Civics lesson

As a high school student, I am bombarded by a slew of bad ideas on a daily basis. And it always amazes me how many of these bad ideas I encounter come from the so-called intellectuals and leaders of this country. One such idea suggests requiring those turning 18 to pass a civics and current events test before being allowed to register to vote.

Wow! This makes Oscar’s showgirls seem classy.

For starters, I recall a similar experiment involving testing voters on their knowledge of civics and current events. Hold on, let me think about this one. Oh, yes, they were called the Jim Crow laws.

For those of you that don’t remember, these mandates were a way for Southern states to completely disenfranchise and impose voter restrictions on African-Americans. Blacks trying to register to vote were required to pass a test that included questions such as, “How many bubbles are there on the bottom of a sudsy bar of soap?” Can you answer this? Didn’t think so.

Just as amazing is what supporters of the test proposal are saying about my generation. Teens today are branded as stupid, immature, reckless and irresponsible. The resulting “solution” from lawmakers — the average age among them being about 60 — is to impose strict restrictions on the rights of those under age.

I find this funny, considering that, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, Americans ranging from 35 to 54 are not exactly acting grown-up.

In 2004, those in that age group accounted for 18,249 deaths from overdoses of illicit drugs, 46,925 fatal accidents and suicides (30 percent higher than those in the 15 to 19 age group), more than 4 million arrests (650,000 for drinking related offenses), and 370,000 people treated in hospital emergency rooms for abusing illegal drugs with overdose rates in middle-agers for heroin and cocaine twice as high as those of teens.

And they want to require me to pass a civics test?

When my father was in grade school, he was required to pass a Constitution test in the eighth grade. Passing this test meant that he could continue on to high school; failing it meant remaining in the eighth grade till he could. My question is: if those turning 18 are so willfully ignorant, why was the Constitution test discontinued? Furthermore, why is government not taught as part of the curriculum until the 12th grade?

According to the National Household Education Surveys, 88 percent of 12th-graders report taking a class that required them to pay attention to government issues. This number drops to 76 percent in 11th-graders, and to a meager 52 percent among sixth-graders. We are all taught we should be active citizens and engage in our society, but how come we are taught so late?

I can state first-hand that I did not encounter the actual text of the Constitution as required reading in any of my schools’ curriculums till the beginning of this year. I have gone to four different secondary schools in two different states. This is perplexing to me, especially when those who put forth legislation to block my rights do little to improve my education pertaining to them.

The American public school system is in peril, especially here in the valley. The other day, I witnessed a dilemma that a Del Sol High School intuitive geometry teacher was having teaching her class. Her class numbers more than 40 students, all 11th-graders. Only one of her students, however, actually passed a math class in their first two years of high school.

This kind of learning environment is far from healthy, and it leaves students with little opportunity to pursue in-depth education. Yet, after years of crisis, politicians have done very little to lessen the strain on schools and their students.

Whose civics should we be questioning again?

Despite the public schooling mess, a majority of young people are taking their education of government and society into their own hands. In a Youth Coalition National Survey, four out of five of those 18 to 25 report following current events with 26 percent of them reporting to follow current events “very closely.”

More than half of the nearly 4,000 American military personnel dead in Iraq were under the age of 25. Should the brave men and women risking their lives defending our country — men and women proven to have a stronger conceptual understanding of our government than a vast majority of American “adults” — be subjected to this kind of disrespect? The media likes to push the mindless teenager persona. However, I am a teenager, as were many who died overseas, and I am far from mindless. If you want me to die for this country, I will vote, uninhibited, for the one who sends me to it.

On second thought, let us make this truly democratic. For the upcoming presidential election, how about we test all voters on their civic knowledge before they are allowed to vote? If we thought voter turnout was poor in 2004, we would be appalled at what would happen if such a test were in place for 2008.

Skipping school, doing drugs, unprotected sex — these are the bad ideas that teenagers are faced with. Some say yes, some say no. However, a worse idea is to allow hypocrites to limit the rights of young adults. To this, we all say no.

Russell Doherty is a senior at the Henderson campus of the College of Southern Nevada High School.

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