are there any stats on this?  

    By hiring only coaches, districts can kill several birds with one football. At the very least the practice tends to keep those pesky rad/libs out of the classroom.  

    My apologies to the wonderful teacher /coaches out there.  (One must generalize at times.)


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