Saturday, September 11, 2010

Youth and Politics

Last week, I gave one of my classes an off-the-cuff example relating to the national minimum wage. When discussing how a lobbying group might solicit support from members of the US House of Representatives, I discovered that not one soul in the sea of 150+ students knew what congressional district they lived in or who their representative was. I guess this wouldn’t be too surprising. My classes are made up of primarily freshmen who are slowly adjusting to the adult world. Even most college students who bother registering to vote probably only do it to get the free pizza or other goodies handed out by whatever on-campus organization that's collecting registration cards.

I’m attempting to remedy this situation, not by nagging them into voting as many of my own professors did,* but by giving them an extra credit assignment (borrowed from a Political Science teacher). I asked all of my students to look up their representative, if they didn’t know who it was, and write a short paragraph about that person’s views on some macroeconomic-related issue, requiring a trip to his or her official website.

Despite the widespread disinterest in politics among young adults, the students in my class this morning seemed to be getting into it. They were volunteering zipcodes while I was showing them how to look up their congressional district, and they asked questions about the assignment after class. Of course, they just want the extra points towards their final grade, but maybe this will be the first step towards greater political literacy.

*I’m not sure why students who don’t regularly vote are told to do so when they obviously don’t care enough about what’s going on to do so without prodding.