Article by Neha
Edited by Ronny and Audrey
Civic engagement is the core of our society’s political and social infrastructure. It’s what drives our laws, our community functions, our capabilities. However, declining youth civic engagement has become a huge problem in the U.S. over the past decades. There is a veritable divide between political/community involvement between youth and adult populations.
There are several factors that play into this divide, one being education. In the United States, people with higher education have historically participated in electoral politics, voting, and their communities, more so than those with less education (Verba, Burns, & Schlozman, 2003). This civic divide has supposedly increased in recent years.
The increasing separation between lower, middle, and upper class in economy impacts the education young teens are receiving. Youths in poorer communities are less likely to be civically engaged, as well as youths with uninformed parents and minorities. Scholars suggest this is because the engaged youths have had more opportunities, support, and advice regarding the key civic tenets: voting, volunteering, and political discussion.
In NCBI’s (National Center for Biotechnology Information) thirty-year study, the division in youth is recent. Up till 1990, civic participation and engagement was consistently high, recording an 83-90% of youths who had plans to vote. However, in the past two decades, high school seniors have been less likely to endorse civic activities and political discussion. Ironically, their numbers for volunteering have been at an all-time high. When examining the reasons behind these results, one stands out.
Colleges value volunteering, and students geared toward college-degree related careers are using volunteer hours to enhance their applications. Additionally, most high schools have certain hours-requirements for their students to graduate. These requirements can take away the passion and interest involved in various volunteering opportunities. For example, if a student pianist decides to broaden their horizons by volunteering to teach children music and has a graduation requirement of 180 hours, that figure may take over their original desire to pursue music outside of school. When students are driven by figure-driven civics, they tend to lose interest in the other areas civic engagement has to offer.
When trying not to fall into this cycle of target-based civics, students should ask themselves certain questions: Why am I pursuing this opportunity? Am I passionate about it, or am I trying to satisfy an arbitrary requirement? Am I trying to contribute to my community or my future college application? Am I feeling a sense of accomplishment through this work, or feeling drained and stressed out? The next time a student finds a volunteering opportunity, they should remember their answers to these.
As for voting, remember that your vote truly does count. When one person thinks their vote doesn’t matter, it’s likely that others—especially high schoolers—think the same way.
In light of the pandemic, many have reassessed their stance on voting. According to circle.tufts.edu’s youth poll on the 2020 election, 83% polled say they believe young people have the power to change the country and 79% say that the pandemic has helped them realize that politics impact their everyday lives.
So yes, your vote will count in the upcoming election. Your civic engagement is of utmost importance.