The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Growing up, as many kids often do, I believed almost anything my parents told me. I believed that if I swallowed a watermelon seed, a watermelon would grow in my stomach. And yes, I believed that if I made a face for too long, it would freeze that way. I believed everything that I was told not only because I trusted my parents entirely, but also because they were the only people outside of school who taught me about life and values. As a child, knowing little about the world beyond my home and my school, I had no reason to question anything that I was taught since I did not have the chance to learn about many other perspectives. School shied away from heavy topics and did not bother to teach kids about issues in the “grown-up world”. Therefore, I became almost exactly like my parents and followed everything they stood for.
Enter: middle school. A new setting, new friends, new responsibilities, and different mindsets. Middle school is notorious for being the awkward age that kids transition into adolescents and become more autonomous in their thoughts and beliefs. Whether through discovering new religions, ideologies, or even sexualities, it is a right of passage to struggle through the process of finding yourself and figuring out how you fit into the world (not to mention acne, hormones, and the joys of puberty).
I became distinctly different from my parents because I was surrounded by new friends who made me reconsider everything I had previously believed. I grew up in a Republican household with mostly conservative views. While I didn’t necessarily know what I “believed” at the time, I realized that I felt much differently once I was presented with more perspectives. Why couldn’t I have learned about other perspectives earlier in life? Why did it take me so long to develop my own opinions?
School, the place that I trusted to teach me what I needed to know, had failed meー and I’m not the only one. Many people have similar experiences wherein they know little to nothing about politics except what they learned from their parents, friends, or from social media. Rather than gaining understanding in a safe environment and from an educator, they have to gather bits and pieces of information and attempt to figure it all out on their own. Not only is it unfair for the students to never be properly taught something so important, but it can also lead to misinformed or even completely uninformed voters once they are of age.
An article from the American Political Science Association argues for reform of civic education in the United States by presenting that the “types of school programs that help the most are the ones that focus on contemporary political issues” and “get students involved in civic and political action.” In addition to getting students more involved in school, programs have shown to “increas[e] youth turnout by 30%” in the voting population in a given area. There are significant benefits in introducing students to politics outside of their regular history and government classes. Students appreciate and interact more when they are allowed to participate in class discussions about real-world issues. A change in the way that schools approach politics could be effective in making students feel like their voice matters.
Candice Hewitt, a freshman at Winthrop University, reflected on her time in grade school and what she learned about politics in the classroom. “I don’t think I ever really learned about anything political. My teachers never wanted to talk about current events since they didn’t want students fighting in class,” she said. “I feel like I wasn’t prepared to vote when I turned 18 since I didn’t know what I was voting for. I think if I was taught more in school, I might have understood the whole system better.”
For years, the education system has left students unprepared to vote once they are able. Society cannot ever truly advance if, generation after generation, it does not educate members on how to create change. If our current feelings on teaching politics in schools do not change, we will continue to fail our posterity. We must do better for ourselves and for future generations by reforming civic education. Have class discussions, ask students how they feel, let our youth tell us what they hope to see in the years to come. They are the future and they deserve to feel empowered by education, not left in the dark. And the next time you expect them to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, make sure they understand exactly what they’re pledging to.