Did you hear about the George Floyd protests? Well, this is the reason I am currently researching how to encourage youth to be more engaged in politics. This event made me realize how much racism is going around our society, but no one is even realizing it or giving it importance. There needs to be many voices to make a change.
I feel that getting youth more engaged in politics is the way to solve these issues, because we first need to be informed and educated before we can do anything else. One problem is that when it comes to politics and youth, we just don’t feel listened to. Quoted in Education Week, a 17-year-old named Maddie von Harz said, “A lot of us think our ideas won’t be looked at the same way when we talk to adults about politics because we are younger.” This is one of the inherent barriers youth feel as we try to discuss these problems when adults never want to listen. In another article called “A Push for Civic Education,” Randall Reid and Emma Humphries stated, “Everywhere you turn, there is increasing evidence that Americans don’t know much about history or government or politics, the very subjects that comprise the critical realm of civics.” As young individuals, we experience the lack of quality civic education.
Therefore, I propose that the Boston Public Schools should have mandatory political participation and civic engagement classes so that the youth learn how to achieve change through politics and activism. This plan will bring more youth engagement to the political world because they will be educated on the roots of politics. If youth understand the terms and vocabulary when it comes to politics, they will feel eager to participate since they know what everything means and what they want to fight for or believe in. In The New York Times, a student named Jillian Steeves said, “Students should be exposed to politics as much as possible to help them grow into active political participants. By discussing the topic in-depth, students are exposed to the political processes that adults engage in, and are given practice in thinking through and forming their ideas in terms of politics.” This to me means we need political classes so we can become our own individuals to fight for what we want and create that understanding of knowledge.
When considering what kind of civics education would be best, we could use curriculum from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which has a program where youth work with people in power and other adults to achieve change. According to NDI, their program relies on relationship-building between youth and those in power. “This involves interactions where understanding, trust, respect, and appreciation can emerge, along with space for participation in policy discussions and decision making and collaboration between youth- and adult-led organizations,” NDI writes.
In an interview I conducted with Sofia Meadows-Muriel, who is part of a collective called For the People Boston, which campaigns to defund police and fund communities, she agreed that when it comes to politics we need to connect it more with youth. Sofia stated, “We prefer to work with y’all than anybody else, so I think that I love that idea. If you have things that you are passionate about or things you want my collective to focus on, feel free to let me know because these are the types of relationships we want.” I thought what she said was interesting because it shows how she cares, and she honestly wants to build that relationship with youth because she knows we do need to connect.
For this to work we youth not only need to know about politics but also take action. In the state of Iowa, schools pushed their students into joining the Iowa caucuses as part of their political participation classes. This shows that having education about politics at a younger age is beneficial and integrates students into this field.
Boston is a city that does not have caucuses, but we have primaries. The primaries could be used as a way for the youth to focus on action. The way youth would participate in these primaries would be by doing voter registration, which would show what they have learned while taking action as well.
I also believe that we should lower the voting age for youth in Boston. Vote16USA is a program started by Generation Citizen that advocates changing the voting age to 16 across the country. They state, “A lower voting age would make civics education more effective as providing students a way to directly apply what they’re learning in the classroom in their communities would add a crucial level of relevance to civics courses. It would also encourage more schools to implement higher quality civics education programs given its immediate implications on students’ lives.” Lowering the voting age to 16 would help engage students because they would actually be able to participate in democracy instead of just learning about it.
Challengers can argue against my proposal by saying that there is a political bias when it comes to civics education. We may only hear the positives about one side but not the other. According to The New York Times, a student named Becky Girolami mentioned how she feels this exact way, as there is bias when politics are involved. Becky stated, “Teachers bringing up recent political issues in discussions has not been great because it’s usually very easy to tell which side they lean on. Therefore, the lessons are from their biased perspective.” As reported by The Washington Post, “The first education bill to be introduced in Arizona’s legislative session this year aims to prevent teachers from bringing anything political into the classroom.” While I understand the risk of teachers using their classrooms to express their political beliefs, don’t we want adults modeling what it means to be engaged in politics?
According to some students, teachers bringing up “controversial” or “political” topics in class can be a good thing. Chloerose Ratcliff quoted in The New York Times,, said, “I feel that talking about such controversial topics has allowed us, students, to expand our thinking, strengthen our views, and learn how to understand other’s beliefs.” This shows that engaging with political topics in the classroom can be done well and benefit students.
The impact of my plan will be immense. Youth will be more educated and involved more in politics. If we the youth are not politically educated we will be walking around this country without actually understanding our society and the way it works. We will be making a massive impact by actually taking control and making the changes that we need to stop the things that are not working for us as a community.
In the 2020 Young Authors’ Book Project, I Closed My Eyes and Imagined: Visions for a Better Boston, twelfth-graders at the Margarita Muñiz Academy and eighth-graders at the Rafael Hernández School paint a powerful, quirky, and authentic vision of what students want to see in their future and in the future of their city. The Muñiz seniors crafted op-eds on a social issue of their choosing, from climate change and internet access to raising the minimum wage and ending the school-to-prison pipeline. The Hernández eighth-graders wrote pieces about what life in Boston could be like if some of our city's biggest challenges had been solved—from racism and gender equality to difficulties with remote learning and the antics of mischievous younger siblings. Jennifer De Leon, writer, professor, and author of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, wrote the book’s foreword. [pvfw-embed viewer_id="9812" width="100%" height="800"]View In Store Read more from this book »