From time to time, we invite practitioners, researchers, and citizens from around the world to discuss their experiences of political engagement and democracy. This post is the third guest post from Bruce Acosta, a junior at Edina High School here in Minnesota.
Bruce was born in Dubai and spent most of his childhood in Canada and Australia. After moving to Minnesota in eighth grade, Bruce developed a passion for government and politics, specifically in terms of young people and their communities.
With an often negative portrayal in the media, it comes as no surprise that young citizens hold a certain skepticism about politics. Limited civics education in schools and the lack of young political role models alienate young people even further, contributing to the widespread perception of politics as “an adult matter”. Considering that only half of eligible voters aged eighteen to nineteen cast their ballots in this year’s election, it becomes evident that something must be done to mend the relationship between students and politics before it is too late. However, research in favor of open discussion of political issues and direct involvement of students in the democratic decision-making reveals that it is the social institutions in direct contact with children – families and schools – that must take the first step in addressing this clear insufficiency in political knowledge and experience that threatens the future of our nation.
One of the groups at the forefront of this battle is Kids Voting USA, a community-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization seeking to improve political efficacy and engagement with students so that they are better equipped to participate as adult citizens. More specifically, the organization provides schools with K-12 classroom civics lessons leading up to the election, upon which students are given the opportunity to cast their ballot at school or their precinct polling locations. Through this experience, young citizens not only become comfortable with the voting process, but also gain the necessary skills and confidence to actualize their own political goals in their communities.
Extending beyond just voting, the organization had the polling locations at my high school (Edina High School) as well as the scanning operation staffed primarily by students. Luckily, I had the opportunity to volunteer as the scanning lead for Kids Voting Edina – I also voted! As a testament to program’s authenticity, the ballots were very comprehensive, including city council members, the city council commissioner, Associate Justices, Senators, Representatives, the presidential candidates and the state Constitutional amendment proposing the removal of the power of lawmakers to set their own pay. This year was a record turnout for Edina Public Schools, with 3462 students casting their ballots, 860 of which came from the high school. A definite highlight of Tuesday night was when an Edina mother brought her three daughters, one of which was four-years-old, to help with the ballot-sorting. The middle daughter, a fifth grader at Cornelia Elementary, even insisted on scanning her own school’s ballots and reviewing the data, a display of curiosity and optimism that needs to be preserved and harnessed in all children by families and schools. More importantly, it is this curiosity that dispels the notion that kids don’t care about politics – we simply treat them like they don’t.
Posts in this series do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jefferson Center or Jefferson Center staff.