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Column: Political Education Needed For Uninformed Citizens

This story was written by Jesse Hathaway, The Post

In order to become a U.S. citizen, one must demonstrate a basic level of civic knowledge. However, according to a 2008 study by Henry Milner, a political science professor at the Universit de Montral, in Montreal, Canada, 56 percent of American youth cant even identify citizens as the category of people having the right to vote. 60 percent of American youth cant even tell which political party is more conservative, Republicans or Democrats! And that isnt even getting to the hard questions that a voter faces, such as which candidate has the better policy on Issue X or how should I vote on this ballot issue.

According to the non-partisan Intercollegiate Studies Institutes 2007 study, American college freshmen scored an average of 50.4 percent on a basic civic literacy test. Whats worse, college seniors averaged 54.2 percent on the same test. In other words, the majority of college students and frustratingly, the majority of Americans as a whole is politically illiterate. The sad thing is, the politically illiterate persons vote counts just as much as the politically literate persons vote.

Being a participant in our government which is not actually a democracy, but a republic requires that citizens be informed about the issues. We elect citizens to represent us, so that we do not have to vote on every single issue that the government faces. We expect that our representatives be educated about the issues important to the electorate, but how can we reasonably make the decision between two (or more) candidates, and their respective grasps on the issues, if we do not know about the candidates or the issues ourselves? The simple answer is if we are not educated on the issues, then we cannot consider ourselves able to make the correct decision regarding the candidates and their stands on those issues. In this case, correct voting does not mean that you vote the way I or anyone else wants you to; it means that you made your decision based on reasoned thought as opposed to knee-jerk emotional reactions and feelings.

When a judge feels that enough is not known about the issue at hand, he or she has the option of abstaining, or just refraining from making a decision. The same goes for executives in the corporate boardroom. Contrary to what the popular refrain is, there is nothing wrong with not voting. Get-out-the-vote efforts have admirable goals of involving more people in the democratic process, but they neglect to follow up by educating voters, in addition to encouraging voters.

Encouragement is good, but without education, it turns get out the vote into a pissing contest between the political parties to see who can sign up the most people. Is that what our Founding Fathers envisioned when they created our land? Their hard-won system of democratic republicanism, born of long, hot days and sleepless nights full of debate and compromise, turned into a competition to see which faction can round up the most supporters? I dont think that the men and women who gave birth to our land would approve!

One of the men who helped give birth to our nation, the intellectual and great supporter of liberty, Thomas Paine, wrote in his treatise on democracy, The Rights of Man that it is monarchical and aristocratical government only that requires ignorance for its support. Uneducated voting hurts democracy, and each vote made in ignorance, regardless of the political party it was made for, is another step away from democracy, along the road to despotism.

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