Saturday 28 February 2009

My Uneducated Generation

This year, I've been paying more attention to the news and becoming much more interested in politics. With last year's historic presidential election and our current economic state, it seems like a good time to start understanding politics and economics. After all, my generation is already screwed, as all of today's problems are so conveniently being dumped on us.(1)

I can't help but notice not only the apathy, but the ignorance of kids (or perhaps, young adults) of my age. My class will be graduating this year, going off to college, the military, or joining the work force; the males have to sign up for the draft; we have to learn to do taxes, to use credit, to buy cars. We're being forced into the real world and beginning to think that maybe we should try to get some sort of understanding on how these things work.

What I find really appalling is how little we are taught about government in school. We take "social studies" all our lives, which we are lead to believe is a mixture social sciences - geography, sociology, history, politics - when it's pretty much just history. Granted, it's easier to teach young kids historical events than the social trends and forces behind them. In high school, we take two years of Global History, two years of American History and Government, and finally Participation In Government (PIG) for half a year, and Economics for the other half of senior year.

PIG and Economics are horribly insulting classes. Reading the textbook takes me back to the days of NSYNC* and War Heads; it's literally written at a 5th grade level. Most of the quizzes I (and I believe a majority of my class) could probably ace with no preparation whatsoever. Earlier this week, we spent an ENTIRE PERIOD learning to organize a checkbook. I understand that it's a basic skill that is essential to life after graduation, but I feel like this time could have been made a little more worthwhile. We do bring up current events often, which I think is wonderful, because that's the only time when we actually learn about politics.

History is important, there is no denying that. We can learn from successes and failures of the past, and it so often influences our future actions. However, history is useless if we cannot apply it to current times and current problems. It's great to learn about trickle-down and pump-priming economics, but if you don't learn about how they are being used today as well, it does no good. It also bothers me that we spend so much time learning about political parties of the past - we spent weeks on the Progressive Era - yet today's political parties and their platforms remain an undiscussed blur until our senior year, when we speak about them for about a day. Our social studies courses seem to have a cut-off point, after which everything is assumed to be self-taught, things that we should "just know". And our teachers spend so much time and energy preparing us for our Regents Exam, that they don't exactly have extra time to discuss recent politics just for the sake of it. Afterall, the amount Obama's stimulus isn't going to be on our final. Why speak of it?

I believe that we are horribly uneducated in the area of politics, and the result is misinformed, even uninformed, single-issue voters (or, future voters), who are extremely influenced by peer pressure. We are never presented with the actual foundations and basic ideals of any political parties, so we only concern ourselves with the issues everyone knows about: abortion, gun control, the death penalty, the war in iraq. If we're Catholic outdoorsmen we figure we should be republican; if we are peace-loving hippies we should probably be democrats. We then proceed to support whatever our given party happens to be, without feeling any need for further explaination.

I think that our classes could definitely stay the way they are: world history, american history & gov't, but they need a stronger twist of government. Key concepts MUST be linked to today's current issues. While it's challenging to place such current events on a Regents exam, it could be in the form of a thematic essay question, perhaps asking a student to relate a given concept to a current event in American politics. However it's done, I think it's clear that my generation needs to be able to make their own political and economic decisions, because we're going to be faced with more problems than anyone before us.

(1) Rather ironic that the age group that may have won the election for Obama is the generation that will spend their lives paying off his stimulus bill.

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