Is Civics Education The Key To Mobilizing Young Voters?

According to Child Trends, one of the nation’s leading research organizations focused on improving the lives of children and youth, who released a dedicated study on youth research trends from 1972 to 2016 on youth ages 18 to 24 which showed a decrease in reported voting from 50 to 39 percent. 

The issue of low voter turnout is one that is continually discussed and debated but with the central focus on “how and why is there such a low voter turnout?” The cause of low civic engagement is still one shrouded in mystery as are the solutions. Mandatory registration? Force businesses to close on voting day? Provide free travel for everyone to the voting booths? 

Searching for the Real Problem

What if these solutions are just band-aid fixes trying to deal with the symptoms instead of the root of the problem? If the core of the issue is that people simply don’t want to vote, or at the very least are too apathetic to vote, that is something that is most likely starting at a younger age. 

It is easy to see how there is a systemic problem with civic education as seen in a survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania which showed that only 26% of Americans could name all three branches of government. How can there be the expectation of high voter turnout when the majority are lacking some of the most basic civic knowledge? 

The Current Situation

The American Federation of Teachers compiled research from all the state Department of Education and found the following

  • Only nine states and the District of Columbia require one year of U.S. government or civics, while 30 states require a half year and the other 11 states have no civics requirement.
  • State civics curricula are heavy on knowledge but light on building skills and agency for civic engagement

While these statistics are saddening, they did find one glimmer of hope:

“States with the highest rates of youth civic engagement tend to prioritize civics courses and AP U.S. government in their curricula. The 10 states with the highest youth volunteer rates have a civics course requirement for graduation […]. Seven out of the 10 states with the highest youth voter participation rate score higher than average on the AP U.S. government exam.”

It seems like maybe the root of the problem is the disservice we’re doing to our kids by continually sweeping under the rug civic education and engagement. We are raising eligible voters to be uninformed, uncaring, and uninvolved towards a foundational right that countless have died for in the past. 

Civic education is shown to be one of the most useful tools in stopping this trend but as schools continue to cut classes, for a variety of reasons reserved for another post, civics tends to be one of the biggest victims that has implications much further than many might think.

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