Earlier this year, the hashtag #Vote16 became a national talking-point with thousands of users engaging and expressing their views on a topic that has generated much attention for decades on end. Whilst The Representation of the People Act 1969 offered 18 year old citizens to vote, now more than ever, it doesn’t seem enough. Arguments for Vote 16 derive from factors such as, “if I can have consensual sex, I can vote;” “if I can get married or register a civil partnership, I can vote;” and “if I can leave education at 16 for full time employment, I can vote.” Arguments against the Vote 16 address the concern that the lack of political education in schools can lead to a misinformed ballot. This is also combined with the influence of a digital era where fake news and advertising on social media can lead to decisions formed from our best friends, algorithms. Whilst algorithmic cleverness can inform us on promotions from our favourite retailers, when it comes to politics and influencing our young, perhaps this is not the effective approach to leading a democratic state.
Let’s start from the beginning. Who remembers learning about the difference between the Left and the Right? By that, we are obviously referring to the political stances and not the terms associated with directions and spatial awareness. Political education often falls under PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) and within this subject, students also learn about the different types of STI’s you can come into contact with (often comprises of a graphical powerpoint presentation that is “supposed” to put you off sex for life) as well as topics such as “what makes you a good citizen.” Admittedly, I do remember those lessons, not because I was the delinquent on the back row throwing screwed up sweet wrappers at my peers but, because those lessons were drier than a camel’s arsehole in a sandstorm. Without discrediting our teachers, placing PSHE fifth and final on our timetables was undoubtedly a regrettable mistake. Here you are trying to teach your class of 14-16 year olds how to be a law abiding citizen, how to not have sex and how to give back to your community towards the end of the day; at the time, as a teen, I could have thought of a million other things that I would have rather be doing. As humorous as it may seem, it does simply start here…
School, other than being around your favourite bunch of people, is an institution that delivers a curriculum to educate the young whilst preparing them for the “big bad world” – and boy is it bad. Primary school, years of imaginative play, constructing legible sentences together and adding two plus two to equal four whilst secondary school elaborates on these foundations that early years education provides. By the time we hit Year 9, we are now ammateur critical thinkers, most of us have hit puberty at this point and think that we know literally “everything,” because our minds allow us to do so. At this age, we are capable of forming opinions, we are capable of deconstructing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and we are capable of understanding that Apartheid was well and truly immoral. So, why is it that the curriculum doesn’t overtly teach our young the fundamental basics of how the country we live in functions? Okay, the curriculum tells teachers that they must educate the young on how to make a positive contribution to British society however, with guidelines so vague, where are teachers supposed to start? One week you’re learning about the hardships of the homeless, the next you’re utilising your PSHE lesson as time to catch up on your English coursework with. There seems to be very little specification of what the subject looks to deliver therefore, lack of structure and lack of an organised work-flow for students. This nevertheless disengages the students from learning and often you’ll hear the queue to the class sighing and rolling their eyes painfully because the subject is nothing but a doss.
The teaching of political education however, is not in the sole responsibility of the education system; at a young age, it is fair to say that the majority are easily influenced by their parents and family. This is when it starts to get tricky. Vote 16 seeks to allow universal rights in voting for those the age of 16+ but, what happens when PSHE isn’t taught sufficiently? Children turn to who they believe; their close ones. In this case, parents, because whatever mum and dad say is true right? Giving these 16 year olds the vote without compulsory political education could lead to ballots based on biased stances from parents – this could get ugly quite quickly. Not only are we stripping away the freedom to form individual opinion by allowing the influence of parents but, we embark on a potentially dangerous situation where the opinions of the ill-educated parents “rub off” on their offspring. This isn’t a criticism by any means against parents, though this is a criticism against the select few who preach their bullshit views and impose their views on their young, thus creating the next generation of dimwits who in time will eventually vote according to their parents’ beliefs.
Ticked off schools, ticked off parents. What about the politicians themselves? Do you ever switch over to Sky News/BBC News etc and listen to the likes of Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and oh, let’s not forget Theresa May and think “what the actual fuck are you talking about?” This is nothing against the Conservatives either, they’re all guilty of it, and yes I am referring to Corbyn. Their political rhetoric is quite a difficult one to grasp, even as a Political Sciences graduate, I struggle at times. So how, when the speeches are incomprehensible can anyone of any age engage? If voting at 16 was to become a movement, one of the first points the education system would have to address is the information that is distributed to the teens because, there is no way in hell that pupils under the age of 16 will fathom the complexity of the polysyllabic vocabulary of political jargon. Simplification is a must, combined with creating engaging content, you are onto a winner. This is not a case of “dumbing it down” because the young are not “dumb” but subjects of an education system that intends to prepare them for their future therefore, teaching them the foundations of how a country is run must be practised in a way that generates interest as well as understanding. Children should be walking into their PSHE lessons eager to learn about what shapes every aspect of their lives, showing them a speech filmed outside of Number 10 unfortunately won’t do that.
Whilst school leavers take on employment as opposed to continuing their studies thus paying taxes and national insurance, whilst teens express their concerns for the lack of trust society has in them and whilst our future generation want a say in the costs of their education, it’s time to provide them a stepping stone into the realities of politics. The education system and the curriculum are keen to prepare pupils for the future, yet compulsory political education is disintegrating into the abyss. Vote 16 must and should go hand in hand with a curriculum that works to utilise its resources to ensure a clear and coherent understanding of modern day governance. Compulsory political education is where democracy truly begins, teach our children that politics is a necessity and voila, you’ve produced a young electoral who empathise with the real impact voting in an election has.