Class assignments rarely are scrutinized quite like this. At least, that might be what Merrill Skaggs would have to say.
The Drew University professor took a creative and constructive step this semester by making a trip to the polls for the upcoming election - a requirement for her American literature class.
The assignment has come under attack by members of the university's faculty. Skaggs told The New York Times that her idea was called "totalitarian." But the critics who maintain that the professor overstepped her bounds are making flawed arguments.
Skaggs responded to the uproar by altering the requirement. Instead of being compelled to vote, her students just have to enter the voting booth. They no longer are required to pull the lever, but the professor didn't fully back down, either.
The instructor stood by her position in an interview with the Times, stating that students don't just study the forces that shape American culture - they also participate in shaping it.
Furthermore, Skaggs noted that all academic courses have requirements, such as turning in work on time. Getting up and making a trip to the ballot box isn't that much more to ask.
It's counterproductive for those who want to see more young people voting to oppose an academic requirement holding that students go to the polls.
The issue arrives at a time when lives are being lost in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our nation is working to turn these countries into democratic, voting societies of free men and women.
Skaggs' critics would do well to consult a faculty member of Drew's history department, who could remind them that our nation's forefathers once fought a war for the right of representation.
Although the United States is a free country, the concept that we should have a libertarian "freedom" from civic responsibility is an incorrect one.
We all must pay taxes. We all must serve jury duty. All 18-year-old males must sign with the Selective Service in the event that a draft is established.
U.S. citizens have certain obligations that we accept as morally, ethically and legally sound. Voting should be one of these obligations.
Australia's election process is a good example of compulsory voting at work. Citizens are fined if they don't have a good reason for forgetting to or choosing not to vote in national elections - but we wouldn't say Australians live under totalitarian rule. The fine is enough to push people toward the polls.
Some people might believe that not every citizen is qualified to vote. This is a dangerous idea - one that would place power in the hands of a select group of citizens and would undermine the fundamental principles of democracy.
In any case, being disappointed with the field of candidates in any election is understandable. However, it is imperative that young people show their commitment to the process.
To express their indecision constructively, students in Skaggs' class should enter the booth and leave the ballot blank.
Politicians have no incentive to get in touch with their young constituents because there often isn't a substantial youth voter constituency to court. Candidates respect older voters because of their greater presence at the polls, not because there's a shortage of issues important to the younger demographic.
This apparent age bias prompted the printing of a T-shirt last year that read, "Voting Is For Old People."
Voting is a badge of maturity, which is a distinction most rebellious teenagers do not want. But there's no better place to stage a revolution come election time than inside the voting booth.
Some claim that they are making a statement by not voting. But choosing not to exercise your right is no legitimate form of protest - it's a silent voice in a dark room.
Today's youth have no draft cards to burn, and only half of our nation's young people can set bras ablaze. So if voting cannot be required, it can mean only one thing:
Real rebels vote.
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