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PLATFORM : Roots of Ignorance

February 16, 1992|JEFFREY H. BRODSKY | JEFFREY H. BRODSKY is an 18-year-old senior at Central High School in Manchester, N.H., where he is co-editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. He is also a columnist for Youth News Service. Brodsky believes that teachers are to blame for the political apathy and ignorance of students: and

In my U.S. history class last year, a girl raised her hand and asked the teacher what the words conservative and liberal meant. The innocent question revealed what is wrong with students' interest in politics in this country.

For the past two months, New Hampshire has been inundated with presidential candidates. In our high school alone, six of them have addressed students. Yet students aren't responding, and the teachers are to blame.

Because students are not taught about the candidates, and are clueless when it comes to their stances on the issues, most 18-year-olds are making up their minds on who they will vote for, if they vote at all, based on who their friends like or who their parents favor. And if they don't like the candidate chosen by family and peers, their decision is often based on a whim.

Teachers steer away from current politics for at least two reasons. One social-studies instructor told me that many of his colleagues aren't up on the subject themselves, and they don't want to bother with it in class.

Also, many educators are skittish about dealing with politically touchy issues. An administrator at my school acknowledged that teachers may fear that their biases will show. But the valuable education that students would receive from hashing over campaign issues in class is worth the risk.

New Hampshire students will be going to the polls this week and voting the same way they cast their ballot for class president, and will be picking the leaders of this country exactly as they choose their student council officers.

But who can fault them?

They don't know any better, because they are not being taught any better. Schools are not inculcating students with the idea that politics is essential in keeping democracy alive.

When teachers choose not to discuss politics in class, they are showing by example that politics is evil and should be avoided. Instead of guiding students through the confusing political maze with a helping hand, schools are leaving young voters in the middle of a dark street, forcing them to cast their first ballot with only the most primitive understanding of the candidates.

On Wednesday, the media will leave, the campaign offices will close and the candidates will pack up and move on to the next state. But for students of New Hampshire, not much will have changed.

As for the girl who didn't know the difference between liberal and conservative, she is now 18. Maybe she will vote Tuesday. Or maybe she won't feel like it. But one thing is sure. If she does go to the polls, she said, she will cast her vote for Pat Buchanan.

Why?

She likes his name.

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