Voting is both a right and a privilege here in the United States. However, though this is true, not nearly enough citizens are letting their voice be heard in terms of sparking change or starting conversations, making it harder to call the U.S. the “Land of the Free.” But, we can’t merely blame American citizens. Due to the government making voting laws incomprehensible, along with public schools not preparing students to participate, uneducated voters walk the streets of the U.S. every day, missing out on their opportunity to participate fully in their democracy. However, with the help of local government leaders and the amelioration of public school’s curriculum, this crisis is fixable.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed many factors for Southern Black communities. Ronald J. Terchek, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park, in his article, “Political Participation and Political Structures: The Voting Rights Act of 1965,” explains that, “In 1964, the year before the Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress, 24.6 percent of the blacks were registered in the Deep South compared to 56.5 percent in 1967” (28). This shows that the main factor preventing blacks from voting was the literacy tests and poll taxes, and once they were eliminated, we saw more than double the voter turnout. However, Terchek also argues that though many see the poll tax as a law that held back black voters, when the poll tax was taken away, there was less of an increase in instant voter registration than the states that had no poll tax to begin with (26). Change isn’t expected to have immediate effect on the society, thus voter registration increased and progressed over time. Though the literacy test was one that disenfranchised black voters and made it nearly impossible for them to become eligible to vote, the idea that minority voters should be educated was fair. Therefore, as a society, we must continue to make sure that not only minorities are being educated, but that all Americans are educated for the future of our democracy. Though suppressive, the simple idea of education could have helped citizens make better choices in their democracy.
According to the United States Census Bureau, which displays data from the government to the public, in the 2016 presidential election, 64.2% of Americans (both male and female) 18 years or older were registered to vote; however, only 56% of them actually voted (“Data”). This disparity is frightening, and makes me think that citizens either didn’t have time to vote, or rather, they didn’t care. In fact, in an excerpt from Does Your Vote Matter? (Special Report) by Business Week, the authors claim that, “‘[A]mong 172 countries with democratic elections, the US ranks 139th in participation’” (qtd. in “Government” 18). Citizens may have their excuses, and we’ve heard them all, but nothing can excuse an American for not acting upon their civic duty, or supporting their free country, government, and democracy. Why call the United States a democracy if not everyone is politically active? The Virginia Journal of Education, which provides current information on trends and issues, explains the correlation between education and voting, sharing that, “The higher level of education, the higher voting rate”, and indeed proved that “29.9% of high school dropouts voted, while 49.1% of high school graduates did, along with 72.6% of college graduates, according to the U.S. Census Bureau” (“Public Schools Help” 7). Though perhaps outdated, as the research was conducted in 1996, the main idea that educated citizens are more likely to vote remains constant. Furthermore, if educated civilians are more likely to vote, the government should ensure that the public school curricula doing its job correctly, efficiently, and substantially.
The government supposedly runs everything, yet they can’t seem to help us vote. In fact, they make it harder for us by making the laws and propositions too complex for the common person to understand. According to Ronald J. Terchek, the historic increase of registered, black voters from 1964-1967 was accomplished through local communicative leaders that explained, in a much simpler way, the necessary steps for registration (33). This was able to draw in many voters, as these leaders also provided child care and other services during the times of voting. For future advancements, we should look back at history to see what was successful, and appoint local leaders to help with not only voting registration, but providing services on election day to ensure the highest possible number of voters. If the government wants us to vote and be politically active, then why are they making it so hard for us to do it while they could find ways to be more supportive?
Some of the problem involving voting disparities, Ted Selker, MIT Director argues, derives from technology and the various ways of modern voting. He explains that over 2% of the 150 million registered voters in the United States were unable to vote in the year 2000 due to database errors, equipment glitches, and the difficulties of polling places, such as the seemingly endless lines (qt’d in “Government” 18). Two percent of 150 million, to look at in a bigger lens, is 3 million; thus, that’s 3 million votes lost due to the government’s inability to provide equally productive polling places to all areas across the United States. Not only is it the responsibility of the Americans to vote, but more importantly, it’s the duty of the government to guarantee that everyone has equal voting opportunities. Lisa Schur, professor and Chair of the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations, in her article, “Disability, Voter Turnout, and Polling Place Accessibility”, finds that inaccessible polling places reduce the number of votes from the disabled, and may make them feel unwelcome to exercise their rights of being an American citizen (1375). An American is an American, no matter their race, gender, sexuality, or background, and just because they may be different, it doesn’t mean they can be suppressed of a freedom given to everyone else. Disabled bodies are proven to have more difficulty voting, as shown in a poll taken from the United States Census Bureau. They claimed that “almost one-third (30.1 percent) of voters with disabilities reported one or more difficulties in voting, compared to about one-twelfth (8.4 percent) of voters without disabilities” (Schur 1380). The disparity here is over 20%, and to put this into perspective, about 3.4 million disabled voters reported a complication in the voting process. Schur also explains that out of the various types of dilemmas (which included seeing the ballot, understanding how to work the technology, finding the polling place, and writing on the ballot), comprehending modern technology was one of the majorities (1382). Technology is one thing that is always updating, but the government must take control of this, and realize that not everyone has the same abilities to toil with these modern, confusing electronics. Overall, these flaws are fixable, especially when it comes to making aspects simpler. They can be corrected with the help of national leaders, and therefore, the government must update, improve, and reform its technology and the voting process in order to ensure full participation.
Public school curriculum across the United States isn’t implementing American history nearly as much as necessary. In fact, “Almost a decade ago, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute[...] found that three-fifths of the states had weak or inefficient U.S. history standards” (Kaufer-Busch 64). Though this number may sound surprising, it fits into the fact that there is an absence of substantial content in core standards throughout the country. Not only is the curriculum failing, but in specific, the textbooks are “light on subject matter, watered down on content, peppered with partisan perspectives, and written in a boring tone” (Kaufer-Busch 65). Textbooks are a main part of the school’s curriculum, and Kaufer-Busch proves that the students aren’t getting any valuable information out of them. Thus, we can conclude that students in U.S. history courses are being robbed of a true, content-rich class. If the government wants us to be so politically active, they should shape the school curriculum to teach us about becoming those people, and if they do that, we can expect the individual to take responsibility, voice their thoughts freely through voting, and most importantly take advantage of our free democracy.
Education is clearly the key to a successful career path. No matter what career or field is chosen, an individual will benefit from education, and little do they know that it may influence their economic status, along with their well being. The Virginia Journal of Education explicitly claims that “Public schools remain the backbone of American democracy. [...] They offer a way for diverse groups to learn to survive and thrive together” (“Public Schools Help” 10). Not only do educational standards provide essential skills for becoming socially and economically successful, but they make a productive future a possibility for anyone willing to learn. In the book, Civic Education and the Future of American Citizenship, Elizabeth Kaufer Busch, professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University, claims that “Knowledge of our history is central to the character of our citizens and our nation[...]” (61). If character really counts, as learned in elementary school, then we should start paying more attention to the history of our country because not only does it affect our personalities, but it affects the way we live and our how we make our day-to-day decisions. As a society in whole, we could highly benefit from more knowledge of how our country came to be, and right now is when Americans need it the most. If we aren’t informed, we make unsound decisions about politics, practically creating our own monster for the future. Kaufer-Busch also explains a study in 2007 that conducted reports from college freshmen, and saw that they scored close to a 51% on a basic politics and U.S. history exam, while seniors only performed 3% higher (62). If college students don’t understand the government, what makes public education curriculum creators think that they will learn it all on their own?
John Dewey, American philosopher and educator, made the strong correlation between education and democracy known to society, thinking that in order to be successful, the public school curriculum needed to be relevant to the students’ lives, which meant developing and practicing crucial life skills for the bigger society to come (qt’d in Neiman). This doesn’t imply reforming the curriculum, rather it suggests additives that may make students more aware and understanding of the democratic society they live in. However, Andreas Mårdh and Ásgeir Tryggvason, professors of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences at Örebro University in Sweden, argue that a democratic education is one that “revolves around the living with others” (603). Their interpretation of a true democratic education is one that, “[is] an associative life with others that is characterized by the interplay between belonging together on the one hand, and differing from each other on the other” (603). To a certain extent, this argument is reasonable, and it does define how a society works. However, it’s missing the most important feature of a democratic society, which is what this country has established in the Constitution: a society that favors equal rights, freedom of speech, a fair trial, and tolerates the views of minorities.
The education system and curricula is something that should always be modernizing and upgrading. John Quay, professor at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, asserts that “Education itself should be similarly reformed, reconstructed, reorganized, such that it could be part of, and contribute positively to, the ongoing changes being experienced [in the world]” (1014). The best way to prepare a student for their future is to teach them lessons that will apply to their future, and if we never leave the traditional textbook education system, we won’t be preparing them for a modern, civilized world. Quay also describes John Dewey’s viewpoint, adding that, “‘Democracy can not endure, much less develop, without education[...]’” (1016). Because education is fundamental to a working democracy, when one thing changes or updates, the other should as well. Unfortunately, however, we see a lot more democratic change than we see educational change.
Voting has come a long way since the start of democratic government in 1796. Historically, the voting process and who it applies to has been one of the most changed aspects of government and law in the United States. The disparities, though, in current elections are concerning, and there will always be room for improvement in our free democracy. The national government makes it harder for us to understand what could be simple laws, they make it difficult for the citizens to raise their voice on election day, and public school curriculum isn’t emphasizing nearly enough on U.S. history or government. For future successes, we must prepare our youth at early ages in education for the democratic action to come, and improve current voting conditions. After all, “memory is an essential part of human life because, regardless of our awareness or recognition of its influence, it informs our daily decisions” (Kaufer-Busch 61). This memory, this sense of understanding and awareness, can come a lot easier than we think.
“Data.” Census Bureau QuickFacts, United States Census Bureau, 11 Oct. 2018, www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-580.html. Accessed 27 Nov. 2018.
“Government/Voting.” Future Survey, vol. 26, no. 9, Sept. 2004, p. 18. EBSCOhost, libproxy.sbcc.edu:2048/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=14825177&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 13 Dec. 2018.
Kaufer-Busch, Elizabeth, et al. “Civic Education and the Future of American Citizenship.” Lexington Books, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/sbcc-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1127703. Accessed 27 Nov. 2018.
Mårdh, Andreas, and Ásgeir Tryggvason. “Democratic Education in the Mode of Populism.” Studies in Philosophy & Education, vol. 36, no. 6, Nov. 2017, pp. 601–613. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11217-017-9564-5. Accessed 11 Dec. 2018.
Neiman, David. “John Dewey (1859-1952).” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/onlyateacher/john.html. Accessed 11 Dec. 2018.
“Public Schools Help Us Meet Vital Needs of Students.” Education Digest, vol. 65, no. 2, Oct. 1999, p. 6. EBSCOhost, libproxy.sbcc.edu:2048/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=2302231&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 27 Nov. 2018.
Quay, John. “Not ‘Democratic Education’ but ‘Democracy and Education’: Reconsidering Dewey’s Oft Misunderstood Introduction to the Philosophy of Education.” Educational Philosophy & Theory, vol. 48, no. 10, Sept. 2016, pp. 1013–1028. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00131857.2016.1174098. Accessed 11 Dec. 2018.
Schur, Lisa, et al. “Disability, Voter Turnout, and Polling Place Accessibility.” Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell), vol. 98, no. 5, Nov. 2017, pp. 1374–1390. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/ssqu.12373. Accessed 18 Dec. 2018.
Terchek, Ronald J. “Political Participation and Political Structures: The Voting Rights Act of 1965.” Phylon (1960-), vol. 41, no. 1, 1980, pp. 25–35. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/274665. Accessed 27 Nov. 2018.