Phone calls do not teach civics

I am not going to play political sides on this one. People who know me know my political beliefs, and I don’t feel it necessary to explain here. However, partisan or not, the following Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article got me a little angry this morning. It’s about schoolchildren going door-to-door and using phones to encourage people to get out and vote. It’s being touted as a civics lesson.

I find this an abysmal excuse for teaching civics. First, my hard-earned property tax dollars are being spent for children to learn how to add, read, write, study history and civics, understand science and the world around them, and (*cough*) type on computers. But going door-to-door or asking people over the phone to vote is not what I want my children to do when they are in school. If I want to encourage civics, I’ll either teach them at home or enroll them in a scouting program where they not only learn about voting, but also being aware of the issues and the politics of it all. School kids are not going to learn this by passing out fliers and making phone calls.

Having kids tell adults to get out and vote is like having kids tell them how to drive, or spend money, or file their taxes. Children do not have any rights to vote (speaking of Civics, you become and adult at 18 years old, and the US Constitution’s 26th Amendment requires a person to be at least 18 years old to vote, among other requirements mentioned by either the Constitution or Congress). I don’t believe school time is well spent when children are conducting get out the vote activities. A better means of teaching civics is to have students attend a town hall meeting, a city or village hall council meeting, or some other similar activity (I don’t consider political campaigns). Even trips to a state capitol and watching a session of the legislature has greater significance because it is politics in action, not just faceless names on a ballot.

Allow me to digress here for a moment. I’m a little amiss with the way celebrities are coming on the tube and just saying, “get out and vote.” Well, all but one: Ted Nugent (aka the Motor City Madman). He believes that people should vote and exercise their civil liberties as well, but he adds that people should spend time finding what really matters to them and make informed decisions based on those items. His argument is that other celebrities are not encouraging people to become informed voters, but merely to just vote. Although I don’t see eye-to-eye with Nugent’s political views, I do agree that people must make informed decisions when they vote. Actually, I believe people need to make informed decisions in their everyday lives. It’s just good common sense. Furthermore, when you become an informed voter, you realize that the world is not black and white, but many shades of gray (or how many ways we’re getting screwed), and your voting decisions can have an impact on both your community and your nation. I’ve always believed that local politics is just as important as national politics, and would even argue that it has a greater impact on our everyday lives (unless you work for the federal government). In a sense, I am a greater advocate of getting more people to vote in local elections. But the money and publicity is not always spent at that level, so there is typically less press coverage.

Finally, it’s another waste of time for students’ educational progression, and it is a waste of taxpayer funding. We pay the schools to have children learn academic basics, not to conduct work for non-profit and supposedly non-partisan organizations. How would the taxpayers like it if I as a state employee spent a working day performing volunteer work for a non-profit group and not charging that time to time-off-with-pay? I think they’d be pretty upset because I’m not doing what I’m paid to do (not that most people out there really know what I do anyway). In such cases, I would be compelled to use vacation or personal time to conduct such an activity. It’s the same with using teachers as chaperones and using school resources (buses, gas, and liability insurance all cost money) for these get out the vote drives.

And what do the students really learn, anyway? “It’s important to vote.” Why? “Because our parents can.” And why is that important? “Because they can choose the president.” And what’s the importance of determining the next president? “Uh, he’s the leader of the country?”

The bottom line is that this is a waste of time, school resources, and energy that should be expended elsewhere. Don’t pull kids in as pawns to do the work of adults… there are labor laws against that.

In any case, I hope all of you reading this that live in the US and are able to vote get out and vote. But please vote based on informed decisions, not on what others believe. The dynamic of the political system in this country makes it the great system that it is.

Today’s link:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article: Voter drive using kids draws fire