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Education today/Steve Patchin

Are we educating our future voters, encouraging them to participate?

October 23, 2012
The Daily Mining Gazette

The 2008 national election saw John McCain facing off against now-President Barack Obama. The campaign energized the electorate and 56.9 percent of the Voting Age Populations in America cast their ballet in the election. This was the highest voter turnout since the 1968 national election where 60.8 percent of VAP. So which generation of the voting population is voting?

The Center for American Women and Politics, based out of Rutgers University, conducted a study to explore who is voting separated by age and gender. In the 2008 presidential election, they surveyed voters by asking them if they voted in the election with the following results. Of those 18 to 24 yrs old, 52 percent of women and 45.1 percent of men stated they voted; of those 25 to 44 years old, 55.3 percent of women and 48.4 percent of men stated they voted; age 45 to 64 years old, 66.9 percent of women and 63 percent of men stated they voted; age 65 to 74, 72.6 percent of women and 72.2 percent of men stated they voted; and for those 75 and older, 64.9 percent of women and 72.2 percent of men voted.

The statistics illustrated that the turnout of female voters has exceeded that of male voters since the national elections in 1980. They also show a long standing trend that younger voters are less likely to vote in any election. Their apathy can easily be addressed through educational efforts.

Currently, 39 states require students to take at least one course in American government or cvics, yet only eight states require students to take statewide, standardized tests in civics or American government. These states are California, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. Nine states require students to pass a social studies test in order to graduate from high school, placing an even larger importance on the curriculum.

A study by the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning and Engagement at Tufts University found that most states do not emphasize civic education. This is seen as a reaction to the No Child Left Behind Act and the current administration's Race to the Top program which place a strong emphasis on science and mathematics education. This study also found that 80 percent of youth surveyed could not answer or answered incorrectly questions regarding how youth could register to vote.

Thomas Jefferson once stated "... whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right." Our right to vote and help decide the direction of our democracy is a right we possess as citizens of this great nation. This right should not be taken lightly as it decides the direction of our nation's economy, personal freedoms and desired values. The importance of educating our youth to participate in this process as informed voters is vital to the continued growth and success of our country. As we redefine our educational offerings we need to ensure we are still preparing youth to be part of this vital national freedom, lest we suffer the inability to correct our nation's course when it goes astray.

Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.



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