Farm Press Blog

Apathy in politics, government: A crisis point in civic education?

RSS

Students and budding young political enthusiasts are becoming less familiar with a calling to make government work, says Marty Wiseman, who recently retired as director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development at Mississippi State University. They are instead, he says, "being fed a steady diet of the evils of compromise and of an overly-stated failure of government to accomplish anything of value.”

Those who remember the 1960s and 1970s as an era when college campuses were centers political activism can somewhat relate to Marty Wiseman’s “concern that deepens with each passing year” over the trend of apathy in today’s students with regard to government and politics.

In a recent column, the just-retired director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development at Mississippi State University reminisced on the change he has noted in his students over the course of almost three decades of teaching government.

“Time was that a topic casually introduced to a roomful of 120 mostly freshmen…would invariably shut down the class — the instructor need only close his/her notebook and referee such typically incendiary topics as…the war of the moment, gun control, or virtually any environmental issue.”

Ag news delivered daily to your inbox: Subscribe to Delta Farm Press Daily.

There were three strong observations about those students, Wiseman says: “Many held strong opinions about these issues; they had given thought to, and indeed articulated, their feelings about these issues in prior discussions; and they were able to verbalize in detail what the role of government should or should not be with regard to solutions to issues about which they were so passionate.”

In the past, he notes, “Knowledge of our unique form of government and our civic responsibility was basic to any education, beginning as early as kindergarten” — a knowledge that “has fairly dramatically declined in importance in recent years.”

Reasons behind this “crisis point in civic education,” Wiseman says, include an increased emphasis on science and math, mechanically gradable multiple choice tests that negatively affect students’ abilities to verbalize the importance of civic knowledge and involvement, and “a new and developing phenomenon — a pronounced disdain for government in general.”

Once, he says, “Students would arrive on campus, clamoring for the chance to be involved with government, to work in political campaigns, and to intern in Washington for starvation wages.”

But, he writes, today’s students “have a decidedly negative view of government in general,” and “it is evident many of these negative opinions were formed around the dinner table at home.”

Finally, Wiseman says, “The display of animosity between the two entrenched political parties is obviously taking its toll…Students and budding young political enthusiasts are becoming less familiar with a calling to make government work, and are instead being fed a steady diet of the evils of compromise and of an overly-stated failure of government to accomplish anything of value.”

Several studies have indicated, he says, that all this “will lead to a drop in participation, and a dramatic decline, in the faith that all of us invest in our ‘one of a kind’ democracy.”

More’s the pity…

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Jan 14, 2014

Hi Hembree, I haven't responded to one of your posts in a while, but every now and then I can't resist. So today's students aren't enthused about government? hmmm. could it be they've been 'ambushed by reality?' Lets see, the 60's and 70's anti war movement was so successful that several million people died when we abruptly abandoned South Viet Nam and the communists consolidated their power? or could it be the federal 'War on Poverty' was so successful we now have 40+% of children born out of wedlock(guaranteeing more poverty) instead of the 7% when LBJ started the war and the poverty rate has increased for the demographic groups most heavily targeted? Or perhaps they start to see current politicians more interested in consolidating their power and punishing their enemies ala Christie's 'bridgegate' or Obama using the IRS to target political opponents and suppress their vote to be reelected? Maybe they see the absolute disaster that is the 'Affordable' Care Act as the best example of the futility of putting government in charge of anything and seeing that it targets them(the young) to reward others and say, 'What's the use?'
I happen to know a few college students and they aren't what many of my friends in college were 40 years ago. they look back at the radicalism and see that it was hopelessly naive at best and generally destructive. They are clear eyed about how badly government programs have distorted and exploded college costs, resent the loans they have to repay because they had married parents and couldn't qualify for the handouts that are driving tuition costs and their loan balances through the roof. Yes it is a pity.

I contune to have friends in Ag Extension, but American Agriculture feeds the world largely because of private sector innovation(yes, often working with Ag extension), in spite of generally counter productive government farm programs.
So, thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I continue to enjoy reading the DFP to keep up on ag in the Delta. Hope you have a great day!

on Jan 15, 2014

Just listening to the discordant political 'discourse' lately will either repulse you or scare you enough to recognize the need to become more involved. We may need to find ears to represent us in government who offer more than to regurgitate what they hear from the loudest constituents.

An observation: Schooling in the 60's myself, it seems like a different group who’re now saying "America, love it or leave it.” It seems that some of the tactics used in the 60’s seem to have been appropriated by opposing political views from the same generation?

Please or Register to post comments.

What's Farm Press Blog?

The Farm Press Daily Blog

Connect With Us

Blog Archive
Continuing Education
Potassium nitrate has a positive effect in controlling plant pests and diseases when applied...
This online CE course details sound mechanical irrigation design and management practices to...