Monday, July 13, 2009

Voting and Knowledge Down Under

Australia has compulsory voting, but fewer than 60% of 18 year olds are actually enrolled to vote. In a move that turns political participation and knowledge slightly on its head, the idea here is that by getting young people to vote, they'll learn more about politics. It's "Enroll to Vote" week. A story discusses the problem and the week and raises some interesting chick-and-egg questions about what people know versus participation in the political process.
The report recommended taking school elections more seriously, encouraging parents to engage young people in the political process, and focusing more attention on creating interesting politics and government subjects in schools.
This is an age-old discussion in the U.S. as well, especially with No Child Left Untested. Math and reading are vital, but falling out of curricula throughout the U.S. are those old civics classes, the ones designed to teach students not only the basics of government but -- more important -- why it matters. I'm Just a Bill on Capital Hill, sadly gone -- yet it still lives on YouTube. Too bad it doesn't live in classrooms any more.

But on a more serious note, the idea that forced participation will lead to greater knowledge -- there is some theoretical support for this. Tentative, more theoretical than perhaps practical, but I suspect in reality some aspect of forced voting will lead to an increase in knowledge. Modest, perhaps, but let's face it, compulsory voting kinda misses the point of participating in a democratic process. Maybe for some, not voting is a form of protest (though that's lazy thinking and often someone trying to sound smarter than they really are).

No comments: