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A civic duty

6/7/2011, 3:53 p.m.
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A civic duty

Most of the college class of 2011 are 21 years old or more. Under U.S. law they are adults. They have the authority to make binding contracts and they have the responsibility to satisfy their financial obligations.

It is not so easy for Americans to leave their feckless adolescence and suddenly become mature. The personal freedoms that others must fight for are handed to Americans as an incidence of citizenship. There is a reluctance of the young to accept their civic responsibilities.

During the Arab spring, the youth of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria rebelled against their governments in order to acquire the freedoms that Americans take for granted. Americans have lost sight of the fact that the strongest protection against a drift toward despotism is the active involvement in public affairs of “we the people.”

There is much more to civic involvement than going to the polls on election day. However, the low voter turnout rate for the young indicates that they have not yet fully accepted the responsibility of citizenship. According to the United States Election Project, in the 2004 presidential election in which President George W. Bush was re-elected, only 49 percent of citizens 18-29 showed up at the polls. That percentage increased slightly to 51 percent in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected. By comparison, 70.8 percent of those 60 or older voted.

A wise man once said that any fool can register and go to the polls on election day to vote. Civic responsibility requires much more than that. Citizens have a duty to be informed on public issues. It also makes sense to become involved in the process of selecting candidates for public office so that there will be someone on the ballot whom you can enthusiastically support.

The recently published National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) “report card” on civics education in the United States indicates that the country is far from attaining a reasonable level of understanding for the nation’s political system. For example, only 25 percent of high school seniors could name one power granted to Congress by the Constitution.

It was clear from the results of the NAEP test of high school seniors that secondary education does not adequately prepare students for their eventual duties as productive citizens. College education does not necessarily help unless the student takes courses in government or American history. So college graduates are requested to assume civic responsibilities for which they are unprepared.

One of the first responsibilities of their newly acquired maturity is for college graduates to register to vote, if they have not already done so, and to develop a way to remain informed on public issues. A battle is being waged in America between conservatives and those who believe the government must provide a safety net and basic opportunities for the less affluent. The conservatives support small government, lower taxes and a balanced budget as the most important federal objectives.

The outcome of this conflict will effect the character of the nation. The views of the class of 2011 are important in shaping the America of the future.