This morning my daughter ranted with the sort of indignation only a fifteen-year-old can muster. The target of her disgust? People who do not seize the opportunity to vote. While I share her thoughts, I also asked if she would want uninformed people voting. Naturally, that made her question why anyone would remain that way given the privilege we have to live in a place with such a system.
As I drove to my polling place early so I would be towards the front of the line, I made a mental note to look up how many people have voted in the last few presidential elections. But the radio hosts did my work for me and announced that in the last four elections, the average turnout was around 55% of all age-eligible citizens. Higher than expected, but still disappointing. The natural question arises: Why?
Many reasons exist. One host said he doesn’t vote because in Texas the result is so clear that his vote doesn’t matter, citing the electoral college system. Others feel one vote does not really make a difference. Many have grown cynical about politics and government in general; like me, you probably heard people darkly joke that one good thing about Superstorm Sandy was the break from political campaigning. Some are simply apathetic. The natural question remains hanging: Why?
I consider this an educational failure—not one of curriculum or pedagogy, but one of mission and philosophy. If a school has not prepared its students to engage fully in their role as citizens, that is a failure. In fact, I would argue that wise voting captures many of the fundamental skills schools should be developing, particularly in this modern era. A student must learn to slog through tons of information, much of it conflicting and even false; discern a reasoned conclusion; and then perform a relevant act with a real world connection.
While I have felt to some degree all the reasons not to vote cited two paragraphs above, they don’t hold much weight for me. My belief is someone has no right to complain unless he or she helps to find a solution. I also see deciding not to vote as an act of ingratitude, even entitlement, that disrespects all those who have made doing so possible, from the Founding Fathers on up.
At least people feel they should vote. On Jimmy Kimmel’s show yesterday (when no polls were open) he sent a crew out on Hollywood Boulevard to ask people if they had voted that day. Everyone said either they had or they were on their way. And I just saw that #ivoted is the top trending hashtag on Twitter today. Both are scant consolation.
Ultimately, in the partnership between school and family, a primary goal—perhaps the primary goal—must be helping young people become the type of adults we need to improve the world. And as I once saw on a plaque, “It’s easier to build kids the right way than it is to repair adults.”
I’m proud that my daughter cares so passionately about this topic. She keeps herself quite informed on the issues, and she can cite factual evidence to support her opinions. From the time our children were young, her mother and I have engaged them in political discussions. I’m grateful they have teachers who take time from the regular curriculum to study the election and that their school encourages active engagement in the larger world. It’s why studies show independent school graduates are twice more likely than students from other schools to become involved in political and civic causes. These strike me as strong markers of success.
I hope my daughter has a chance to vote before she departs for college. I can imagine the glow of her smile.