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How We Should Be Educating Youth on Politics

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Last updated on October 23, 2022

In the twenty-first century, as America’s youth are bombarded by more and more forms of media in their daily lives, they absorb articles, posts, videos, and memes on political subjects without a second thought. In one study, the BBC claims twenty nine percent of teenagers get their news from instagram, with “TikTok and YouTube close behind” (BBC). Although these platforms have no unique inherent flaws, the fact remains that the news teenagers read is unregulated, factually unreviewed, and in many cases, inaccurate.

It is not realistic to endeavor to force our youth to receive their news from reputable sources, to filter their feeds, and censor their intake in a non partisan manner. Media itself is rarely free of any bias, especially in the bipolar political reality present in the America of today. The least America can do, however, is to venture to teach its children some basic political realities, a semblance of an understanding of current events, and in the process further their education in countless ways.

Political courses at the secondary school level are in no way unique or unfounded, untried concepts- they are present in many countries around the world. In America, however, they are conspicuously absent. That is not to say the American youth is learning nothing of politics- there are English teachers holding political discussions and history teachers drawing parallels to present day politics. The lack of concrete, well-researched classes taught by qualified instructors, however, is ironic considering America’s ideals. Democracy, after all, relies on a well educated voting class which makes decisions for the republic- Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence: “Governments… deriv[e] just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” Should consent not, however, be informed? The very same advocates of American exceptionalism, who claim our democracy is healthier than any other, contradict their own beliefs by turning around and denying American youth the opportunity to educate themselves on their system and country.

Some would have the American public at large remains Hobbesian- “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish” as Hobbes wrote in Leviathan nearly four hundred years ago (Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes). Hobbesian humans, however, are not a group capable of forming government. Hobbes justified absolutist government—something Americans categorically reject—through his low opinion of humans, claiming that if humans could function in a democratic government without a monarch, there would be no need for government at all. This argument, however, only holds a pretense of weight if one accepts the underlying assumption that humans are indeed solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish. If democratic government is to rely on citizens, subjugated under the social contract as laid out by Locke and Rousseau, then a predominant goal of the government must be the education of the youth, so they do not become Hobbesian. Aristotle, almost two thousand years before Locke, Hobbes, or Rousseau, agreed, writing “The legislator should direct his attention above all to the education of youth; for the neglect of education does harm to the constitution. The citizen should be moulded to suit the form of government under which he lives” (Politics, Aristotle, Book VII).

Philosophical arguments aside, common sense dictates similar reasoning. American government, at the very least in theory, relies on the consent of the governed to function. The governed, therefore, must be able to make appropriate choices in their consent (voting) for elected representatives. Yet education systems, even in the most liberal of states, refuse to implement classes that would educate their students in a manner allowing them to vote in the future. This presents a clear dilemma—the governed, who consent to governance, are incapable of making informed decisions when they are not informed. Regardless of one’s politics, it is clear that America is no longer the dominant country some may remember through rose-tinted glasses, ranking twenty fifth in economic freedom, thirtieth in mathematics education, and forty-fifth in life expectancy. One could easily draw a parallel between America’s lack of education and failure on the global stage.

Implementing bias-free political education, as some rightfully point out, is a challenging task. It is not, however, an impossible one. The goal of an educator should be delivering facts to their students, without injection of any personal belief or support of one concept over another. While this task may become harder with political matters, it still remains possible. What is clear, however, is that it is not only possible, but imperative for the future of American democracy.

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