No one cares about midterm elections

Josh Curtis, Contributing Writer

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”  Thomas Jefferson’s words in a 1816 letter to Charles Yancey ring true today as they did during the early American republic.  It is because of this sentiment that support for public education grew to be so powerful.  Horace Mann, father of the American public school system, believed that secular, public schools were key to upholding the virtues of a republic in its citizens, and he advocated for this throughout his tenure as a public figure in Massachusetts politics.  That spirit has formed the trajectory of American schooling—to teach children to be well-enough informed that they might successfully protect their nation’s democratic institutions against forces of either tyranny or anarchy. 200 years later, how do we score?

While most students will cringe at the idea of the dreaded mid-year tests when one mentions “the midterms,” I will instead cringe at the idea of the ignored midterm elections.  This might be excusable in a school of mostly non-voting age citizens, except for the fact that the trends among young people who can vote uphold these abysmal participation rates: 21.5% of eligible voters aged 18-29 actually voted in 2014, and 20.9% in 2010.  When I talk to students, it often seems like they could care less about elections—on Election Day, I doubt that the fate of the country is on many people’s minds.

“I think most students know little to nothing about midterm elections,” said senior Jared Hirshfield.   “Many students feel as if they have nothing to do with politics, but they can and will be affected by policy changes. For example, after college, many will be employed and will have to pay taxes.”

Many bemoan that politicians are not attuned to the needs, concerns, or skills and assets that young people have.  But as Thomas Jefferson says, “I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of . . . society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”  So I ask again, in this context: 200 years later, how do we score?

Our public education system needs revamping, and this failure to instill democratic values is just one more example to demonstrate that fact.  While many learn about government structures in classes, it is just another test to study for.  If the learning were more hands on, then the student body would be more engaged; plenty of local politicians offer internships, and Schreiber is one of the few schools in the area that does not send students to these.  Perhaps, the school should engage in more open discussions of local and national policy.  The school should encourage students to attend town board meetings about local policy matters, or to host seminars about local and national policy issues that may benefit not only the students of Schreiber, but also the community at large.  Thomas Jefferson would support, even promote, these.  Why shouldn’t we?