SAN BERNADINO, California—Miss Kyra Mangual will be taking U.S. government and civics next semester at Sierra High as part of her California graduation requirements, however she doubts the course will persuade her to vote next year.
She told the Viễn Đông that she doesn’t think her vote will make any difference, even in a Presidential election.
Despite the increasing youth turnout rate during the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Presidential elections, Miss Mangual’s feelings are reminiscent of statistics from a decade ago. During the 2002 general elections, fewer than 1 in 5 young adults, age 18-24, were expected to show up at the polls.
On election day in 2002, NPR reported that there were students eligible to vote yet chose not to because they didn’t want to take the time to vote, they didn’t care about the issues, they felt politics were inherently corrupt, or they had their minds on other things.
“Driving’s a lot more important than voting,” then age 18 Florida’s Stoneman Douglass High student Mr. Brian Richiardi was quoted on NPR, adding that plenty of students his age felt the same way.
Another Stoneman student, age 17 Mr. Tyrone Jenkins, told NPR that his life would be the same regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican was elected.
Yet, there were some students who did feel voting is important.
“People who don't vote have no reason to complain,” Stoneman student Mr. Andrew De Jesus told NPR. “If you don't vote you did nothing to change.”
Other students told NPR that voting would impact their future and was necessary.
As most schools are legally required to offer some form of U.S. government and civics education, are these schools adequately preparing students to vote, emphasizing the significance of this form of democracy?
On 11 October 2011 and 18 October 2011, the Viễn Đông reported on the possibility of over 5 million voters being disadvantaged in the 2012 elections due to voting law changes. Will student voters increase that amount of disadvantaged voters?
U.S. government, civics education nationwide
If voting is taught in schools, it is most likely taught in U.S. government and civics classes.
States set their minimum requirements for their students to take U.S. government and civics classes, while localities can increase those requirements for their schools if they see fit.
Most U.S. states require their high school students to take at least half of one unit, which is usually a semester, of either U.S. government, civics, a combination of the two subjects, or a combination of the two subjects with economics, U.S. history or their equivalents.
Without that half unit in U.S. government and civics, students in such states will not graduate from high school.
A few states, including Alaska, Nebraska, and Vermont, do not have specific requirements for their high school students to take U.S. government or civics classes.
There are also states, like Kentucky and Massachusetts, which do not specify how many units their students must take in U.S. government and/or civics, though they require the topics to be covered at some point during the students’ high school social studies educations.
Missouri requires its students to take an exam on “provisions and principles” of the U.S. and Missouri constitutions instead of an actual class.
Some states, including North Carolina and Washington, require their high school students to take at least one full unit, which is usually an entire year, of U.S. government in order to graduate.
There are states that give their civic units names that directly correlate to voting like Georgia’s “Citizenship Education” and Hawaii’s “Participation in Democracy.”
Then there is Arkansas that has separate learning tracks for its high school students. The “Core” curriculum is the standard, basic curriculum for high school students, while the “Smart Core” track offers college and career ready curriculum.
Students in the Core track are required to take half of one unit in U.S. government and civics, while students in the Smart Core track are required to take a full unit.
By Arkansas’s Class of 2014, both Smart Core and Core students will be required to take half of one unit in U.S. government and civics.
Some Southern California students
Although California is like most states, requiring its students to take at least half a unit, or one semester, in U.S. government and civics, some students do not believe they are learning much about the voting process.
Miss Kyonne Lightner, who graduated from Los Angeles’s Dorsey High Class of 2006, told the Viễn Đông that her teachers did not teach her a thing about voting, except that she should do it because it will change the economy.
She added that the only time she did vote was for President Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election.
Miss Jasmine Roberts, who graduated from Fontana’s Henry J. Kaiser High Class of 2010, told the Viễn Đông she took her U.S. government and civics course in summer school.
“They [teachers] said it was important for us to register, but didn’t say exactly where or how to,” she told the Viễn Đông. “I have not registered myself, nor have I voted on anything.”
Mr. Pierre Trần, who graduated from Huntington Beach High Class of 2011, told the Viễn Đông that he also has no idea how to register to vote and none of his classes even discussed the voting process.
Students in the Huntington Beach Unified High School District must take the California required semester of U.S. government and civics, paralleling the local Garden Grove Unified School District (GGUSD) requirement for its students to take a semester of U.S. government and civics during their senior year.
According to the GGUSD High School Course Outline for the U.S. government and civics course, students study voting, voting behavior, and voting requirements toward the end of the class.
Thought to considerIf voting is considered to be the most important form of democracy, how much education on voting should high school students be required to receive at school?