Never Too Young

Every October, Americans become immersed in all things Halloween. We spend nearly $7 billion annually on what is, at best, parties and, at worst, occultic. Then a few days later we breeze right by a truly important date: Election Day. In many states, there's an election this coming Tuesday, November 4. And let me urge you, if you live in those states, to make a point to vote -- and to bring your kids to the polls with you. You'll be filling a big gap in their education. A new report found that young people ages 15 to 26 "don't understand the ideals of citizenship; they are disengaged from the political process; they lack the knowledge necessary for effective self-government; and they have limited appreciation of American democracy." The study shows that only 66 percent of this age group believe it is necessary to vote in order to be a good citizen, compared with 83 percent of Americans over age 26. But here's a telling example of the problem: Eighty percent of those under age 26 know who won the last American Idol competition on TV, but fewer than half know the party of their state's governor. We know that young people who have taken a civics course are two to three times more likely to vote, follow government news, and contact public officials about issues that concern them. Yet while thirty-nine states require a course in civics or government in order to graduate from high school, there's still a great deal of apathy among young people. A new publication from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation sheds some light. The collection of essays, titled Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong?, addresses the dumbing down of civics education. Today social studies theorists seek to make social activists, not informed citizens. In their minds, students don't need to know facts to "be effective change-agents; they're taught that facts are a matter of opinion," writes Brendan Miniter in the Wall Street Journal. And so today, young Americans, increasingly ignorant of their history and their government, are less engaged civically. Part of the solution, of course, is to teach students that there is truth, that facts have an objective basis and are not mere opinions. You can do that if you get the local paper this week, sit down with your children, and point out what issues are at stake in the news. Talk about those issues -- whether they be religious freedom in schools, abortion, or the war in Iraq -- and discuss where you stand. Then find out what the candidates are saying and decide together which ones are the best choices on the slate. A national survey released last year found that "whether or not parents discuss politics with their kids, take their kids with them to vote, and vote regularly is highly correlated with whether their kids engage in political life." If you don't engage them, somebody else will try to. This fall the ACLU conducted a campus tour across America to reach young voters. And it featured, among others, as speakers pornographer Larry Flynt. Students who aren't educated in civics are susceptible to distortions of the facts or the current wind or fad of opinion. We need to counteract that with our children, teaching them about objective truth and their duty as citizens. It's the only way we can ensure that truth remains at the center of the public square. For further reading: Project Vote Smart provides a wealth of information on candidates, issues, and much more. Just plug in your zip code or a candidate's last name, and you'll find just what you need. The mission of the Center for Civic Education is to promote an enlightened and responsible citizenry committed to democratic principles and actively engaged in the practice of democracy in the United States and other countries. "Civic Education Increases Young People's Interest in American Government, New Study Shows," National Conference of State Legislatures press release, 22 September 2003. Karl T. Kurtz, Alan Rosenthal, and Cliff Zukin, "Citizenship: A Challenge for All Generations," National Conference of State Legislatures, September 2003. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.) Brendan Miniter, "Why Doesn't Johnny Vote?Wall Street Journal, 29 September 2003. James Lemming, Lucien Ellington, and Kathleen Porter, Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong?, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 1 August 2003. Seth Stern, "How to get Gen Y to carry ACLU cards," Christian Science Monitor, 14 October 2003. "Short Term Impacts, Long Term Opportunities," Lake Snell Perry & Associates and the Tarrance Group, Inc., March 2002. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.) "Civics Lessons Beyond the Classroom," NPR, 7 January 2003. Catherina Hurlburt, "Fighting Apathy," BreakPoint WorldView, November 2002. BreakPoint Commentary No. 031022, "Doing Our Homework." Call 1-877-3-CALLBP for a copy of "God and Caesar: The Logic of Christian Political Responsibility." This booklet ($5) addresses the issues of Christian engagement in the political process, and the Christian stake in issues of public policy.


Chuck Colson


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