For lunch today I popped into town to meet the missus, as a break from the educational humdrum that has returned to our lives with alarming ease. Over grub we ended up chatting – as we invariably do – about politics and the disinterest of the youth.
Now, I’ll preface this thought by saying that I’ve always thought the voting age in the Western World was too high to begin with – and for those of you who may not agree, I recommend going to have a watch of the West Wing episode called A Good Day . If you argue that kids are open to being intimidated or co-erced into voting a certain way (“Vote Green and get €10 free call credit!”), I challenge you to show me an adult who wouldn’t react likewise. What’s the difference between offering a kid free phone credit, and offering an adult a tax cut?
But I digress. We ended up talking about how the youth today seem to be becoming polarised into those who are more politically aware than their predecessors, and a worrying, higher number of people, perceivably female, who are opinionated but casually unaware about how politics might shape their worlds and how their opinions, if acted upon, might effect change.
The age of childhood innocence is dangerously close to complete abandonment: through nobody’s fault in particular, the times where kids weren’t sexually aware at eight or nine, or active by twelve or 13, are over. There’s no point in pretending otherwise or attempting to act in reversing this; it’s just the way it is. But with this comes a greater worldlyness. Last year at work we ran a few day tours around UCD for disadvantaged kids from the northside, and even amongst those nine-year-olds there was a latent disapproval for the Lisbon Treaty and what it meant for Ireland. Though their concerns were entirely unrelated to the Treaty, they were (though in not as many words, of course) duly concerned about the role of European integration in having foreigners coming into Ireland and taking the jobs that their parents and elder siblings would gladly have taken themselves. And this was in nine year olds! Don’t ever try to tell me that young people don’t care about politics. I challenge you to visit a USI Congress and tell me the youth don’t care any more, or to go to Noel Rock’s campaign website  – Noel is 21 and running for Dublin City Council in Artane-Whitehall – and tell me we don’t care.
Our schools – though they don’t do a great job at it – even teach people how to become more politically aware. Every single Junior Cert student in the country is taught a basic curriculum in Civic, Social and Political Education – where they’re taught the basic history of each party, the role of the courts, How A Bill Becomes A Law, and the importance of getting involved. Now, the curriculum isn’t without its faults – why only teach people about party history or mention how people get elected, but not go into ay political theory? Why mention that Ireland became a republic under Fine Gael but not mention what republicanism is, or unionism, or socialism, or capitalism? CSPE ought to be a child’s crash-course to creating a more active society where every social structure is under constant review to make sure it’s the best option for the society of its times.
Regardless, kids are more astute at a far younger age – and at 15 or 16, they’re taught about politics, the number of TDs, the election of parties, how coalition works, and all of this – and then, once they sit the exam (which doesn’t even have the Pass/Honours divide – you can’t be an Ordinary Level Citizen or Higher Level Citizen…) they take up part-time jobs where they’re taxed and treated like adults, but never given the choice either to vote for those who decide how their tax is spent, nor put their learning of the political world into reality.
If any of you readers reckon the voting age is perfect as it is, leave me a comment – I’d love to hear why you think so.