Does anyone else remember the Student Council? I don’t know what they are like in present-day schools but my high school memories from the ’60s and ’70s are vivid — several weeks of rah-rah-hoop-la accompanied by burlesques of grown-up election slogans and wretched little gummy lapel stickers made of Con-Tact paper. Since the Student Council really didn’t have a lick of power except to tug its forelock and maybe organize an occasional charity drive, the whole thing added up to a popularity contest reserved for the school’s glossiest and richest or possibly most truckling and conformist, probably some of both. Some of them were possibly nice kids, but you knew their little “elected student government” didn’t have any real power — it couldn’t change the penalties for assorted infractions, appeal your detention, fire the football coach (or abolish the stupid cash-sucking football team for that matter), or mandate a better school lunch. It was a toy. We knew our lives and fortunes were truly ruled by Them — people beyond the reach of any “voting rights” we possessed: the principal and school staff, members of the School Board and school administration, local governments, the U. S. Congress. In fact until I was nearly out of high school you had to be 21 to vote (though you could have your ass shot off at 18), so the whole thing was even more unreal.
I look at discussions on the Net sometimes and I think most of the nation is still stuck in that Student Council mentality. Half the nation regards voting as irrelevant and doesn’t bother (though they still somehow understand that a vague Them decides their fates), and those that are politically engaged seem more likely to be focused on personalities and general coolness than anything affecting the nation’s (or even their local precinct’s) actual destiny. The taunting and name-calling belongs right back in eighth grade, as does the apparent obliviousness of anything in the larger world.
Maybe we’re making a serious mistake by leading young people through a charade of government when they’re too young to, at first, even understand it and, later, change anything by their participation. We may just be teaching them that electoral politics amount to an excuse to curry favor with the people you do like (or want to be like) and yell abuse at the people you don’t.
Just a thought.