Will youth engagement save democracy?

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Back in November the Battle of Ideas Festival staged a lively debate on the question ‘Will youth engagement save democracy?‘. The panel comprised LibDem MP Lynne Featherstone, politics teacher Kevin Rooney, and Citizenship Foundation CEO Tony Breslin. This video contains the opening remarks from the three of them.

Lynne Featherstone claims that voters are lazy and the idea of having to walk to a polling booth is antiquated. (Personally I don’t think the system should be changed simply to pander to people’s apathy.)

Kevin Rooney dismisses the issue of youth dis-engagement out of hand, citing Tiananmen Square and Irish political history as examples of how youth are deeply engaged. Quite extreme examples I think: such emotive subjects are, I would suggest, always likely to impassion large numbers of people. He also suggests that schools have no part to play in helping young people understand politics. But surely aspects of civic society are not mutually exclusive? How can we expect people to suddenly understand and engage in their society when those responsible for their formative education tried to distance them from it?

Tony Breslin says that although youth engagement won’t save democracy, without it “the future of democracy is – by definition – doomed”. He goes on to argue that schools have a duty to support the civic education of young people. Of course I broadly agree with that, or I wouldn’t be working here.

Obviously these are only some of their remarks, and the comments I’ve made are my own. Please watch the video to make your own mind up about the roles of citizenship education and youth engagement in the democratic process.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

One thought on “Will youth engagement save democracy?

  1. I think Kevin Rooney makes some very good points. I’d agree that its hard to see that education about political processes and ‘being British’ are going to stir up pride and somehow impassion young people to vote. Where I’d disagree with him is the emphasis on teachers being ‘subject leaders’ – I think there would be more value in ensuring the principles of citizenship run throughout the curriculum and throughout schools themselves. It would be of more value to provide space for young people to consider issues that affect them and their environment and to be supported to explore these and along the way gain a better idea of how to make the kind of changes they think are important – to work this requires all teachers to be aware of and work within the principles of democracy – not compartmentalising it into a teach by textbook lesson.

    As for the voting by phone thing I took that as just a cheap attempt to gain some support by mentioning the X Factor! I’m in favour of making use of technology – but not where the motivation is to gain cheap votes or because you can’t be bothered to address the fundamental problem that politics in the UK is generally very, very dull. What really saddens me is how young people that become involved with the UK Youth Parliament become like mini clone MP’s – they talk the talk, walk the walk, do all the right actions – but who in real life actually debates like that besides politicians?! Maybe if more effort was placed on valuing what people say than how they say it and debates were presented in ways that people could relate to people in general would show more interest. Likewise if the emphasis within politics was less on career politicians and more on genuine representation from within communities there would be less consideration to how its perceived you need to be or act to get your point across and more value to the substance of what people stand for.

    That said I do agree with Tony that it is important to educate young people about how democracy works. Presumably though this includes education to alternative approaches, leadership and decision making methods, and to be done so in mind that how things currently are is not necessarily how things will be. Its quite different to inform young people of what democracy is, than to support them to gain knowledge and experience so that they can decide for themselves how they think society should be and how they can act towards that.

    [ps. technical note: tabbing on form fields jumps from each the comment forms up to main menu items]

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