Young Citizens Make Their Mark Even Before They Can Vote

The 46th Presidential election this November brought an all-time high turnout of 66% of eligible voters, according to the Washington Post. More young people were aware and engaged in this election than ever before, even though they can’t yet vote.

“Sometimes I think that some adults don’t realize how ready kids in 8th grade are to understand the government we live under,” explained civics teacher Kayne Miller. “They too often think their kids are too young to be exposed or to care about who is making what decisions and how they affect us all. But many 8th graders will be voting in the next presidential election. It’s time to start learning how to become informed voters.”

For many students, their 8th grade civics class is their first introduction to how our democracy works. Eighth grader Katia A. feels that students should start even younger. This election season, her community service youth group put up signs around the neighborhood saying how important it is to vote.

“I think it’s important that we should be involved in spreading [information] so that other people can know about the election,” Katia said. “Also, we are the next generation–meaning we are the next presidents and teachers, so we should know about what is going on in our country.

Although it may seem that there aren’t many activities to do to support the election, there are so many ways for students to be involved. In addition to putting up signs, like Katia and her friends, students can get their families more involved.

“I think the best way is to talk to others,” explained Ms. Miller. “Talk about the issues and the candidates, and most importantly, listen to others as well. Then do your research to validate any information you learn.”

Ms. Miller recommended caution, though, when it came to the idea of using social media to spread information. It’s too easy, she said, to post information that isn’t validated. Katia, who is in Ms. Miller’s class, does use social media but has learned from Ms. Miller’s warnings.

“When I first started reposting things, I would just post everything,” she said. Now, she looks for multiple posts on a subject, both to make sure that the information is valid and to find the one that is most concise. “I will try to find the one that summarizes it most and post that on my story. That way, I don’t have a big entire thing that people will just skip over.”

Ms. Miller is a big believer in getting students interested young. When students have some understanding of the electoral process, she explained, it helps them know what they need to ask questions about.

“Think about it,” she said. “If you walk into a completely unfamiliar situation, you often don’t know where to start to figure out what’s going on. But, if you have something to read, or listen to, or observe, then you have a good start for asking your individualized questions. You can seek understanding.”

When students get involved, they get practice talking about the subject, and in turn, giving it more critical thought. As Ms. Miller said, there is no better way to learn something than to try teaching it, and getting involved in the process is a way of doing that.