If watching, reading, and listening to politicians, pundits, and pontificators over the past few years has taught us anything, it’s that the volume of opinions, angry tweets, and spurious Facebook posts have left many registered voters feeling overwhelmed and apathetic about politics. We spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing the impact of elections and precious little time actually voting. Since 1960, the percentage of the voting-age population that cast ballots in national elections has exceeded 60% only three times—in 1960, 1964, and 1968. Conversely, the percentage of eligible voters who have participated in midterm elections has failed to reach 40% ten times. (Source: United States Elections Project)
As parents, we talk with our children often about our values. In my family, we discuss how to ensure that our values our represented through the political candidates we select. Sadly by the time they turn 18, many of them have become too apathetic to act on their convictions. I am encouraged by the sense of agency and political mobilization that I’ve seen among students at Bush. In fact, a senior conducted a campus-wide effort to register all eligible students before the 2018 elections. Efforts like this demonstrate how our students embody important pillars of our educational foundations—ethical judgement and action, and local and global citizenship.
When my children were younger, we used to bring them with us to vote purely out of convenience. As they got older, we did it because we felt understood the importance of ritualizing the experience, and to make sure that they understood that democracy only works if you participate. (Candidly, dropping a ballot in a mailbox doesn’t have the same dramatic effect as closing the curtains behind you in a voting booth.) We’ve discussed that my parents’ ability to vote was determined primarily by virtue of geography; they spent their adolescent and young adult years in Los Angeles. Had they remained in Mississippi and Texas, they would have been subject state-sanctioned voter suppression efforts, intimidation tactics, or regionally enforced poll taxes. And, my children are incredulous—although they don’t use that word—when they learn the years in which women earned the right to vote in western democracies like the United States (1920), France (1945), Italy (1946), Belgium (1948) or Switzerland (1971).
Rather than debating each and every divisive issue, one way to create an sense of urgency is to remind our children of the responsibility that comes with living in a democracy—to remain informed, to participate, to be active and accountable, regardless of the issue. Ultimately, we decide how we’re governed. When we fail to exercise the right to vote, we embolden those pundits, politicians, and pontificators who may appeal to our most base, emotional fears, but ultimately are counting on our apathy.
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School