Lack of mandatory civic engagement classes may lead to voter apathy

By Felix Sarver

People who ignore the government tend to get the government they deserve, said Gerald Gabris, professor of public administration.

Little education in government makes young people more apathetic, Gabris said: They tend to see government as dysfunctional and as a consequence turn their attention away from it. Some students tend to be apathetic toward the government and this may be the result of universities not making civic engagement classes central to education, according to the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement.

Sophomore finance major Osama Shayeb said students are not usually aware of government policies affecting them.

“We’re worried about student loans,” he said.

Sophomore economics major Bryan Rodriguez said the majority of voters are 40 and older because students are generally not interested in politics.

“A lot of them, quite frankly, don’t know much about politics because they think it’s boring,” he said.

Classes teaching civil engagement are not mandatory for NIU students and have not been since the 1980s, Gabris said. Sometime during the 1980s, universities moved away from making mandatory civic responsibility classes, Gabris said.

“I came here in 1986 and in that year was about the time when a lot of these requirements were being changed,” Gabris said.

A student can now go through college without taking a course on American government, he said.

“I think that is a mistake,” Gabris said. “When you look at our country, it is founded on democratic principles.”

The promotion of civic responsibility is not held to any single political science course, said Andrea Radasanu, director of undergraduate studies for the political science department. A course on international relations has the potential to teach students to become more civically engaged, Radasanu said.

“Part of our mission is to promote responsible citizenship,” she said.

The political science department has two types of introductory courses teaching American government. Almost 500 students are enrolled in them currently, Radasanu said.

Shayeb said he thinks a required class teaching all students civic engagement would make them less apathetic. “To be honest, I didn’t even notice what the difference between Democrat and Republican was until recently,” Shayeb said.

Rodriguez said if such a class were to exist it should not be as demanding as a high-level class.

Todd said it is important to understand the inner workings of the government. However, there is a difference between knowing about the government and participating in the government.

“I know when I was younger, I guess I really didn’t understand having a knowledge of it and taking steps involved to change it or influence it are two totally separate things,” he said.

You have to make the government work more for you, Todd said.