Young People + Voting

Will Young Adults Show Up At The Polls?

Rajiv Vinnakota , President

October 31, 2022

C&S President Rajiv Vinnakota writes in the IndyStar how we can all show up to help young people vote. 

Op/Ed: Indiana at the forefront of reimagining civic education, starting in middle school

Next week, Indiana voters have the opportunity and responsibility to cast their votes in key races for the U.S. Senate and House and down-ballot races that will determine policies for their communities and schools. For thousands of young adults, this will be their first opportunity to vote and participate directly in our democracy. The sad truth is that most of them will choose not to do so.

The 2021 Indiana Civic Health Index found that Indiana ranked among the 10 lowest states in voter turnout. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 39% of people in Indiana aged 18-24 voted in the 2020 election — well below the national average of 50%. Midterm elections historically generate even lower voter turnout than presidential elections.

Today’s youth are the most diverse generation in history, growing up with a greater awareness and acceptance of differences than other generations. They are digital natives, able to connect quickly with others and seek and share information widely and virally. From an early age, they have been on the front lines of urgent issues affecting us all, including climate change, community violence, mental health, economic uncertainty and immigration. They are laser-focused on the future and embody a spirit of self-empowerment that big change is possible. However, they are also losing faith in institutions, from government to media to corporate America. They are skeptical of elected officials; for many of them, the verdict is out on whether democracy works for all.

There is a solution. If we want to see more voters — especially young adults—show up at the polls, we must redesign civic education for this exceptional next generation of voters.

For most of today’s young people, civics education is likely a patchwork of social studies classes that cover the basics, like the three branches of government. That’s if civics is taught at all.

Each of us is a civics teacher

It is our collective job and our sacred responsibility to develop today’s youth into tomorrow’s voters, neighbors, and fellow citizens.

The federal government spends around five cents per student annually on civics. By comparison, the federal government spends about $50 per student on STEM.

We must reinvest in civic education and reimagine including civic knowledge, civic skills and civic attitudes. Civic knowledge includes the basics and a nuanced understanding of our country’s history and current affairs — especially from diverse perspectives. Civic skills include participatory experiences such as voting, the use of one’s voice, and the willingness and tools to debate and bridge divides. Civic attitudes build connections with each other and to the country, such as community building, hope in the future of democracy and an eagerness to do the hard work as a citizen.

A comprehensive civic education like this would begin in the early grades and continue through high school and post-secondary school. However, today’s teachers are stretched too thin to cover this breadth of curriculum. In a fraught political environment, the topic of civics is so charged on both sides of the aisle that it is hard to find common ground on what should be included or excluded.

But it is possible. A handful of states — red, blue, and purple — are paving the way for the rest of the country of what a reimagined civic education might look like. Indiana is one of them. Starting in 2023, the state’s Civic Education Task Force will require middle school students to take one semester of civics. Earlier this month, I joined over a hundred civic leaders in Indianapolis for Women4Change Indiana’s conference on civics education. This gathering demonstrated the power and potential of partnership to build a civic learning ecosystem inside and outside the classroom.

Classroom learning is the backbone of this civic education, but a comprehensive system of civic learning cannot be limited to school. We need to think beyond the walls of a classroom and imagine a lifetime of civic learning and practice. Cultivating young people to be engaged citizens is our schools’ most important job, but it is also the job of coaches, parents, managers and faith leaders. It is our collective imperative and our sacred responsibility to develop today’s youth into tomorrow’s voters, neighbors and fellow citizens.

Each of us is a civics teacher. If we want youth to show up at the polls, we must also show up for them — in the classroom and in the community.

Read the article.

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