As a youth worker who voted remain last thursday its been a tough weekend, not least because I’m also trying to finish an essay. But one of the thoughts that has been going around has been the conversation about young people, how leaving the EU will affect them, and also conversely whether as a youthworker I could have done anything differently to help the situation, or increase participation in the process.
And the simple answer is no, as a youth worker i coudnt. And neither can schools either.
According to the Sky news poll – 36% of 18-25 yr olds voted, it was over 70% for the 65-80’s. At the same time 75% of the younger age group were to vote remain, only 39% of the older age group.
There are obvious reasons why it is important for everyone to vote, there would have been even more reason in the eu referendum for more of the 18-25’s to participate. But this got me wondering… arent the current 18-25 year olds the first group of young people to have been given citizenship lessons in schools about 10-14 years ago? Then a reaction to low voter turnouts in elections, to encourage younger voters?
So what happened- why didnt they vote in droves? was it poor education (the usual suspect) or something else..?
And this goes back to the original question. As a youthworker, if we have a conversation about Sex with young people, or its sex education in schools. Young people in the room will either a) be thinking about it, b) in relationships and thinking about it c) ignoring it, but still thinking about it or d) having it or e) watching it.
Whether any of these options are legal or not, it doesnt matter, because there is a possibility that for the young person a conversation about sex in a youth club or sex education lesson might be immediately relevant, and if not to them to their friends. It could be what they’re about to do that weekend, its has an immediacy that fixes the attention in the brain, whether its acted upon or not.
Citizenship lessons aren’t like the ‘sex’ talk though are they. Unless somehow someone tries to put a condom over a nigel farage shaped head. As a youthworker i could, and we did have conversations with young people about democracy, about choices, and about the EU referendum, and they had opinions and were interested, but they aren’t going to get chance to vote, whether they wanted to or not, not for another 4 years. The only influence they might have had would be to plead with their grandparents to vote choice on their behalf.
It would have been even worse for the young people for whom citizenship classes are a distant memory, especially distant after a good year at university with some alcohol consumption. And, for what its worth any citizenship class more than two years ago would not have included the prospect of an eu referendum, as it was barely on the cards then, and hardly likely to be in the curriculum.
I am sure however that if young people are given citizenship classes at 15, and can vote at 16 then the early participation in the process and the closeness of it to the education of it, and the right of passage that this will bring would increase it participation. It would provide urgency to educate young people into being active in the democracy process, so that they are informed about what is going on.
Given that citizenship education has been scrapped, then its all the more important that those who influence young people in youth work settings give opportunities for young people to understand the wider political world in which they are part and in relationship to, but at the moment the odds of young people participating when they are able to are stacked against them. Actually if were working with young people and dont educate them in terms of the political powers around them then we’re doing them a disservice. But voting itself and participating, that at the moment will have to wait.