Monday, December 21, 2015

The next generation of American citizens

A while ago, just before Election Day, I asked the students in my college level political philosophy class whether they were going to vote the next day. Out of a class of 30 maybe three or four thought they might go and vote. Some of the others said that they lived far away, or they had just reached voting age and had not registered yet. But by far most of the students said that they did not really know anything about politics and therefore felt unable to participate in the election.

When asked whether they had had civics classes in high school, all of them, without exception, said their high school had not offered any classes explaining our political system and how it works.

This is a familiar fact. Anyone who is at all interested in the lack of political participation of today's youth knows that they have never been taught how our system works or what its history is. They have been told that ours is a free country but no one explained to them that a country where more than half the population is disengaged from political processes cannot really claim to be free anymore.

There are plenty of people with Internet websites who are trying to restore civic education to our schools. But to judge by the small sample of students I talked to about this, these efforts have not been successful--at least not locally.

A frequent explanation of this state of affairs is that in the early years of the century it became clear that our children are not nearly as proficient in their native language and in mathematics and science as children in European countries. Our government therefore began a mighty push to improve language and science education in the form of the "No Child Left Behind" Act. Language and science where on the top of the agenda. The President, Congress and leaders in education simply forgot about civic education.
I suspect that that is a misrepresentation. We are told almost daily that the goal of primary and secondary education in our country is to provide needed workers for American businesses. Hence we need people who are literate and who can do the required arithmetic and simple math called for in a lot of jobs.

Being politically savvy is not necessary for being a good worker. On the contrary citizens who are innocent of knowledge about our political system, how it works, who is powerful, how they get to be powerful, what the role of common people is in our political system, will be much more pliable, more easily befuddled by propaganda about American freedom which we must defend in the hot deserts of Iraq or the craggy mountains of Afghanistan. People with even a modicum of political education would not be taken in by such mendacious propaganda.

If our young people were politically knowledgeable, who would volunteer to fight our wars for oil and domination?

If our young people were politically knowledgeable, they would understand that going and voting is only a small part of their political obligation. They would know to put energy into their unions so that they would make great efforts to defend workers instead of providing cushy jobs for union bureaucrats. They would know that they needed to demonstrate and join together in order to be heard over the loud noise made by billionaires.

That would not be in the billionaires, or even the millionaires interest. Perhaps we no longer have civics classes and our schools because billionaires and millionaires have bought out American democracy and using it for their own purposes. From their vantage point, schools are there to produce a future workforce, not to produce active citizens. Those just get in the way of making our government serve business interests.