As a young person I was raised by parents who saw it as their right and duty to define the beliefs and values that we would take into our adult life. On this basis they chose our religion and they made it clear what our politics should be. They believed they were giving us something they treasured and they expected that we would continue to value and treasure these things in life. In that way our ideology and theology were given to us.
Not everyone in our family treasured the gifts given and some made choices away from the direction given. Making our choices became part of the mantra of the 60s and 70s.
Today our millennials are formed differently. They value their parents but parenting is more about allowing choice than it is about prescribing outcomes. As a Principal, I noted that more and more children were given the choice of school they wanted to attend despite the fact that there was only one Catholic School in the town. Generation X parents seem less inclined to direct their child’s ideology or their theology. They don’t expect that political allegiance will transfer from generation to generation.
Young people appear less interested in voting in elections. They have strong commitment to values and ideals but they don’t see being aligned with a political party as a priority. Recent elections show that young people are not well represented in the polling. One theory for their disengagement is that they don’t trust politicians and choose not to engage in the voting. Only 150 days out from the election and I understand that approximately 65% of 18-21 year olds are not enrolled as voters.
The great danger created by this malaise is that it leaves room for reactionary groups who polarise us. Democracy relies on the participation of the majority and abrogating our involvement leaves our society vulnerable.
The millennials are strongly represented on ANZAC day where they align with the values associated with freedom and nationhood but they disconnect with the challenge to participate and be heard in the general election. There have been cries for civics to be taught in schools, devolving yet another function to the teacher. We have already expected schools to take responsibility for health, sex education and healthy eating. Are we in danger of asking teachers to take all the key roles of parenting?
Some countries mandate participation which might raise the count but not necessarily the engagement. A participative democracy is fundamental to an effective and inclusive government, however, we need to work out how to make it happen.
For politics to be relevant to our millennials we need to ensure that values that inform their beliefs are transmitted in such a way that young people respect and retain. We want them to understand that participation in democratic elections is a natural expression of these values. While education plays a key role in preparing our young people for life, society risks a great deal if it devolves all these key teachings to the school.