High Schools Missing Chance To Teach Important Civic Lesson

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by Paul Aamot, Willmar, Minn.

It's widely accepted that only about 50 percent of eligible voters in this country vote in the national elections for president and members of Congress.

Scholars worry about our democratic form of government being threatened by this lack of participation by its citizens. Most troubling of all, our young people many just turned 18 and eligible to vote for the first time often do not vote and are, as a group, very cynical about the whole democratic process.

Scholars, editorial writers, political and economic leaders, social scientists, et al all recognize that we have a very serious problem. What's to be done?

I have a modest proposal.

First of all, the blame, I strongly feel, lies primarily with our high schools. They have our young people for four years prior to their first opportunity to vote. They must do whatever it takes to engender the enthusiasm it takes to participate in the process.

The initiative must come from principals and superintendents of these schools. It cannot come from parents [just meddling], nor teachers [personal agendas], nor students [trouble makers]. Only principals and superintendents have the power to immediately do what needs to be done.

This fall for the 2000 presidential election they must insist that their school have a club for each party on the ballot; a Republican Club, a Democratic Club, an Independent Club, a Green Party Club maybe even a Socialist Party Club, if it is on the ballot.

This is not so overwhelming as it sounds. Three students can form a club president, secretary and treasurer. The principals and superintendents must encourage, maybe insist, that a representative of each club be given at least a small space in issues of the school paper to make a pitch for their candidate. However it is written, the pieces must appear. A good lesson in free speech.

And sometime before election day, there should be a rally in the gym perhaps in place of one pep rally before a game at which a representative from each party can give a short speech. Perhaps attendance can be required as part of the civic education curriculum. With resourceful, innovative leadership, attendance hopefully will not be a problem. To make a play on a famous song from a Broadway musical, "don't talk politics, show me!" We can't depend on mere books and classroom lectures to do the job.

Time is short, I know, but the problem is serious and the opportunity is there to do something. Principals and superintendents and board members must, at times, get away briefly from budgets, buildings and buses and look at serious educational problems. They are educational leaders. And if nothing is done to address this very serious problem, this leadership has failed.

If this modest proposal or something similar is carried out, I predict that the student representatives of each party, whose brief articles appear in the school papers and whose speeches will be heard by the whole student body, will become celebrities on par with quarterbacks, team captains, track star, etc. Let's hope so. The country needs this to happen.

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